A sculpture park set in glorious gardens and the wider rural landscape of the Wiltshire countryside, Roche Court is an ideal place for you to wander at leisure and to absorb both beauty and culture, well away from busy crowds.
Roche Court is situated near East Winterslow, about 8 miles north-east of Salisbury. The house itself is very early 19th century, originally built for Lord Nelson, but whose death at Trafalgar meant that he never took up residence there.
The park is the culmination of 60 years work by the “grand dame of British sculpture”, Lady Madeleine Bessborough, who originally set up the New Art Centre as a Sloane Street gallery in 1958. In 1994 she decided to relocate to Wiltshire where both fledgling and established artists and sculptors could display their work against a backdrop of open sky, verdant landscape and grazing cows.
Today the grounds and exhibition spaces of Roche Court have new and changing exhibits by many distinguished sculptors including Barbara Hepworth, Antony Gormley, Nicholas Pope, Bill Woodrow and Barry Flanagan.
You will be welcomed at the front door of the house with a map and information about what to see and how to access each of the indoor galleries and the area of this extensive parkland. The staff then leave you to explore by yourself but are available to answer any questions you may have.
The house itself is not open to the public but there are works to see indoors. Two – The Gallery and The Orangery - are connected to the main house, and the visitor can view the exhibits from outside through the entire floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Artists House can show smaller works of art and includes a permanent display of Edmund de Waal’s work on the top floor.
The Design House, located in the walled garden, is an unusual blend of gallery and living space. It aims to create a domestic space, complete with Aga in the kitchen and wood burning stove in the airy sitting area, and so demonstrate how easily paintings, ceramics, sculpture and exquisitely designed furniture can be part of everyday living. You may be lucky enough to meet some of the gallery assistants, themselves practising artists like Josh Kerley, an emerging young glass artist and designer, who will happily talk to you about the purpose and exhibits in the building if you want more information.
On a sunny day, the real joy of Roche Court is the outdoor space. Sculptures seem to emerge from every area – some are almost hidden by the greenery and you have to squeeze your way along almost hidden paths to find them.
Others, like the Barbara Hepworth abstract series of bronze sculptures called The Family of Man, three of which are currently on display, stand out proudly in the landscape and remind the onlooker of ancient forms like standing stones.
You never know quite what to expect, and this is largely the attraction – you don’t have to understand or correctly interpret each individual piece of sculpture, you just have to enjoy them and appreciate them in their carefully chosen settings.
Recognisable shapes like a corkscrew, a fountain pen and a hyacinth are clear enough, but like me, you might struggle with deciding quite how Laura Ford’s My Little Marini or Nicholas Pope’s Apostles Piss Font came to be conceived. But that’s part of the fun – trying to work out what might have been in the sculptor’s mind as he/she created the work.
An unusual work is by Paul Roberts-Holmes called Quaba-La, Found Metal, made up of various bits of old agricultural machinery – disc brakes, old chains, a clutch plate, scissors – all discarded pieces of iron and steel, which have been transformed into an intricate grid and welded together.
All these are displayed against a gently rolling bucolic background of predominantly deciduous trees with herds of cattle munching away in the distance. The gardens themselves are delightful in their own right, not immaculately or artificially manicured, but instead allowing largely herbaceous plants to display their flowers in full glory.
There are woodland areas too, in June abundant with cow parsley, wild garlic and wild flowers, and a small pond with water lilies.
There are benches to pause and consider some of the sculptures for longer periods.
It’s possible that you might meet the Director, Madeleine Bessborough (and her gentle Great Dane, Theo), who is very willing to talk to you about the origins of the park and any of the exhibits that particularly interest you.
The exhibits change, but let’s hope that Barry Flanagan’s Large Left-Handed Drummer in bronze stays put because this bronze (otherwise interpreted as “A mad march hare banging a drum”) is a huge attraction. He’s tall, loose-limbed, dramatic and very clearly enjoying himself making music, so you will enjoy him too.
Most of the exhibits are for sale. Currently John the Baptist by Nicholas Pope will set you back £65,000 (+VAT) but there are some delightful limited edition Roche Plates that feature designs by artists like Richard Deacon who have a longstanding relationship with the New Art Centre. You can purchase these for £28.80.
You will probably spend two to three hours here – there is no café, refreshment area or picnic area so bring your own water for a hot day. For children there is often a paper Sculpture Hunt issued by the Roche Court Educational Trust which simplifies and explains some of the sculptures and gets them to think and discuss what they see. There can also be advice on making maquettes of their own at home.
It’s a fascinating place and you can take what you want from it – you can get fully absorbed in the sculptures, the thought processes behind them, their creation, the materials used and why, their construction - or you can simply relax and enjoy the shapes and designs within the rural landscape and delightful gardens.
VISITING ROCHE COURT
How to get to Roche Court
Address: Roche Court East Winterslow Salisbury, Wiltshire SP5 1BG what3words:
Public Transport: There are regular buses from Salisbury, Southampton and Eastleigh to East Winterslow.
Parking: There’s a free carpark on site. Approach the gates carefully and they will open automatically.
When is Roche Court open?
Monday – Saturday 11am – 4pm
Booking is essential
Please e-mail email@example.com with the date and time you would like to book, how many people you will be and your contact number.
How much does it cost to visit Roche Court?
Amazingly, it’s free, but donations are very welcome and go towards the work of the Roche Court Educational Trust.
Are there any facilities at Roche Court?
There are loos but no café area. Winterslow has a small shop; the nearest pub is The Silver Plough at Pitton.
Which is the nearest town to Roche Court?
Salisbury is just a few miles away. Read our Salisbury City Guide for other places to visit, independently owned accommodation, restaurants and shops and much more.