Parch marks reveal hidden history in the Midlands

Parch marks showing the shadow of the old Victorian garden

The recent long hot and dry spell created much excitement for our archaeologists here in the Midlands this past summer. Archaeological sites hiding beneath the surface have been revealed through a phenomenon known as parch marking.

What causes parch marks?

The topsoil, concealing structures such as walls tends to be thinner than that of the surrounding area.  During times of drought the vegetation over buried walls becomes stressed as the thin soil retains less moisture than the deeper surrounding soils.  The result is that the vegetation growing above a structure such as a wall is a lighter cooler, looking parched, than that of the surrounding deeper soils where the vegetation retains a greener healthier colour.

A game of Cluedo?
Parch marks of the footprint of the old Clumber Mansion
A game of Cluedo?

A mansion revealed

The revealing of Clumber Mansion has really caught the imagination of our visitors. The walls of the rooms and corridors of the now lost mansion (demolished in 1938) can clearly be seen as parch marks.  If you were to visit Clumber right now you would see the ground floor plan/layout of the mansion laid out in front of you. The parch marks which depict the lost mansion’s layout are the result of differential vegetation growth during a long dry period which reflects the underlying archaeology. 

WW2 Secrets

Over at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire the buildings of the former WW2 camp have been revealed as parch marks. Many visitors to Kedleston today will perhaps not realise that the car park overlies a former army camp – which over the summer was visible once more.

A Lost Garden at Hardwick

At Hardwick Hall the early 19th century garden layout within the west courtyard was re-revealed with amazing detail. During 1833 the west courtyard lawns were laid out in formal parterres in the shape of Bess of Hardwick's initials, 'E.S.' which stand for Elizabeth Shrewsbury- the builder of Hardwick Hall in the 16th century.