The Teddy Bear’s Picnic

Last week at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.. we were up on the roof. This week we were down on the south lawn.

We set up a couple of tents by the house. Nancy looked after the displays and activities and I did the geophysical surveying and a couple of archaeology tours in the afternoon. Rohan, Nicky, Chris, Katie and Jackie did both.

Setting up for the archaeology days at Kingston Lacy House

Setting up for the archaeology days at Kingston Lacy House

Down to the southern edge of the lawn, behind the Egyptian obelisk where a line of mini-cannon once pointed across the brick-edged ha-ha ditch to Charborough House (the Draxes and Bankes were on opposite sides in the Civil War). I used the brick wall as a base line and created a right angle (handy tip: the diagonal for a 20m grid square is 28.28m). Soon a line of canes at 20m intervals marched across the west side of the garden towards the house and little red or yellow tent pegs divided the garden into a grid.

Dave did the magnetometry, I did the resistivity and we walked up and down in the sun for two days. There is more freedom with magnetometry.. but watch out for anything lurking on your person of a metallic nature. Resistivity is a dance of cables and wires requiring a good partnership between line layer and operative. It’s easy to get into a tangle.

On the ground, the strange array of parch marks looked archaeological. Definitely a double row of circles on the west side (low resistance so tree planting pits? an avenue?). The garden is a central hollow between two low hills and the patterns of straight lines and blobs seemed symmetrical.

We ran out of time so we packed the equipment away, pulled up the grid pegs (bad mistake) and drove home. I downloaded the data that night. Good results. The trouble is with geophysics, there is always something beyond the edge of the survey.

Rain was due this weekend. That would soak the ground and change the resistivity conditions. If I came back in a few weeks, the grids would not match. I could go out on Friday.

Kingston Lacy said fine.. but to remember.. it was the day of the ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. ?? Fine..

Jackie and I went back to the South Lawn but it took me ages to relocate the grid.

We noticed a couple of tables and a teddy or two beneath the cedars on the east side of the garden.

We finally put the first probes in the ground, the machine bleeped and the buggies started to arrive. First in ones and twos and then fleets of them and the gentile world of Kingston Lacy was transformed into a nation of under 7s.

At first everything seemed sweet, the rows of teddys and the face painting, no problem, and then the grid pegs started to disappear. A little boy wandered by with one of our marker canes and the end of a 30m tape moved under the fronds of a majestic beech tree. I went to investigate and a group of angelic little girls were winding it around the trunk. One of the mums let us have it back.

A line of little ones stood in front of us and asked us what we were doing and we told them we were making a picture of things hidden under the lawn. They told us about their cuddly toys. It was a great experience and eventually we finished the area we had hoped to survey.

Andrew the Head Gardener and Nigel the Countryside Manager came and looked at our results and agreed that we had found a garden design not shown on any of the maps, photographs and documents.

The earliest map we have of Kingston Lacy House and garden dates to 1742.  That is 80 years after the house was first built. The double rows of trees leading south of the house might explain the (tree?) pits we surveyed but the other features we detected may relate to the earliest garden designed to go with the first house when it was built in the 1660s.

The earliest map we have of Kingston Lacy House and garden dates to 1742. That is 80 years after the house was first built. The double rows of trees leading south of the house might explain the (tree?) pits we surveyed but the other features we detected may relate to the earliest garden designed to go with the first house when it was built in the 1660s.

We agreed that it would be good to come back next year and put a couple of trenches in, to see whether we could date the garden walls, ponds and garden beds indicated by the parch marks and geophysics.

The theory we have at the moment, is that the features represent an elaborate Restoration garden designed to complement Kingston Lacy House when it was first built in the 1660s.

The parch marks of the south lawn. The dots along the left side of the picture are our supposed avenue of trees. The early 19th century path to the Egyptian obelisk cuts across traces of an 18th century rectilinear arrangement of paths and lawns but the pale markings running diagonally from the obelisk to the trees on either side may represent remains of a garden design of the 1660s. The Teddy Bear's Picnic was under the shade of the trees to the right.

The parch marks of the south lawn. The dots along the left side of the picture are our supposed avenue of trees. The early 19th century path to the Egyptian obelisk cuts across traces of an 18th century rectilinear arrangement of paths and lawns but the pale markings running diagonally from the obelisk to the trees on either side may represent remains of a garden design of the 1660s. The Teddy Bear’s Picnic was under the shade of the trees to the right.

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