Digitisation of Gertrude Jekyll’s Surrey Archive

Digitisation of Gertrude Jekyll’s Surrey Archive

Edwin Lutyens sketch of his friend and collaborator (Redrawn version - original ©RIBA Collection)

We are delighted to announce that the Surrey Gardens Trust has become the principal charity facilitating a hugely important conservation project to make available Gertrude Jekyll’s internationally significant Surrey Archive, allowing worldwide free access on the internet at a high definition in colour.

Gertrude Jekyll’s document collection relating to her gardens and projects undertaken in Surrey (where she lived most of her life (1843-1932) and carried out many of her some 400 garden design commissions worldwide) is just part of the Gertrude Jekyll document collection owned by and archived at The Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley (the EDA) ; approximately 925 documents of a collection of approximately 2,300 of her garden design drawings (some received from architects and clients, including Lutyens), correspondence, photographs, drawings and albums.

Why is the collection in the USA? The documents were purchased from a Surrey Red Cross sale following Gertrude Jekyll’s death in 1932. They subsequently passed to the celebrated American landscape designer, Beatrix Farrand.  Beatrix with her husband Max had set up an archive and library at their home in Reef Point, Bar Harbor, in Maine, ‘dedicated to the appreciation of natural beauty, plant and bird life and a taste for gardening’, so Jekyll’s archive, although far from home, was in safe and appreciative hands.  Whilst at Reef Point it was catalogued and labelled and stored in flat folders.  Ultimately, however, after the death of both Max and Beatrix, the Reef Point Collection was dispersed and Jekyll’s papers were despatched to the Department of Landscape Architecture (later the College of Environmental Design) at the University of California, Berkeley, where they remain today.  This collection is a sizeable portion of her life’s garden drawings.

Gertrude Jekyll/Lutyens drawing ©EDA 

In 1980, the Garden History Society commissioned microfilms to be made of the garden plans and a set was acquired by Godalming Museum.  Then in 1996, a project funded by the Surrey Gardens Trust and the Hamamelis Trust created hard copies from the microfilms, all indexed and bound by the Trust.  However, these are in black and white and of poor quality compared to the proposed digital images which will show the colour so important to the interpretation of Jekyll’s drawings.

Michael Edwards, architect and director of the RIBA award winning practice, Frances and Michael Edwards, Architects, who also originated the hard copy project, initiated this important digitisation project and has been liaising with the EDA for a number of years. His knowledge of Jekyll’s work is extensive and he was appointed guest curator of the successful Gertrude Jekyll Exhibition held in Surrey in 2013. Over the years he has obtained the support of a wide range of donors, including Godalming Museum, the Hamamelis Trust and the Surrey Gardens Trust and, with a combination of their generous financial support and expertise, has enabled the commencement of the project. 

With an additional donation via the Charity Aid Foundation in the US, these parties have together donated sufficient funds for the digitisation work to begin. Michael will continue to invite further sponsorship and grants and we will be coordinating a fundraising programme to raise between us the balance of approximately £4,000 required to complete the work.  Further details of how you can get involved and support this project will follow shortly. 

The Surrey Gardens Trust will continue to work closely with Michael to bring this first Surrey phase to a conclusion during the course of 2018/19. Our new website will provide an excellent platform for links to the collection through the EDA website. 

We will provide more details in the forthcoming Newsletter and through the website. We are looking forward to sharing a programme of Jekyll events with our members and a wider audience to fund raise for the project.