by Sue Hubbard
Roche Court is one of those well kept cultural secrets like Garsington Opera at Wormsley in the Chiltern Hills, or Charleston, the former home of the painter Vanessa Bell; loved and valued by those in the know as something unique and rather special. Just off the main A30, it is easy to miss the unassuming sign that directs you to the private sculpture park a few miles outside Salisbury. But as you turn into the driveway that leads through the idyllic Wiltshire countryside you are in for a surprise. In the middle of a field, at a height of more than 17 feet and measuring more than 25 feet across and 75 feet from end to end, stands a huge Cor-ten steel sculpture, Millbank Steps by Sir Anthony Caro, commissioned originally for Tate Britain in 2004, and comprising of four huge, stepped arches. This heroic form, like some great prehistoric henge, frames the clouds and sky, along with the surrounding fields, in a way that is quite magical, creating a dialogue between sculpture, architecture and even landscape painting, so that seeing the work here is a completely different experience to encountering it in a gallery. And that is the whole point of Roche Court; to experience contemporary sculpture within a rural setting.
Founded in 1958, the original New Art Centre was located in Sloane Street, London. Then in 1994 it relocated to Roche Court , a nineteenth-century house in rolling parkland, built in 1804 for Admiral Nelson, reputedly for trysts with his mistress Emma, though these were apparently cut short by his premature death at Trafalgar. Traces of Iron Age and Roman farms and two Saxon cemeteries have been located nearby on Roche Court Down. In the twenty acres or so of parkland and garden with its ha-ha and scenic views, sited amid the walled vegetable garden with its Victorian glass houses or dotted in wooded dells and hollows, are around 100 works by 20th and 21stcentury sculptors. From the terrace of the house a pair of huge bronze hares by Barry Flanagan can be seen leaping in the cleft of the valley. Roche Court also represents various artists' estates including those of Barbara Hepworth, Kenneth Armitage and Ian Stephenson.
In the autumn of 1998 the architect, Stephen Marshall, added the new gallery that now joins the house and the Orangery which, along with the award-winning Artist’s House, has proved to be a perfect addition to the park and won six architectural awards including the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize for best small building. This allows for an ever-changing programme of exhibitions. The present show is by Laura Ford.