Parks & Gardens


Wessex Archaeology works for a wide range of estate managers, from individuals to government agencies, providing professional advice on how to deal with heritage assets. We supply a comprehensive service which integrates archaeology, historic building surveys and landscapes characterisation surveys. With our extensive understanding of the planning system we can provide condition surveys, management plans and historic landscape characterisation surveys as required by the planning authorities.
For a selection of case studies choose from the links below or right.
For our full range of services click here

Lydiard Park


Lydiard Park, just south west of Swindon, is owned by Swindon Borough Council. With the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the support of RWE Innogy, the park has been restored to some of its eighteenth century glory. During summer 2004 Wessex Archaeology undertook the essential investigation work needed to ensure that the restoration is authentic.
But this was no ordinary excavation. A key part of the project was the involvement of the local community and over 200 local residents took part in digging the eighteenth century features in the park.
The archaeology is of great interest to many of the visitors, walkers and families who regularly visit this lovely park, and the archaeology events were very well attended. 
The excavations were primarily concerned with features of the park known to have been present in the eighteenth century, like the walled garden and the dam wall, but other areas were also investigated. Find out more about the archaeology by clicking on the menu to the right.
Download the pdf below to view the exhibition, or to find out more about the house visit the official Lydiard Park website.
Lydiard Park.pdf3.65 MB

How the landscape was made

Medieval origins

Lidiar or Lidiarde is listed in the Domesday survey of 1086 as a manor of 430 acres, much of which by 1254 had been turned into a deer park for the exclusive hunting of the lord of the manor. This was enclosed by a steep fenced bank and ditch – the ‘park pale’.
Lydiard House and St. Mary’s Church are of medieval origin, but there is little left of that landscape of fields and houses which was swept away in the sixteenth century as the common fields, commons and marshes were enclosed.

A Passionate Gardener

In the early years of the 17th century the park was landscaped, formal gardens created to the south east of the present house and the three avenues of trees planted. Many of the low earthworks in the lawns in front of the house are the remains of these formal gardens. The gardens and parkland produced vegetables, rabbits and venison that were sent to the St.John’s London home at Battersea. Lady of the Manor, Johanna St.John, took a keen interest in the gardens, issuing a constant stream of advice and instruction to her steward. Many of these documents have survived and will be used in planning the restored gardens.


A Very English Landscape

In the eighteenth century fashion in garden design changed and the formal gardens were cleared away to be replaced with open vistas, romantic features and attractive walks. At Lydiard these were designed to compliment the newly remodelled Palladian house and the new walled garden to the north west of the house that still exists. Some of the landscape features from this period, such as the lake dam and the walled garden, are easily visible; others are hidden and searching for them was part of our work.

A playboy and spendthrift

Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, was more interested in his horses than improvements to his estate. However he left a record of it in the paintings of George Stubbs who visited the Park to paint Frederick’s favourite hunter and some of his 20 racehorses. By the mid-nineteenth century the hey-day of the Park was over, trees began to encroach on the open pasture and the lake to silt up.

Swindon Corporation and World War II

In 1943 the house and 147 acres of the estate were sold to Swindon Corporation and so rescued from potential demolition. Under the leadership of Swindon Town Clerk, David Murray John, the house was instead restored, and Lydiard Park has been managed as a public amenity ever since.
During World War II American forces set up the 302nd Station Hospital camp in preparation for D-Day landing casualties. The camp was later used as a German Prisoner of War Camp. After the war it became housing, to alleviate the chronic post-war shortage, but in 1960 the buildings were demolished and the land is now dedicated to sports pitches and events.

The Walled Garden

The excavations in the garden found the layout of the paths and confirmed their alignment. The paths were lined by specially deepened planting beds to improve the growing conditions from the natural shallow soil over limestone. We also found evidence of ornamental garden features and a well with an adjacent stone cistern. These were all unknown aspects that were fed back into the design of the restored gardens.
Half section, hand-excavation of the well.Half section, hand-excavation of the well.Excavation of the well and associated stone cistern in progress.Excavation of the well and associated stone cistern in progress.Section of a bedding trench showing the brown clay in a planting bed.Section of a bedding trench showing the brown clay in a planting bed.
Garden path leading across the garden from the main gate.Garden path leading across the garden from the main gate.Excavation of the stone cistern in progress.Excavation of the stone cistern in progress.Fully excavated stone cistern. Note the rough sides, broken off when the garden was grassed over.Fully excavated stone cistern. Note the rough sides, broken off when the garden was grassed over.
The cistern was carved from a single piece of stone. Note the clay surround to aid water retention within the porous stone cisteThe cistern was carved from a single piece of stone. Note the clay surround to aid water retention within the porous stone ciste




Outer Garden Wall

Two areas to the south west of the walled garden were investigated. The corner of the outer wall was found and so was a small bothy or shed built into the wall. Both areas produced finds – as well as the expected debris of old mole traps, flower pots and bottles, there were pieces of medieval pottery including some Minety ware from north west Wiltshire.
The structure of the outer wall was of brick and stone, and included recycled building materials, probably from the demolished service wing of the old house.
Outer garden wall before excavationOuter garden wall before excavationStone wall during excavation by volunteers from the public.Stone wall during excavation by volunteers from the public.The same section of the wall after excavation. This corner housed a bothy or garden shed.The same section of the wall after excavation. This corner housed a bothy or garden shed.
The same section of the wall after excavation. This corner housed a bothy or garden shed.The same section of the wall after excavation. This corner housed a bothy or garden shed.Phil Harding, one of the staff at Wessex Archaeology, with volunteers from the public.Phil Harding, one of the staff at Wessex Archaeology, with volunteers from the public. 



The Lake

A derelict structure at the north west corner of the lake was investigated. The steps down towards the silted up lake originally suggested it was a slipway or a boathouse. Further investigations made this seem less likely. The structure has a flagstone floor and is bricked in at the lake end. Inside it was rendered. All of this suggests a different use – perhaps a plunge pool for a bracing dip by the lake, or a holding tank for fish.
Possible boathouse structure before excavation.Possible boathouse structure before excavation.The same structure, excavated by volunteers from RWE npower.The same structure, excavated by volunteers from RWE npower.Volunteers from RWE npower continue the excavation.Volunteers from RWE npower continue the excavation.
Detailed drawings are done. The ‘boathouse’ now looks more like a plunge pool.Detailed drawings are done. The ‘boathouse’ now looks more like a plunge pool.  



The Park Pale

No trace of the garden 'temple seat' was found.No trace of the garden 'temple seat' was found. A section of the park boundary by Greendown School was excavtated, and it was found that the stone wall is built directly on the limestone at the base of the ditch. There was no evidence of earlier filling of the ditch, which means that either the boundary was first built in the 18th century, or that the earlier medieval Park Pale that was thought to be there was completely changed and cleaned out when the 18th century landscaping was carried out .
In the same area we dug two trenches looking for an ornamental garden ‘temple seat ’ shown on a map in 1766 on the east side of the lake. No trace of it was found, so it was probably an insubstantial wooden structure or seat.


Earthen bank made up of the spoil from ditch clearance prior to the construction of the stone wall.Earthen bank made up of the spoil from ditch clearance prior to the construction of the stone wall.The stone wall rests on natural bedrock.The stone wall rests on natural bedrock.Elevation of the stone wall within the pale or boundary ditchElevation of the stone wall within the pale or boundary ditch


The Dam

In order to restore the lake to its original size and shape, the construction of the earthen dam and its castellated stone wall were investigated. The dam wall was probably built in the mid eighteenth century and is thought to have been purely ornamental. Behind it volunteers found a number of post-medieval finds, including bits of clay pipe with the stamps of Thomas Hunt and Roger Andrus – both working in Marlborough in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century.
At the approach to the dam from the house, close to the lake, a long stretch of was uncovered, marking what appeared to be the western limits of the dam wall and showing where it was joined to the Yew Walk.
West end of dam wall at the junction with a wall found at the lower end of the Yew Walk.West end of dam wall at the junction with a wall found at the lower end of the Yew Walk.Crenellations on the 18c wall abutting the earthen dam.Crenellations on the 18c wall abutting the earthen dam.



The Car Park

Course of Roman stone workCourse of Roman stone workThe new car park area behind the Church was one of the last areas to be investigated, but it contained some of the most interesting finds – the remaining foundation course of stone work of a Roman building, the construction of which reuses material from a grander Roman building, possibly a villa.
The trenches here also found a pair of ditches that may be the remains of a medieval trackway or field boundary.

Community Outreach

Public involvement was at the heart of this project, and a large number of local people helped in the clearance and excavation work. Volunteer groups came from RWE npower, Greendown School, Churchfields School, Wiltshire Probation Young Offenders, the Park Rangers, Swindon Young Carers and English Heritage. Many individuals also came and spent a day digging with the team – in all over 200 people lent a hand.
During half term week there was a Site Open Day, a Family Dig Day, and two Meet the Archaeologists days. Many groups had guided tours around the archaeology of the park. All these events were very popular, with more than 600 people taking part.
Some of the finds from the excavation are on show in the Visitors’ centre at Lydiard Park.
Public tours on the first Site Open Day, April 14th 2004.Public tours on the first Site Open Day, April 14th 2004.A young volunteer gets help identifying his latest find.A young volunteer gets help identifying his latest find.Pupils from local schools working to uncover the old pathways in the Walled Garden.Pupils from local schools working to uncover the old pathways in the Walled Garden.
 Phil Harding, one of Wessex Archaeology’s staff with volunteers from RWE npower.Phil Harding, one of Wessex Archaeology’s staff with volunteers from RWE npower. Volunteers from the general public in front of the main entrance to Lydiard House.Volunteers from the general public in front of the main entrance to Lydiard House. Small pieces of pottery, bone, clay pipe, and charcoal were found by young volunteers.Small pieces of pottery, bone, clay pipe, and charcoal were found by young volunteers.
 Half-Term, Family Dig Day. The handling table.Half-Term, Family Dig Day. The handling table. Half Term, Family Dig Day. Groups joined the archaeologists excavating in the Walled Garden.Half Term, Family Dig Day. Groups joined the archaeologists excavating in the Walled Garden. 




Lydiard Park -
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Holywells Park

The Background
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Ipswich Borough Council a project planning grant to pay for the investigations needed before restoration work began at Holywells Park. Wessex Archaeology excavated a number of trial trenches to record old surfaces and structures hidden under the ground. These remains tell us more about the history of the park, and the arcaheological results were fed back into the renovation plans.
External links: Heritage Lottery Fund, Ipswich Borough Council Tourism






View an online exhibition of this site by downloading the pdf below.
Holywells park.pdf2.47 MB

Prehistory at Holywells



The park has a long history, we have evidence of people living in the area for thousands of years.
Flint tools from the Stone Age have been found at Holywells, while Bronze Age axes and Roman coins have been discovered nearby.

The Manor


The earliest written records tell us that the area was part of the manor of Wyks Bishop, held by the Bishops of Norwich from the 13th century, but we do not if an estate house existed on the site at that time.
During the reign of Henry VIII the manor was surrendered to the crown, and shortly afterwards granted to Sir John Jermy.
There followed a succession of lords of the manor before the title was acquired by John Cobbold in 1812. The painting right shows park and house in 1867.

Water and Beer


It is the remarkable natural springs that give Holywells its character and have shaped its history.
During the eighteenth century a succession of brewers worked here and used the waters to make beer. The Cobbold family owned land at Holy Wells from 1689. They had begun their brewery in Harwich but had problems with the water there. For many years they used ships, transporting water from Holywells to Harwich, the same ships returned to Ipswich transporting the beer.

The Lost Gardens

Holywells House was built in the nineteenth century on the site of an old farmhouse. Its gardens, originally reflecting the Victorian taste, were redesigned in the twentieth century in accordance with the ideas of gardeners like Gertrude Jekyll. Now the house and gardens have gone. Only the stable block remains above ground, and the history of the park’s landscape is hidden below our feet.

Archaeological Investigations 2004

The map below shows the extent of the Archaeological Investigations



The two test pits dug on the terrace told us that the area has been built-up rather than cut into to create the terrace that is visible today. The construction was mainly of sand and what appears to be eighteenth century brick rubble. The rubble is possibly from the farm that pre-dated the manor house on the site, which is mentioned in historical sources. The raised terrace was then covered by a chalk surface or path 1-2 cm deep.



Two trenches were dug in this area, one to the east and one to the west. In the eastern trench it was hoped we would find evidence of the medieval field boundary seen on early mapping, but only a mixture of sand, clay and rubble was recorded. The western trench however did show positive evidence for the presence of a channel or water course.

Twentieth Century Garden


A further two trenches were opened in this area. The first contained the remains of one of the garden paths, pictured in an early photograph (right). The brick rubble beneath the path’s surface covered a land drain. More drainage was found in the other trench, along with the foundations of a wall. The information recorded in the these trenches has been used to work out the complex sequence of events here, from the gardens long history. The results from this work was fed back into the renovation plans.

Bishop's Wyke

A trench was placed across the predicted location of the 12/13th century moat ditch but due to its depth, and flooding from the high water table, hand excavation of the ditch was not possible. However an auger survey was carried out (using a kind of drill with a spiral tip which brings soil to the surface for analysis). This allowed us to establish the depth and shape of the original ditch, and showed how it had later been filled in with organic material and sandy clays.
Further augering work was undertaken in the moat ditch to the north. The results showed the depth of the moat ditch (3.5m) and that the embankment at this point was made up of sand quarried from elsewhere on site. This embankment was probably as part of the nineteenth century alterations to the grounds, which created a raised walkway across the moat. 
A geophysical survey has also been carried out in this area, within the moat. The survey was hampered by the magnetic effects of the nearby play equipment but, where a clear survey was possible, it gave no evidence of any buildings. So the question of whether the moated site was ever occupied remains to be answered.

Beech Cottage


A trench to identify the ground plan of a cottage shown on the early nineteenth century maps found only post-medieval rubble, with no structural evidence remaining.
It is possible that the cottage had been totally demolished with even the shallow foundations losts, or perhaps the location shown on the old maps is inaccurate and the cottage lies elsewhere.

Lost Water Course

The upper part of a water course was found in our trenches. It had a clay lining and had filled up with natural sands. Shortly after excavation and recording the trench became totally immersed in water – the channel is still doing it’s job!

Visitors to the Excavations

Two open days were held during the Holywells excavation, these were well attended with over 100 visitors coming to learn more about the investigations in the park.
Children from local schools and members of the Friends of Holywells, the Ipswich Society, Ipswich Borough Council and the Park Rangers took part in guided tours around the excavation over the two days. Phil Harding, the popular Time Team celebrity, who works for Wessex Archaeology, was one of the archaeologists working in the park. Visitors were delighted to have the chance to meet him and ask him questions.


Hollywells Park -
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Christchurch Park


During work at Christchurch Park, Ipswich, a medieval cemetery was found. The remains are probably part of the St Margaret’s church burial ground. The burials were found while a new drainage system for the park renovations was being dug. Archaeologists were watching the pipe trench during construction because it was known that the cemetery, which is at least 500 years old, lay nearby but it was not known exactly where. To protect the burials, the pipe was re-routed across the lawns of the park.
Christchurch Park has medieval origins. A priory, or monastery, once stood close to the site of Christchurch Mansion. The priory, known as the Holy Trinity, was founded about 1177 for monks of the Augustinian order. It was a small but wealth priory and people from the town came there to worship. As Ipswich expanded, the priory became overcrowded and around 1300 the priory built the church of St Margaret for the town folk. The church, enlarged over the generations, continues in use today.


Like many monasteries and religious houses in England and Wales, Holy Trinity came to grief in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1536 the king decided to close down hundreds of monasteries, and Holy Trinity and its lands were seized. The site of the priory was sold to a wealth merchant who started building Christchurch Mansion as a private home in 1548.
Archaeologists record the exact location of some of the burials using a GPS.Paul Falcini of Wessex Archaeology said ‘we were keeping a careful on the new trench and as soon as we found what we thought were graves we stopped the mechanical excavator. We excavated just enough to confirm that human remains were present and then we carefully covered over the graves.’ He added ‘the graves lies close together at regular intervals so it seems that this is a cemetery, most likely part of St Margaret’s. The grounds of the Mansion were extended over part of the churchyard in the 16th century.
Sam Pollard, Park Manager for Christchurch Park said ‘Trying to build for the future and protect the past is a delicate balancing act. When we decided to put the new drain under the existing road to try and avoid damaging the lawns of the park, we knew there was a chance we would discover part of the cemetery. Now that we know the size of the cemetery, we can plan to protect it. No one likes to dig up lawns, but this time diverting the line of the new drain was the right thing to do.’
The renovation works are part of a major project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Ipswich Council to improve the town centre oasis of Christchurch Park.


Bramham Park, Wetherby

In May and June 2012 Wessex Archaeology undertook excavation and recording of an 18th century garden feature, a former water cascade within the grounds of Bramham Park, Wetherby, West Yorkshire. The Grade 1 listed grounds and park at Bramham were laid out during the period 1700–1713 for the Benson family, and include early water garden features which have not often survived in contemporary gardens. Repair and restoration of the features is underway and the recent excavation work focused on a former cascade feeding water from a reservoir pond to a parterre garden, cut into a terrace to the immediate rear of Bramham House. 

746 Bramham Park

A plan of Bramham Park by John Wood the Elder in 1728 indicates that water in this cascade "falls 21 feet on thirty steps". However the cascade appears to have only operated as a temporary feature and fell out of use at a fairly early date due to an inadequate water supply. Attempts were made to try and improve the water flow, including the removal of almost all the steps and their replacement with a stone-capped culvert. However, this too seems to have failed and the culvert and cascade were covered over by the end of the 18th century. The results of the excavation, including laser scanning of the excavated cascade and extant fountain, are now being used by the project team at Bramham to inform restoration proposals. A watching brief on the restoration of the Rocky Cascade is on-going.


Blenheim Palace


Blenheim Palace was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and built between 1705 and 1722.The estate was landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 1760s. But the history of the estate actually goes back over 6,000 years.
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by Historic Landscape Management for the Blenheim Estate and the Countryside Agency, to report on the condition of significant archaeological sites and monuments on the estate.

Avebury Manor

In advance of filming for the new BBC series “The Manor Reborn” Wessex Archaeology were commissioned by the owners of the manor in question - Avebury Manor owned by the National Trust – to undertake a programme of archaeological investigation and recording of the Grade I listed house. This would provide accurate dating of the various parts of the house, and to provide a record of the house before the transformation of its interiors.
The work was carried out by the Built Heritage Team at Wessex Archaeology’s head office in Salisbury, assisted by specialist sub-contractors for certain elements of the work. The recording programme included the provision of a new measured survey of the house using the latest digital survey techniques. The data was recorded as a three-dimensional point cloud collected by means of a laser scanner

319 Laser scanning the East front of the 16th century house, with part of the 1601 range to the left.

The Built Heritage team’s work began with research at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre to collect historical and cartographic information about the manor house site. This information was combined with a detailed investigation of the house, and the evidence demonstrated that the house had undergone three major programmes of building, and a further five phases of more limited alteration or extension since the construction of the first small lay house on the former monastic site.
Tree ring dating of the roof timbers (dendrochronology) was then used to provide accurate dates for the earlier phases of building. This highly specialist work was carried out by the Nottingham Tree Ring Dating Laboratory, and helped the buildings archaeologists to securely date the individual phases of building.

318 The South range added c.1601 and significantly altered 1740.

The small 16th century house built by William Dunch between 1555 and 1580, which occupies only part of the east range, is thought to have been greatly enlarged, around 1601 by Sir James Mervyn, extending the east range and adding an elegant south range and porch to fundamentally alter the orientation of the house. The rooms which best represent this phase of the history of the house are the Great Parlour and Tudor Bedroom at the south end of the east range, which both retain their fine ribbed plaster ceilings, and carved stone fireplaces. The original external form of this extended house, with its tall gables on east and south elevations was altered c.1740 by Richard Holford, during a programme of remodelling which brought the Great Hall in the south range, and the principal bed-chamber above it, into line with the latest fashion of interior decoration. Following the removal of the stone gables from the south front, the roof structure was altered to accommodate a deep coved ceiling to what became known as the Queen Anne bedroom, though the room would have been in its earlier form during the reign of Queen Anne.

320 The Great Chamber with its original Elizabethan ribbed plaster ceiling and carved Compton Bassett stone fireplace.

The last major phase of alteration of the house was carried out by Colonel and Mrs Jenner who first tenanted and then owned the house in the early 20th century, and were keen to restore many of the rooms to their late 16th and early 17th century style. The refurbishment being carried out as part of the BBC television series will mark the latest in a historical sequence of ‘re-birth’ of the manor.
Find out more about our Built Heritage services or discover more about our measured survey, laser scanning, and photographic recording capabilities.

Bourne Hill, Gardens


Purpose and Scope of the Conservation Management Plan
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned to prepare a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) by Wiltshire Council (formerly Salisbury District Council)  for the Grade II Registered Council House Gardens at Bourne Hill in Salisbury (NGR SU 14766 30389), hereafter referred to as ‘the Site’ (Figure 1). Salisbury District Council was dissolved and subsumed into Wiltshire Council in April 2009.
Planning Application S/2008/0350 was made in 2008 for an extension to the north of The Council House and landscaping works within the Site.  The planning application was granted on 14th July 2008. The application is associated with a second approved application, S/2008/0351, to demolish the existing Grade II* 19th century extension to The Council House. The CMP was written to fulfil a requirement of Schedule item no. 2, within the Memorandum of Understanding prepared by Salisbury District Council on 2nd July 2008.
The purpose of this CMP is to understand the values of the Site and assess its significance, in order to apply an appropriate set of policies to ensure its long-term protection and enhancement.  The CMP relates to the proposed works of the current planning application and any subsequent works in the future.
Background to the Conservation Management Plan
The Site is a Grade II Registered Garden, as of November 2007, containing six structures that are on the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest (listed) and a section of the City Rampart which is a Scheduled Monument.  The Site is also within the Salisbury City Centre Conservation Area, which is currently under review (‘Salisbury City Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan Consultation Draft January 2010’ by Forum Heritage Services, 2010).  The CMP was commissioned to ensure that any future works within the Site will be sympathetic towards this heritage asset.
This document has been prepared, following the issue of many previous reports addressing the Site.  Primarily, an Environmental Statement (ES) was prepared to inform the planning applications submitted in 2008 (Salisbury District Council Extension of Office Accommodation at Bourne Hill Environmental Statement Written Statement vol. 1 edited by The Landmark Practice).  The chapters on the ‘Historic Landscape and Garden’, ‘Historic Built Environment’ and ‘Archaeology’ were produced by Wessex Archaeology.  A recommendation was made within this ES, stating that ‘The management of the Scheduled Monument and the Registered Park and Garden will benefit from the production of a management plan to, amongst other matters, identify key issues relating to the survival of the Scheduled Monument’ (Landmark Practice 2008, 6-17).  
In addition to fulfilling the planning application condition, it is hoped that this document will provide a succinct statement of the history and significance of the Site, synthesize the findings of the previous reports and give practical advice for the Site’s continued maintenance, enhancement and enjoyment.
The Conservation Management Plan and associated figures may be downloaded below.
The Council House, Bourne Hill, Conservation Management Plan (PDF)245.75 KB
The Council House, Bourne Hill, Conservation Management Plan: Figures (PDF)7.32 MB