The Spectator, 17th November 1923, reports:
The imaginative intervention of Mr. Hugh Macnaghten, the Vice-Provost Eton College, has saved the Grand Avenue at Stowe for the school and the public in general. It will be remembered that Mr. Williams-Ellis, the school architect, bought the Avenue at the auction, at which Stowe House itself and the Park were sold, to save it from being cut down for timber. Mr. Williams-Ellis has since been seeking a purchaser who would relieve him or this ‘heavy financial burden, and has been happy enough to secure one in Eton College, which, through the agency of Mr. Macnaghten and the funds he has raised from old Etonians, is presenting the Avenue to Stowe School. Thus a great monument of natural beauty is saved, and a very graceful gesture of greeting and recognition is made from a very old and great Public School to the youngest.
Let’s flesh out this story which, to my mind, reads as if it was written in 1823. Williams-Ellis was the man who built Portmeirion. When eventually I finish The Avengers I will migrate to The Prisoner but we digress. The profligate Dukes of Buckingham had to sell up and Stowe became a school. Williams-Ellis was a hero stumping up. How much I don’t know but the estimate at auction was £1,063. That heavy financial burden was a problem. Macnaughten helped him out by writing a letter to The Times appealing for funds. Queen Mary, whose sons were OE’s, contributed as did 160 OEs. The avenue was planted with elms but they turned up their toes up in the 1970s and it now is a mix of beech and chestnut trees. In 1924 Prince Arthur of Connaught unveiled a plaque in recognition of Eton’s generosity, but we digress.
I went for a walk with friends across Kensington Gardens. The idea was to identify the trees. Easy? No, jolly difficult. The diversity of species in London parks is mind-boggling. Here are the numbers for Kensington Gardens alone:
Like the Grand Avenue at Stowe, an avenue of silver limes in Kensington Gardens is a gift. It was presented by the people of Berlin as a gesture of friendship in 1988; West Berlin, natch. There is a plaque that I snapped but my picture is out of focus.