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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A plan of Lodge Park carried out by English Heritage 2005. It shows the earthworks across the park which include medieval ridge and furrow, parish boundaries as well as tree planting holes part of the designed avenues of trees planted by the famous landscape designer Charles Bridgeman in the mid 18th century.