Press Releases from Levens Hall
28 September 2023
See England’s Earliest Example of a Ha Ha
The history of the Ha Ha at Levens Hall, from it's French influence to installation

The garden at Levens Hall and Gardens may not be a French one in terms of its geography but the French influence of its founder, Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont, is detectable in many different facets, from the topiary garden to the overall garden layout and design.

What may not be as well-known to people is that Beaumont also incorporated another garden feature that was popular in France in his time – that of the ha-ha.  The first steps to create one at Levens Hall, were taken around 1692/3 and were some of the first actions of Beaumont after his arrival at the property.

We know that the first description of such a feature in print was given by Dezallier d’Argenville, in the 1709 publication, La Theorie et la Practique du Jardinage.  That was some years after Beaumont had already created the ha ha at Levens Hall, making it the earliest example of this type of garden feature in England.

Why was a ha ha necessary?

The purpose of a ha ha is to provide the illusion of an unbroken view across the surrounding countryside – something a traditional wall destroys.  It also enabled livestock to be kept out of formal gardens, without having to resort to an aesthetically displeasing wall.

It is likely that Beaumont wanted to use a ha ha for both these purposes.  He was embarking on his grand plan for Levens and its topiary garden in 1692, yet was in a Cumbrian location where there was a deer park and probably grazing sheep too.  Not surprisingly, defining the garden’s boundaries became his first job. 

Along the eastern boundary, this meant replacing an old wall with a new one, which took a little land from beyond it.  On the western boundary, however, it was to install a ha ha that would divide the garden from the wet meadow – the Aire – beyond.  This made use of an old drainage ditch, and allowed Beaumont to create a ha ha, running from the gardens to the River Kent. 

In this way, the Hall’s residents did not have to view the structure at all. Like every ha ha, the inner side was built up to the level of the surrounding area, whilst the other side had a steep upward incline, before levelling out again into meadowland.

All Colonel Grahme and his family would have seen would have been continuous land and meadow.  Only from the other side would people have noted the ditch that lay between the two parts of the land.  Sunken and invisible from ornamental gardens, it is said that the name ha ha was derived from the element of surprise that visitors would enjoy when encountering such a ditch during a garden walk and only when virtually on top of it.

Such features became popular in the 18th century, with one even being mentioned in the Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park.  Today, they still have their fans, with a ha ha having been constructed at the Washington Monument, in Washington, USA, in the early 2000s.

When was the Levens Hall ha ha created?

We know that the ha ha at Levens was in situ by 1695.  The agent, Tim Banks, wrote, “Mr Beaumont is carrying on the levell and walks from the new building to the Lane that leads to Nynesergh, has grubbed the hedge that stood betwixt the Garden and the Aire and has filled up the great ditch the brea(d)th he carryes the rest will be fill’d as he goes on so that now the Garding lyes all open within it self which looks very specious.”

In 1705, we also know that repairs were required, with the ha ha needing to be propped in three places.  Given the low-lying nature of the land here, it is likely that it was in regular operation as a means to combat weather conditions, allowing water to drain away back into the river.

How can I see the Levens Hall ha ha today?

The illusion that the ha ha creates in the Levens garden can still be enjoyed to this day.  To encounter it, visitors simply have to walk through the stunning double borders, which lead directly to its location, where a planted urn is situated.  Looking ahead, they will see an avenue of trees in the meadow – trees originally planted by Monsieur Beaumont and his labourers.

Back in the late 1690s, the view afforded by this ha ha would have included the spectacular limestone cliffs at White Scar.  Tree growth over the centuries has now made that an impossibility but we can still appreciate how the spectacle may once have appeared and the intention of the ha ha’s creator, within his very French-inspired garden.

To see the ha ha this season, please make a visit to Levens Hall and Gardens before October 6, when both Hall and Gardens will close and not reopen until April 2023, other than for specific events.  Admission prices can be found here.

Press Information:
Press Enquires:
Jane Hunt, Catapult PR, 0333 2424062 –