Getting lost at Glendurgan since 1833

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How would you entertain a family of twelve children before games consoles and television existed? Plant a maze of course.

That's exactly what Alfred and Sarah Fox did for their family back in 1833. Inspired by the larger version at the Sydney Gardens in Bath, Alfred and Sarah laid out their puzzle on an open slope of the valley garden at Glendurgan in Cornwall and chose quick-growing and resilient cherry laurel to form the hedges.

Not just for children

In 1854, Elizabeth Tuckett wrote in her diary ‘We dined in the house and then lay in the grass and sang until we joined the gentlemen who had retired to the labyrinth to smoke.’

Loved by generations

One of Alfred Fox’s grandsons noted that ‘the intriguing labyrinth slopes from the walk down to the pond. Lost wanderers at their wits end were bidden to breaking through the hedges, which annoyed Grandpapa because they spoilt the puzzle.  He told us children that anyone who made a cut was fined a shilling, and was much amused when I - a child of eight and a little fury of outraged virtue - indignantly attacked a party of delinquents and fiercely claimed the fine.’

Wear and tear

As well as the hedges suffering damage, the compaction caused by thousands of people walking and running around the maze has taken its toll on the roots of the laurel plants. There are several records of the maze being closed for months on end for the gardeners at the time to relieve the compaction by loosening up the path surface.

Restoration

By 1991 (Year of the Maze) further, more drastic action had become necessary. Weed plants had crept into the hedges including rhododendron and fuchsia. All the hedges were cut down, re-aligned and weeds removed. Once the sturdy laurel plants had grown back the task of reinstating the paths required a scaffolding bridge to be built to access as much of the maze as possible, as easily as possible.

Alfred and Sarah Fox’s great, great grandson Charles and his two young daughters reopened the maze in 1994 and it’s continued to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages since then. We carefully monitor its health and will probably have to continue occasional restoration of the maze to ensure the laurel plants cultivated by the Fox family in 1833 continue to flourish and stand up to the many visitors enjoying the puzzle.