home > places to visit > Lyveden New Bield > History > Garden Restoration
click on the photograph for 
          image credits
Lyveden New Bield - History Banner

| introduction | opening times | history | wildlife | news & events | learning | function hire | picture gallery

Garden Restoration

Gardens of the 16th and early 17th Century are extremely rare. Few gardens in England escaped the modernising pressures of garden design, estate management or farming practices.

However, work at Lyveden to clear four centuries of scrub and abandonment is gradually re-discovering one garden that has remarkably stood the test of time.

Click here to view our restoration picture gallery showing our progress.

Initial survey
In 1995 a detailed archaeological survey was undertaken to identify the extent of the original garden form. Clearance work began to enable the recording of over 50,000 digital points across the Scheduled site. The results created an accurate topographical model of the surviving garden form highlighting many original features including terraces, prospect mounds and an extensive system of canals.

The initial clearance work also highlighted the imminent risk to the earthworks. Mature trees learning at angles from the banks were extremely susceptible to uprooting, and underneath a dense canopy of scrub the soil was bare and gradually eroding. A major programme of work planned to gradually clear and uncover a garden that had remained dormant for nearly 400 years.

Uncovering the past
With the support of funding from DEFRA (Department of Farming and Rural Affairs) and the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, work began on clearing back the scrub. Trees were removed from the most sensitive parts of the site including the banks of the raised terrace, the sides of the four prospect mounds, and along the length of nearly 500 metres of moats encircling the site.

The gradual clearance allowed light to break through once again, enabling plants to grow and protect the earthworks as well as offering a magnificent show of violets, primroses and cowslips, all of which continue today.

From beneath the scrub, the shape of the garden became visible. Spiralling pathways ascend huge earth mounds, designed to provide a gentle ascent for the ladies in their French farthingales. The long terrace still offers a sheltered canal side walk, with truncated mounts at either end providing extensive views over the surrounding countryside. In fact much of the garden form remains as it was left when work was abandoned in the early 17th Century.

The scrub clearance also revealed evidence of an early medieval settlement which, it would appear, was gradually being cleared to make way for Tresham's new garden design.

De-silting the canals
In 2000 a major project was undertaken to remove the accumulated silt from the canals, returning them to a similar condition to when the workmen stopped digging 400 years earlier.

Before excavating the silt, core samples were removed. These yielded a series of small but significant, well preserved pollen samples. A number of the plants present require specific environments in which to thrive, therefore telling us a huge amount about what was going on in the landscape at the time when the deposit was laid down. These included the deepest deposits, dating from the Elizabethan age and containing species which must have been planted for their flowers, scent or medicinal qualities, including anenomes, meadowsweet, bur-marigold and roses.

Tresham letters
These provided a vital and fascinating source of information, identifying the important links between the garden and lodge. Many hours have been spent at the British Library, decoding and unravelling Tresham's handwriting, giving a unique insight into horticultural practices of the 16th century.

Modern methods of geophysics have been used to identify hidden details such as the layout of the parterre garden to the north of the Bield and in the centre of the moated garden. Initial results are suggesting that some of these areas were constructed while other parts of the garden were far from complete. This work is still ongoing, and hopefully further results will follow.

Orchard Planting
Early aerial photographs identified the pit holes left from the removal of Tresham's trees in 1609! Lady Tresham arranged the sale of the trees to Robert Cecil of Hatfield to pay off some of the significant debts left by her late husband.

The holes gave the approximate spacing of the trees, and together with a list of species from Tresham's correspondence, enabled the gradual re-planting of the orchard to a similar design to that of 1600.

Complete with a central 'walke' of walnuts and a further walk of cherries, the orchard will soon be yielding fruit on its 306 trees!

Back to top

click on image to see picture credits

Historical information pages