Lodge Park Grandstand, Behind the Blocked Door

Lodge Park in Gloucestershire was where the last Lord Sherborne lived before he bequeathed his Sherborne Estate to the National Trust in 1982.

It wasn’t originally meant to be a home but a place to go with your mates. It was an ornamental grandstand built in the 1630s by the then owner John Dutton. A posh place to drink and bet on the deer selected from the adjoining park. The deer were sent down a walled corridor of land, chased by hounds across the front of this unique building. The assembly then probably got drunk and had venison for tea.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton's grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate, Gloucestershire. This is John Dutton’s grandstand where he and his mates could spend boozy afternoons betting on deer chased by hounds across the front of the building. About a century later the park behind the house was transformed into an avenued designed landscape by Charles Bridgeman. Our excavations were on the left (west) side of the building.

The park is full of earthworks including the best preserved Gloucestershire long barrow and the earthworks of the strip fields of open field systems. Three parishes meet at a point just behind the Lodge and it was here in the 1720s that Charles Bridgeman chose the key outlook point for his innovative garden landscape design. A segway between earlier formal and later Capability type landscapes. Highly significant and we have his drawn plan. Was it ever completed? Did it work? Should NT redo it? Lots of discussions but that’s not the point of this blog.

We’ve discovered something new.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

The stairs down to the 17th century basement kitchen infilled about 100 years ago and dug out again in the 1990s when Lodge Park was restored.

Back in the 1990s the NT took out the later additions and divisions within the Lodge Park Grandstand to return it to its 1630s form. The cellar had been backfilled about 100 years ago and this was dug out again to reveal the 1630s kitchens where John Dutton’s feasts were cooked. The cellar had vents put into it 20 years ago but despite this has always been damp wih mould growing off the walls and floors. Bit unpleasant.

One solution was to open the blocked door. In the 90s the discovery of the blocked door led to the suggestion that there had once been an external flight of stairs, a tradesman’s entrance where perhaps the venison and other food stuffs could be brought into the kitchen. So..find the stairs, uncover them, unblock the door, new access and extra ventilation…. damp problem solved.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

November 2015 looking for the external stairway into the basement. No trace. We need a machine.

So in November building surveyor Christina asked Jim and I to turn up with shovels and mattocks to look for the top step of the cellar stairway. On the most likely north side of the blocked door our hole just found modern service pipes. So we dug beneath flagstones on the south side nothing… the ground here seemed to be natural about 30cm down. We gave up and vowed to return with a machine.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

The mysterious blocked door in the cellar. The ranging pole divisions are 0.2m and at 1.7m up you can see that the doorway and blocking has been removed and the wall rebuilt in the 19th century. Note the vent top right can be seen in the next photo outside to the left of the mini-digger.

A few weeks ago Jim brought his mini-digger. This time we aimed for the centre of the west side of the Lodge immediately above the blocked door. More reduntant drainage pipes and then clay and then… solid stone and mortar about 0.6m down. I jumped into the trench and cleaned back its gently arched top. There was a gap between the Lodge wall and the newly discovered structure. It was where the wall had been rebuilt about 100 years ago.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

Mini-digger digs down to find the blocked door.

I took part of the filling from the gap and found that I could put my hand into a void under the structure. I was sitting on the roof of a vaulted chamber. I got a ranging pole and slid it into the gap and then swung it round into the void. It fell away. Only the front end was filled with spoil.

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap an waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west...

Solid stone and mortar roof of the vault cut by the rebuilding of the Lodge annex in the 19th century. We slid the ranging pole between the gap and waved it around in the empty space which is the hidden room or passage heading west…

We speculated…is it a tunnel and where does it go? or is it just a hidden chamber. Jim reckoned it might lead to slaughter barn where the deer are supposed to have been dispatched before being brought to the Grandstand..

A mystery…I wonder whether we should unblock the door.

One thought on “Lodge Park Grandstand, Behind the Blocked Door

  1. My Grandfather had always said that Charles Sherborne had showed him that area and mentioned it was where Crump Dutton had sealed up a Witch. It would be interesting to see what is behind the bricked up door…you never know the old story might prove right!

    Secondly: on a historical note, it has always been suggested that there was a tunnel at Lodge Park, in 1920 an effort was made to find it as well as tunnels down in the village of Sherborne but to no avail. The men involved in that search was a Mr.J.Jewell and Mr.R.Matthews who were foreman at that time. Apparently, according to the records, they had broken through a void in the cellar of Sherborne House which sadly lead to no where and found the collapsed remains of a shaft at Monks Farm cottage.

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