Remains of Tudor gardens discovered beneath golf course

·3-min read

The remains of Tudor and Jacobean gardens have been discovered beneath a golf course.

Volunteer researchers noticed that aerial photographs of Belhus Park Golf Course in Thurrock, Essex, appeared to mirror a 1619 pictorial survey of the former estate and a late 17th to early 18th century painting depicting a bird’s eye view of the property.

Their evidence suggested that the layout of the former gardens had survived, and a further non-invasive study of the subtle earthworks and shallow buried archaeology by Historic England has confirmed this.

The survival of a circular water feature to the west of the former manor house, and the patterns of paths and walls, verified the view of the gardens shown in the late 17th to early 18th century painting.

The ground penetrating radar survey shows the survival of historic garden features, seen in a contemporary painting showing the gardens around 1710. (Historic England/ Thurrock Museum/ PA)
The ground-penetrating radar survey shows the survival of historic garden features, seen in a contemporary painting showing the gardens around 1710 (Historic England/Thurrock Museum/PA)

Historic England used a ground-penetrating radar, with senior geophysicist Neil Linford describing how the image of a Tudor water garden became clear.

“We were very excited when we started to see the image of the Tudor water garden appear on the laptop screen as we were collecting the data – that made all the hard work very worthwhile,” he said.

The golf course is part of the former Belhus Park estate, that once included a manor house.

The gardens were replaced in the mid-18th century with a landscape park designed by prolific landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown, whose other works include gardens at Hampton Court, Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth House.

The former Belhus Mansion in 1929, before its demolition in 1957. The image shows faint traces of the buried circular garden feature to the left. (Historic England/ PA)
The former Belhus Mansion in 1929, before its demolition in 1957. The image shows faint traces of the buried circular garden feature to the left (Historic England/PA)

Historic England wants to conserve the historic setting and to work to remove Belhus Park from its Heritage At Risk Register.

Christopher Laine, landscape architect for Historic England, said: “We already knew that Belhus Park was a special place, and a designed landscape of great historic interest.

“This research proves the survival of these rare formal gardens just underneath the surface of the golf course and improves our knowledge of how the gardens and landscape park at Belhus Park developed.

“It will help to inform strategies for improving management and conserving this important heritage for current and future generations.”

A painting of Belhus Mansion from around 1710, by an unknown artist in the style of Jan Siberechts. (Thurrock Museum/ PA)
A painting of Belhus Mansion from around 1710, by an unknown artist in the style of Jan Siberechts (Thurrock Museum/PA)

Volunteer researchers from the Land Of The Fanns scheme noticed that aerial images resembled a past survey and bird’s eye view painting.

The scheme, which covers east London and south-west Essex, says on its website that it “aims to reunify and discover the landscape, strengthen attachment and create a sense of enjoyment of the landscape area for local people and visitors”.

Land of the Fanns volunteer Phil Lobley said: “Having spotted the hint of a circular Belhus Park garden feature on satellite images and a site visit, it was very satisfying to discover that the subsequent field work undertaken by Historic England has produced stunning results, confirming my earlier research.”

The research was carried out with the support of golf course operator Impulse Leisure, whose managing director, Karl Hayes, said he wants to “explore, understand and retain such a historical finding”.

The historic garden features lie within the private golf course and many of them cannot easily be seen from the ground.

Historic England said it is “hoped that there will be future opportunities for community engagement, volunteering, exploring and enjoying this fascinating place”.

The former manor house was lived in from the 14th century but was damaged by bombing and military occupation during the Second World War, leading to its demolition in 1957.

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