THE HISTORY OF LAWNS
The History of Lawns
Lawns are so integral and enshrined in most of our gardens, we feel like they’ve been here forever. Smooth, rolled and often fastidiously adored.
But actually, lawns have a noisy and bumpy history, full of camels and invention! Yes, camels!
For decades, only the very wealthy could afford them. One of the first mentions of the word ‘lawn,’ came in the 1500’s, and described a glade or open space in a forest or between woods.
But big lawns came into their own in the 1700’s with a landscape movement. Designers like Capability Brown, redesigned entire estates, creating rolling pastures.
With artfully placed groups of trees, re-routed streams, new lakes and bridges and immense views.
What owners wanted, were lawns that swept all the way to the doorstep, but there were issues.
The easiest way to get close cropped grass was with living lawn mowers like sheep, who could nibble acres at a time and look picturesque while they were at it.
But how to stop them walking into the living room? The answer was a deep ditch known as an ‘Aha!’
It was called a ‘Aha’ because it was invisible from the house, and visitors only discovered how it worked when they got to it and exclaimed, ‘Aha!’
So who cut the rest of the grass? Scysthesmen.
They would start at dawn as the dew lubricated the blade to ensure a better cut, and the scythes needed sharpening several times an hour.
It was incredibly hard work, and the other workers had to get up early too to follow behind picking up the cuttings.
Only higher paid scythesmen at the top of their game could cut lawns precisely, shaving off millimetres at a time.
In the 1820’s however, Edwin Beard Budding (who built machines for the woollen trade) had an idea.
Shearing machines were designed to remove ‘bobbles’ from newly woven cloth using several blades set on a roller.
Presumably, Budding saw this and thought this process might be useful elsewhere.
The first lawn mower was operated by two people. Pulled from the front and guided from the back. The story goes that Budding tested out his new invention at home at night to keep it secret from competitors. However, the cast iron materials were so noisy that the neighbours complained!
Budding got the patent for it in 1830 and with it, came the very beginnings of ‘lawn envy’ and a measure of your morality!
The shorter, flatter and smarter the grass around your home, the higher your standards. Lawns had arrived!
It didn’t take long for the person pulling the mower to be replaced by horsepower. The pony (or donkey) wore boots so they didn’t leave marks in the lawn. There were boots for the front and boots for the back which were made to order by drawing around hooves in advance.
Boot wearing ponies appeared, rolling lawns for matches at Wimbledon and London Zoo got around the ‘hoof print issue’ altogether by using a camel to pull the mower as they have flat padded feet.
The Victorians didn’t stop there though as smaller, nippier mowers were created for smaller, trickier areas. It meant that wealthy Victorians could create small island flower beds to show off prized exotic plants.
Some Victorians declared this new trend a disease of the eye due to it’s garishness, but that didn’t stop the new tide of technology.
The next step was for lawns to arrive into small urban gardens and the rest, is history!