‘Buried’ gardens are a historic extravaganza

Rowena Archer and Stephen Wass
Rowena Archer and Stephen Wass

A ‘Jacobean theme park full of mechanical marvels and wonders’ is being uncovered at historic Hanwell Castle.

An archaeological exploration of the fantastic 17th century pleasure gardens is being carried out and will continue for the next six years.

Hanwell Castle was built in the early 16th century and was surrounded by a large park.

The new revelations show the gardens incorporated elaborate water features and interconnecting lakes.

“There are still traces of the layout of the park and garden but much is buried,” said owner, medieval historian Rowena Archer.

“Archaeologist Stephen Wass is taking a survey of the landscape. He has been on the island in the middle of the remaining lake where Sir Anthony Cope had a ‘house of diversion’ and he has excavated the sluice from the one survivor of at least five fish ponds.”

Mr Wass’s digs have unearthed some fascinating objects including early clay pipes, pottery and tiling.

His work will be the subject of his thesis for a doctorate at Oxford University – and Ms Archer will be one of his supervisors. “It is a wonderful piece of luck to have stumbled on such an important site on my own doorstep,” said Mr Wass, who lives in Cropredy.

“It is a Jacobean theme park full of mechanical marvels and wonders. The ‘House of Diversion’ on the island is a very elaborate set of fountains which produced special effects.

“There was also a huge water-powered clock and a series of watermills which polished stones and drilled out cannons.

“It was the 17th century equivalent of hanging iPads around your garden. Sir Anthony was saying ‘I have all the most up to date stuff’.”

Young aspiring archeology students are helping Mr Wass in the project. To follow the progress of the exploration see http://www.polyolbion.org.uk/Hanwell/Project.html