While you’ll typically find GPR surveys used on construction sites to source utility pipes and cables below ground prior to building, there are a host of other intriguing uses for the technology. In July 2021, for instance, a volunteer research group employed a GPR survey on a golf course in Thurrock, Essex, to discover the remains of gardens dating back to Tudor and Jacobean times beneath the surface. With the assistance of expert GPR surveyors, they were able to find stronger evidence of the layout of the former gardens.
Historic England’s senior geophysicist, Neil Linford, explained that previously taken aerial photos of the site, Belhus Park Golf Course, had indicated the outline of a garden that appeared similar in form to pictorial representations of the estate from the 17th and 18th centuries. These suggested the survival of the layout of the old garden. It was the volunteers of local conservation group Land Of The Fanns who first noticed that the aerial photos resembled a bird’s eye view painting of the manor, and a further non-invasive study of the area has now confirmed this discovery.
The GPR survey findings included a circular water feature to the west of the former manor house, which can be seen in a painting from around 1710 that depicted the gardens. The manor was one of the most prominent houses in England in the 14th century and was inhabited for centuries. However, it was damaged by bombing during World War II and was finally demolished in 1957.
It’s known that, during the mid-18th century, renowned landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown replaced the original Tudor gardens with a new design. Capability Brown, of course, worked on hundreds of gardens in his time, including those at Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House and Hampton Court, and around 150 of his works have survived into the 21st century.
Historic England’s goal is to preserve this historical setting and have Belhus Park removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.
The organisation’s landscape architect, Christopher Laine, said they already knew that Belhus Park was something special, which is what prompted them to survey the land with GPR.
According to Laine, the discovery of this former Tudor Garden will provide the information the body needs to improve the conservation and management of this important heritage site, benefitting the current and future generations.
Karl Hayes, managing director of Belhus Park golf course, said the project had the golf club’s complete support and he is looking forward to the club’s role in exploring, understanding, and preserving the findings.
This discovery shows the value of GPR in uncovering the history that lies beneath the ground and cannot easily be seen by any other means. Historic England said it is hoping there will be further opportunities at Belhus Park in the future for volunteering, engaging with the community, and exploring this great new resource.
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The parks and gardens created during the reign of Elizabeth I played an essential role in the history of the country. These spaces were opportunities for prominent families to display their wealth, success, and power, which is why the gardens created at this time were so elaborate. They had by this time become essential features for any fashionable mansion.
In the 16th century, landowners used their deer parks to establish and enhance social and political relationships within their community, giving valued guests an opportunity to hunt game on their premises. At Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, for instance, numerous high-profile guests and visitors were recorded, including Cardinal Wolsey and Queen Mary, the sister of Henry VIII.
However, in time, economic pressures resulted in some deer parks being turned over to agricultural land, while others continue to be used as elaborate gardens to stately homes.
Just as landowners used their deer parks to promote their status and make grand statements, so gardens were representations of a host’s grandeur, serving to enhance their visitors’ experience. Owners of large estates regarded these gardens as extensions of their own homes and used them for entertaining, dining, and simply to demonstrate their wealth and importance.
Architectural designs incorporated features such as terraces, moats, canals, statues, and fountains. Planting was also lavish. As the nation’s affection for plants and flowers grew, so new species were introduced to provide additional aesthetic effects. Tree species were chosen for their visual appeal and planted in ornamental orchards, while decorative flowerbeds became increasingly elaborate.
Gardens increasingly incorporated themes from French and Italian Renaissance gardens. There was an emphasis on order and harmony, symmetry and alignment with a mix of classical motifs and medieval forms.
The owners used geometry to create a regular layout, demonstrating their ability to control nature and shape it according to their preference, which displayed their authority and contribution to society. They also plotted different routes through the landscape, using a succession of individual garden spaces to allow them to tell a story and paint an image in the heads of the visitors.
These gardens became the central meeting point of splendour and often were used as suitable locations for pageantry and spectacles for theatre. On one notable occasion, for instance, in 1575, Robert Dudley entertained Queen Elizabeth I, incorporating his entire garden landscape in a play.
The discovery of the gardens beneath the Belhus Park golf course is an exciting one because it vividly illustrates another element of the UK’s colourful history. Technology plays a significant role in rediscovering the country’s rich heritage.
GPR surveys are the ideal way to find what lies beneath the surface of certain areas. As GPR is a fully non-intrusive and non-destructive technology, it enables archaeologists to gather valuable data while preserving the current state of the site.
KB GPR Surveys are professional GPR surveyors and can offer this state-of-the-art technology for a wide range of applications. As industry leaders in the field of GPR, we have performed successful surveys for archaeological, investigation, construction, and demolition purposes. Our equipment and data provide the highest level of accuracy and clarity to ensure the best results.
If you have any questions about our services, you can call us on 020 3931 5759 or email us at email@example.com.