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Thursday 3 February 2022

Cultural Reforesting Explores – Mount Lebanon and the cedar tree

Cultural Reforesting encourages everyone to explore the natural world through art. The 3- year programme was launched in 2021 with an exhibition called Remember the Future, which included four artist research residencies, as well as various events and discussions.  Alongside this, our enthusiastic volunteer team has worked on the Cultural Reforesting Explores project, delving more deeply into the themes and ideas of the programme.   

Here, volunteer Hana shares her research inspired by the cedar of Lebanon tree in the gallery grounds

The cedar of Lebanon tree, characterised by its sweeping horizontal boughs, commanding trunk and magisterial crown, is one of the most distinguished members of the arboreal realm. 

Native to the mountainous regions of Lebanon (Mount Lebanon), Syria and Asia Minor, the cedar of Lebanon is an evergreen tree belonging to the pine family. It has waxy needles, produces barrel shaped cones, and at its tallest, can reach heights of up to 40 metres. 

It was first introduced to Britain around the year 1638, and soon became a popular feature in the grounds of many stately homes across the country. The cedars planted in Twickenham were known have been some of the finest in London, with many great estates having them, including Poulett Lodge, Twickenham Park and Orleans House – where a magnificent cedar remains to this day. 

The Mount Lebanon estate in Twickenham, which neighboured Orleans House, was known so greatly for its cedars we believe that it was named after the trees itself. James Thorne wrote in 1876 it was ‘bestowed on it the name of Mount Lebanon, perhaps from the cedars which form so remarkable a feature in the grounds’. 

Today the trees and the house of Mount Lebanon no longer remain, and the area is now a residential street of Edwardian houses, named Lebanon Park. This article will explore the vivid history of the now lost estate, and the significance of its cedars which live on in its name. 

In ancient times, cedar of Lebanon trees used to grow across the Lebanese Mountain range, Mount Lebanon, and the last remaining groves of these trees now form part of the Cedars of God Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alphonse de Lamartine, the French statesman who visited in 1832, remarked that the cedars ‘are the most renowned natural monuments in the universe; religion, poetry, and history, have all equally celebrated them’. They are referenced in the Bible and many ancient civilisations including the Phoenicians and Ancient Egyptians, with uses for shipbuilding and mummification. The material value of the trees lay in their timber and resin, but they also hold great symbolic and spiritual value for worship and healing.  

There is evidence to suggest that the cedars on the grounds of Mount Lebanon were planted by Archibald Campbell, Lord Islay, later the 3rd Duke of Argyll. From 1722 to 1761 the Duke owned nearby Whitton Park and planted many trees in the grounds including around 50 cedars of Lebanon which were considered ‘some of the finest in the Kingdom’. 

Woollett, William, A View of the Canal and the Gothick Tower in the Garden of His Grace the Duke of Argyl at Whitton (1757) 

Although titled ‘A View of the Canal and the Gothick Tower…at Whitton’, this image of Whitton Park from 1757 does much to celebrate the cedar trees on the estate as well. Majestic and pyramidal, the cedars flank the canal, frame the gothic tower and altogether unify the symmetrical scene. This image shows the cedars in their lofty glory and the majesty they bring to the sophisticated landscape design of Whitton Park. 

There is a lot more mystery surrounding the trees at Mount Lebanon however, as there is very little visual evidence depicting its cedars. According to one written account, the house had ‘in the grounds perhaps the finest group of cedars of Lebanon to be seen near London’, and a newspaper excerpt describes the mansion as being ‘approached by a lodge entrance through a stately avenue of noble cedars.’ We can only imagine that the ‘stately avenue of cedars’ is similar to the magnificent trees at Whitton Park, especially considering that they were likely to have also been planted by the Duke of Argyll.  

Curtis, John, The Thames at Twickenham with Orleans House and Lebanon Park (c.1794) 

In this image from circa 1794, we can see the Mount Lebanon house itself (far-left) and Orleans House (centre-left) in a scene evoking pastoral delight. 

Records suggest that there was house on the site of Mount Lebanon from as far back as the mid seventeenth century. It became the property of many notable figures including schoolmaster Dr William Fuller and Thomas Wentworth, the 1st Earl of Strafford. In 1794, around the year this image was made, the house was demolished by Lady Anne Conolly and replaced by a new house which would later become known as Mount Lebanon. It is unclear to tell if the house in this image is the old or the new house. 

In 1851 it became the property of Charlotte Percy, the Dowager Duchess of Northumberland, who gave the house its name. She had moved to Twickenham in the years following the death of her husband, the 3rd Duke of Northumberland, and lived there for 15 years until her death in 1866. 

While there is no evidence to suggest that she ever visited Lebanon or the mountains itself, she was a known lover of botany. Owing to her time spent at Alnwick Castle, the family seat in Northumberland, she was no doubt familiar with the striking cedar trees planted in the grounds there. The gardens of this residence were designed by famous eighteenth-century gardener Capability Brown who is credited for having popularised the planting of cedars in many noble estates. 

The Dowager’s fondness of trees is indicated in a sonnet written about her in 1856, noting that she ‘enjoys the quiet of the sylvan scene’. The cedars must have provided her with great solace and sanctuary in the final years of her life.  

In naming the estate Mount Lebanon, she added a sense of splendour and mystique to the riverside at Twickenham. The name does not solely reference the trees, but evokes the place of the real location and bears a compelling context of prestige and history, which heightens its allure. It also shows just how symbolic it must have been to the Dowager who named it so. 

After her death, the house passed to the Prince de Joinville, who had, interestingly, visited the real Mount Lebanon decades before in 1836. 

The estate changed hands between various local owners towards the end of the nineteenth century and in 1901, its cedars were cut up to make way for ‘artistic villa residences’, which is now the Lebanon Park Road. The house itself (at this point used as furniture storage) remained standing until 1909, when it burned down in a fire. 

The cedar of Lebanon tree, from which this impressive estate probably got its name, is a symbol of strength and longevity. Yet whilst there are no physical remnants of the house or its magnificent cedars, the strength and power of the Mount Lebanon cedars is carried on in the name of Lebanon Park in which this estate once stood, honouring Twickenham’s history of this wonderful lost estate. 

Please find references here: 

Find out more about the Cultural Reforesting programme here. 

More information about volunteering at Orleans House Gallery visit here.