Calke Abbey’s lost garden rediscovered

Calke Abbey in the Spring

Recent examination of detailed landscaping mapping of Calke Abbey has revealed the remains of a ‘lost’ garden.

A plan of the Calke estate by Samuel Wyatt, dated 1761, shows a square formal garden located to the south of the main house with pathways radiating out from a central circular feature. This type of garden is known as a ‘parterre’ and was popular in the 17th-century. They consisted of plant beds, laid typically in symmetrical patterns, which were separated and connected by paths. Parterre gardens lost favour in the mid-18th century and were superseded by naturalistic landscape gardens. It is thought that the parterre at Calke Abbey was constructed sometime between 1710 and 1715 and was known as the 'hanging garden'.

Extract from Samuel Wyatt’s 1761 plan of the Calke Abbey estate
Extract from Samuel Wyatt’s 1761 plan of the Calke Abbey estate
Extract from Samuel Wyatt’s 1761 plan of the Calke Abbey estate

Previous non-intrusive attempts to examine whether the plan of the parterre garden still survived as an archaeological feature have been unsuccessful. This included studying aerial photographs and undertaking documentary research. Historic correspondence had suggested that this part of the gardens had been re-landscaped in the past and so it was assumed that the square garden had been lost at that point.

As such it came as some surprise when local archaeologists Paula Whirrity and Adrian Farnsworth contacted the property in July 2019 with evidence that the garden did in fact survive in some form. They have been researching the archaeology of the local area and, whilst processing the most recent LiDAR data made available by the Environment Agency, they noticed a square feature with radial pathways matching the garden shown on the 1761 plan.

“This is fascinating, we knew about the plan, but had no idea there was still paths showing.  Last year [2018] with the drought we put up a drone to take photos, but as the hay had just been cut is was hard to spot anything in that area. I had heard from letters and earlier research that the hillside had been landscaped using dynamite, and although that was more to the west we had assumed that most of the remnants of the baroque garden had been obliterated at the same time.” 

(Heloise Brooke, Head Gardener)

Processed LiDAR data showing the radial pathways of the former square garden
Processed LiDAR data showing the radial pathways of the former square garden
Processed LiDAR data showing the radial pathways of the former square garden

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) uses laser technology to map the contours of surfaces. A laser scanner is mounted on an aircraft and flown across an area to map topography and produce detailed map data. Archaeologists can interrogate this data to identify potential archaeological features.

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