Sir William Hesketh Lever (later Lord Leverhulme) purchased Hill House in 1904. The house was extensively rebuilt and enlarged for him, after which it became known as The Hill.
The gardens were laid out in three phases, each following the purchase of the three separate properties that make up the present site.
When Lever purchased Hill House, the garden was on steeply sloping ground and Mawson levelled the site into terraces, providing terrace gardens in front of the house, a level lawn, and a pergola around the west and south sides of the garden in 1906. The terraces were constructed with the spoil from the Hampstead tube excavation. The kitchen gardens were laid out between the pergola and the south-west boundary of The Hill garden. In 1911 Lord Levehulme purchased Heath Lodge (the neighbouring property to the north-west) and demolished that house. Mawson extended the pergola across a bridge over the public road that separated the two properties to a circular Garden Temple and then after a long stretch of pergola to a Belvedere at the western end, overlooking the Heath and the former Heath Lodge gardens. A conservatory on the west side of the original pergola was demolished in the process and replaced by a Pergola Temple. Service buildings were built on the eastern portion of the newly acquired land and the two-acre gardens were incorporated within the scheme.
During the First World War Leverhulme purchased Cedar Lawn (the neighbouring property to the south) and in 1922 that house was also demolished and the pergola and garden were extended to the south.
Born on the 21st August 1862 in Stratford, East London, Rowe was the son of Thomas and Adelaide Rowe. The youngest of five, he had a brother George and three sisters Florence, Annie and Bella.
Rowe started work at sixteen as an apprentice lithographer (the making of plates used to print book illustrations etc.) from October 1878 for five years to 1883. He was dismissed from his first job as a lithographer in February 1884 and started his training as an artist at the Royal Institute of Painters on 4th February 1884, winning the President’s Medal for Landscapes in 1885.
At the age of 23 he started to paint professionally and by working a fourteen hour day he earned £90 in his first summer of work. For the next ten years he had a hand to mouth existence, earning approximately £100 per year while attending the Lambeth School of Art in the evenings. He was constantly helped financially by his mother and brother George and was always selling his paintings to friends and family. His worst year was 1890, when he only earned £30. However, in the 1890s he became interested in garden painting which proved more successful and in 1895 he sold a single painting for £68.
Unfortunately he suffered from consumption. To alleviate this he went abroad during the worst periods of the English winters. He painted in France and Spain but mostly in Italy.
In 1895 he spent some time in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland and there he met his future wife – Nurse Sophy Slater – the daughter of a Baptist minister from Stow-on-the Wold in Gloucestershire. By 1899 his fortune had improved enough to persuade the Reverend Slater that he was worthy, and on 6th October 1899 he married Sophy at the Baptist Chapel at Bourton-on-the-Water.
He became extremely successful. In the summers he travelled all over the British Isles painting most of the famous gardens. In the winter he painted some of the beautiful gardens and villas in Italy, Sicily, Spain and France.
During his best years his paintings were exhibited in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London including twenty-six at the Royal Academy – twenty-four at the Royal Society of British Artists and twenty-two at the Royal Institute of Painters. Every other year he held exhibitions at either the Dowdeswell or Greatorex Galleries in London. These exhibitions were attended by many famous and titled people including Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Princess Alice.
It is known that Queen Mary purchased at least fifteen of his paintings over several years. The present Queen exhibited four of his paintings at an exhibition “Royal Gardens of England” which was held at Sandringham in Norfolk in 1989.
In 1907 all this good fortune enabled him to build his own house at Rusthall near. Tunbridge Wells which he named “Ravello” after his favourite place in Italy. He lived there until 1915 when the First World War put an end to his travelling abroad. As so many gardeners were lost in the fighting many of the gardens became overgrown and people stopped buying paintings. In order to survive he had to sell his treasured house and he was back to hard times.
His fortune picked up again in 1920 but this was short lived because he died of consumption on the 21st January 1922. A memorial exhibition was held in London in 1925, which was attended by Queen Mary. After this he was forgotten until the 1950’s when it became fashionable once again for people to hang paintings on their walls. He was also researched by Christopher Wood – once the foremost authority on Victorian garden artists.