We had a meeting at Kingston Lacy on Thursday. Sarah and Chris have just been appointed to create a conservation statement for Kingston Lacy park and garden. They wanted to get a good view, so Rob the House Steward took us up on the roof of the mansion.
We used the servants’ route via the back stairs, avoiding the billard room with its Egyptology collection and the library with its stunning array of 17th century Lely portraits. This includes one of Sir Ralph Bankes, who had the house built once Charles II became king (Parliament took the Bankes’ estates from them and had their old home Corfe Castle demolished because they backed Charles I in the Civil War).
Rob slid the roof door open and we climbed out into the sunshine and onto the flat lead roof. The park and gardens lay beneath us, bounded by a belt of trees and beyond it, on its hill, to the west was Badbury Rings hillfort.
We talked about the south lawn first. In the early 19th century, William John Bankes had brought back an Egyptian obelisk from his travels. He got his dad to put it up as the focal point of the lawn along with scupltures from Greece and Rome.
It is so dry at the moment that traces of earlier gardens can be seen as parch marks emerging from the grass. These include some strange parallel rows of dry circles and also earlier paths and beds. Historic maps reveal how each generation has adapted and changed the park over time leaving elements of earlier schemes in place. Next week we will survey the south lawn.
Then we walked across the roof and looked directly north across the park where there had once been a grand avenue of trees shown on the 1742 map. Later, two diagonal avenues were planted to create vistas to the north-west and north-east. This was all a bit too formal and they were swept away by 1800. Chris and Sarah are starting by analysing the evidence of the surviving phases of tree plantings and how they relate to the earthworks on the ground.
A 20m wide raised linear earthwork runs from the mansion house to the old road line and this preserves the line of the central avenue. When the soil was dumped here to create it, over 300 years ago, it lapped over the earthworks of something much older but that is another story.
Godolphin has launched the archaeology festival for NT in the SW. Kingston Lacy will get involved tomorrow and Tuesday. We’ll be setting up display and activity tents, geophyzzing the south lawn and plotting the parch marks and also giving guided tours of the remains of the original Kingston Lacy in the north park.