Lyveden was commissioned by Sir Thomas Tresham, a cultivated Elizabethan landowner who was frequently imprisoned and fined for his Catholic faith. The pavilion is riddled with symbols relating to Catholicism, some of which are so cryptic that they have never been deciphered. It remained unfinished at Tresham’s death in 1605.
The plot thickened recently when National Trust curator Chris Gallagher (perhaps I should call him ‘renowned curator’, in true Dan Brown style) discovered an aerial photograph of Lyveden taken during World War II by the German airforce, the Luftwaffe. The photograph provides vital clues to the design of the garden, but until recently it had lain unexamined in the United States National Archives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Tresham was a keen gardener, and the ten concentric cicrles seen in the Luftwaffe photo, measuring about 120 meters in diameter, reveal more about the design of the garden. The circles are set within what Sir Thomas described in a letter a his ‘moated orchard’. Elsewhere there are references to 400 raspberries and roses that were to be planted within the ‘circular borders’.
The 1944 photo proves that parts of these garden features remain, thinly covered by grass. This discovery of the physical evidence of the Elizabethan garden has prompted English Heritage to upgrade Lyveden to grade 1 on their Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
As a first stab at recreating the lost garden, National Trust staff have mowed a labyrinth in the sward, which is one possible interpretation of what the circles could have been part of. It is hoped that further research will allow an informed replanting of the area to be carried out.
And it may even inspire Dan Brown’s next book…