Clues in the Lake at Newark Park Gloucestershire

Newark Park is a mid 16th-century hunting lodge first built within a deer park belonging to Sir Nicholas Poyntz. His main house was 24 km away at Acton Court near Bristol.

The Tudor south-east front of Newark Park

Newark Park was built for the view. Perched on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, to enjoy a panorama of Gloucestershire.

The view from one of James Wyatt’s Georgian windows south-west across Gloucestershire.

It was sold in 1600 to the Low family who converted it into a private residence. In 1722, the Hardings bought it and in the late 18th century it was sold again to Sir James Clutterbuck. The architect James Wyatt was appointed in 1790 to transform and extend the Tudor building into a Georgian style residence.

The now fashionable home needed a fashionable garden, so, on a wide terrace below the escarpment, a pleasure ground was formed…with garden beds, paths, a summer house and a brick wall facing south to the sun so that fruit trees could be trained against it and greenhouses could be populated with exotic plants.

At the centre of all this, a long lake was made, perhaps to reflect the newly completed Classical revamp of the old lodge in its waters.

The 1821 map of the designed landscape, below the escarpment on the south-west side of Newark Park. The lake had already shrunk in size by this time.

Back in the 80s, I wasn’t really sure whether Garden Archaeology was a thing…. but you can’t quite escape it when working for the National Trust.

Now.. I can name drop Switzer with Eames, Bridgeman with Repton, Capability Brown and Kent and all those un-named designers. Sometimes the owners were so into it that they read some books, got some advice and designed their own thing.

Usually there’s a historic map or two in the archives but knowing where it fits in the many phases of a garden’s development is unclear… from origin to abandonment.

The silted lake in May with the late 18th century garden lodge overlooked by Newark Park House

We met beside the Lake in May. It was not looking its best. Two islands had been built in it towards the end of the 19th century and these had broken up the intended vista, the expansive views across the water. The islands were overgrown with collapsing trees and the lake silted.

Money had been granted by Highways England as part of A417 landscape enhancement funding scheme …and the Newark Park lake restoration was one of the projects that got the go ahead.

There was money for feasibility.

The LiDAR survey of the lake with its two islands inserted in the later 19th century. The evidence now indicates that the lake once extended as far as the left hand edge of the picture.

We already had the LiDAR for the property and the Conservation Management Plan had looked through the history and particularly the historic maps. The earliest dated to1821 but there was a pre Clutterbuck accounting document of 1766 which mentions lakes at Newark. Perhaps the great lake we were studying had been made up from earlier fish ponds.

The lake was now smaller than it was in 1821 and many paths shown then were no longer visible. I asked for a geophysical survey and Martin and Anne from Tigergeo carried this out for us. Both magnetometry and earth resistance were carried out.

The magnetometry survey by Tigergeo showing a distinctly edged lighter grey silted area to the left of the lake.

What about the plants that were once grown in the garden… was there a way of identifying these in the silted up part of the lake? Petra said that she would give it a go.. though the quality of information would depend on how efficiently the lake has been dredged in the past.

Keith put our LiDAR into a 3D viewing programme so that we could see the slope terrain of the lake. Certainly everything to the west seemed to level out a long curving cutting and Tigergeo’s surveys showed that this part of the terrace gave a response that indicated silt.

Before the Tudor hunting lodge, this land had been owned by Kingswood Abbey, located five miles away near Wootton Under Edge but the Abbey had been knocked down as part of the Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and its lands transferred to the Poyntz family.

Perhaps the lake was made out of a chain of medieval fish ponds. The 1821 map shows a couple of small areas of water south and west of the main lake.

Petra auger sampled the silted west end of the lake and a hollowed area in the grass where one of the ponds had once been.

To help work out the chronology of the silts in the ponds there were pollen grains of various species, flecks of charcoal, flecks of brick and… a new one to me, SCPs or spherical carbonaceous particles.

SCPs result from the high temperature combustion of fossil fuels. They only occur from the mid 19th century and rise gradually in concentration until 1940 and then rapidly up to 1970. A relief to know that the concentrations are falling now.

They are useful for chronology though and the bottom silts at the west end, above the clay floor of the lake had no SCPs… so before about 1850 and the small fragments of brick suggested that the silts were being deposited when the brick garden wall above the lake had been built. There were few tree pollens indicating that the area was far more open than now and lots of cereal pollen suggesting arable land in close proximity. There were water lilies and rose pollens giving an indication of flowers in the garden borders and white water lilies in the lake as well as rushes and sedges around the lake.

The pollen auger column of soil found a pre-industrial deposit of silt above the clay base of the lake. In this was found a range of pollen species including the white water lilies which would once have graced the surface of the water body.

The upper part of the western lake filling had lots of SCPs and was a mixed deposit suggesting rapid backfilling of the once over 1m deep western lake by dredging the eastern part of the lake.

The geophysics shows a wide bulbous load of silt at the western end covered with later paths and drains and other ‘anomalies’ It looks as though this lake now covers a little over half of its original extent. When complete, it could have been a ‘serpentine’ lake like those at the National Trust properties like Prior Park at Bath and Fyne Court on the Quantocks near Taunton.

The archaeology gives us understanding and options. Do we keep the lake as it is or remove the Victorian islands, dredge the lake to its original extent to allow the mansion house above to be reflected in the open water with clumps of white water lilies to enhance its beauty.

This pollen sampling for garden archaeology could catch on. Hopefully, the next step will be the augering of other silted earthwork lakes. Perhaps the various archaeological gardens at Lacock. Watch this space.

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