The lost garden of Lyveden

©NTPL/Paul Harris

In response to a comment on the previous post by Guy at Rose Uniacke, I thought I would show a few images of what remains of the garden at Lyveden New Bield. It disappeared after Sir Thomas Tresham’s death in 1605, but its main features are still there just below the surface.

The view from one of the mounts, which would not have had trees growing on them originally. ©NTPL/Paul Harris

The garden had several spiral mounts. These artificial hills were very popular in the Elizabethan period and provided a slightly elevated perspective over the garden and into the wider landscape.

Bird's-eye-view of Dunham Massey from the north by John Harris, c 1750. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

A similar mount can be seen surviving in a mid-eighteenth-century bird’s-eye-view painting of Dunham Massey, Cheshire.

One of the canals at Lyveden being cleared of algae. ©NTPL/Paul Harris

Tresham created a moated garden at Lyveden surrounded by straight canals. As was shown in the previous post, this area seems to have been planted in circular, possibly mazelike patterns.

The nineteenth-century Dutch Garden at Lyme Park, Cheshire, giving an impression of the effect of marigolds in a geometric garden design. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

Pollen grains found in the silt dredged out of the canals indicate that the plants growing at Lyveden in Elizabethan times included pinks, bur-marigold, coriander, parsley and fennel.

Mowing the raised terrace. ©NTPL/Paul Harris

The raised terrace also survives. This functioned as a kind of outdoor long gallery, a pleasant place to walk and enjoy the changing views.

The new plum trees being pruned. ©NTPL/Paul Harris

Tresham’s surviving letters mention some of the fruit trees he had planted at Lyveden, which included Catshead, Harveys and Queening apples, Windsor and Worcester pears, damsons, plums and cherries. The National Trust began replanting the orchard in 2002.

8 Responses to “The lost garden of Lyveden”

  1. Hels Says:

    You note that the main features of the garden are still there, just below the surface. But how does one know where those features are buried? If only garden designers left detailed descriptions, in text and in drawings. Even better, if only they commissioned an artist to paint the house and gardens in their maturity.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    At Lyveden the research is a mixture of the naked eye, aerial photography, archeology (I am not sure if they have used geophysical surveys there, but that is of course one method on ‘non-invasive’ archeology), analysing pollen, studying surviving correspondence and comparison with other recorded examples. So lots of different types of ‘eyes’ probing into the past.

    Sir Thomas Tresham’s son was involved in the Gunpowder Plot and after that the family had to keep a low profile for a while, which is why the pavilion and garden weren’t finished or properly recorded.

  3. Guy Says:

    So the house is unfinished as opposed to a ruin?

    The quality of build must be exceptional as it has apparently been open to the elements for centuries.

    I shall definitely be making a visit.

    The spirals in the gardens are remarkably similar to gardens by Charles Jencks

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes indeed Guy, it’s unfinished, but the quality of the craftsmanship has allowed it to survive the weather and attempts to cannibalise the stonework.

    Yes in a way Charles Jenck’s postmodernism is simply neo-Elizabethan, isn’t it? :)

  5. di williams Says:

    As one of the foremost labyrinth facilitators and trainers in the UK I am fascinated by this discovery. It appears to be a medieval 10 or 11 circuit turf labyrinth. It would be good if work was done to establish the exact pattern. It is unlikely to be the same as the one mown into the field recently.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Di, I will try to find out from the curator involved with this project, Chris Gallagher, how far they have got with identifying the exact pattern.

    • Chris Gallagher Says:

      Di/Emile, It is not firmly established yet that the pattern represented a labyrinth at all, although this is one of many working hypotheses that we are considering. Tudor (and indeed later Stuart) gardens, as well as their counterparts on the Continent, contained many examples of circular structures of this kind, for example at Twickenham and at Heidelberg in Germany. At Sorgvliet (Amsterdam) a somewhat later design had a circular spiral mount itself surrounded by concentric circular hedged labyrinth within other rectilinear plantings. It may be significant that there are appear to have been 10 concentric circles within the Moated Orchard at Lyveden, with possibly a circular ‘bed’ at their centre. The pre-Copernican Universe consisted of 10 ‘spheres’ with the Earth at their centre…I’ll leave you to fill in the rest of that sentence for yourself. What is almost certain is that Thomas Tresham’s gardens would have been laced through with as much symbolism as his buildings, which are themselves embedded with enough allusions and symbolic/significant measurements to send Dan Brown screaming from the room. We have a letter to Sir Thomas from his Steward, on site at Lyveden, asking for directions on how to plant a number of roses and raspberries within the ‘circular borders’. A number of interpretations of the wording in this letter are possible but these plants would have been symbolic, both of the Passion (thorny plants) and of Virginity (the Rose) – by association also the latter could be taken to represent Queen Elizabeth herself, so even within an apparently simple allegory, there may have been different levels of meaning, depending on who was looking at it.

      As to the exact pattern of the supposed labyrinth, we have to rely both on field evidence (i.e. the aerials) and on contemporary examples elsewhere, in particular those of religious significance, such as that at Chartres Cathedral, which has….10 concentric circles plus a central area. Already I am feeling like I need a lie-down.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Fantastic Chris, thank you so much. You get the prize for the longest comment on the blog so far :) but in all seriousness it is absolutely fascinating information.

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