Uncovering history at Lodge Park
The riddle of the disappearing trees.
Over 1300 trees were planted at Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate in Gloucestershire between 1727 and 1740, but where did they go?
This was the question that dominated the waking hours of the team working on a conservation plan for the Gloucestershire estate.
Where did it all begin?
In 1723 Crump Dutton, the owner of Lodge Park, asked Charles Bridgeman (an early, but not quite as famous landscaper as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown) to design the landscape for the parkland surrounding Lodge Park.
Lodge Park is an early grandstand built for viewing deer on a one-mile long deer course which ran across the front of the building. This sport went out of fashion in the early 1700s.
The original designs by Charles Bridgeman were recently discovered in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and show an intricate design that takes advantage of the natural and man-made features of the surrounding scenery. These features included a gently undulating landscape of about 160 acres, a long barrow or two, a winding river valley and shady ancient woodlands.
This Cotswold landscape leant itself to crisp avenues radiating from a focal point on a raised bastion, with far-reaching views over local village church spires. In the river valley below one of the earliest Serpentine lakes ever known was designed – though unfortunately not built.
Using a special technique called LiDAR and researching the early Ordnance Survey maps it was discovered, much to everyone's surprise, that the whole scheme was planted but apart from a few remaining patches, had disappeared by the 1820s.
LiDAR, which stands for for Light Detection And Ranging, creates 3D information by measuring the distance from a light sensor and it's target. It can map terrain and archaeology by showing broad characteristics of the landscape, impossible for the naked eye to spot. This information can then be overlayed on to maps to give 3D topographical maps
How do we know this?
Using the topographical map from the LiDAR, neatly planted rows of trees can be seen marching across the landscape as bumps or bowls.
A bump indicates where a tree once grew; it is the remains of the roots. A bowl indicates where a tree has been blown down raising the root ball from the ground.
At Lodge Park there are many more bumps than bowls.
Why is this a bit of riddle?
There is no evidence of major storm damage as in some early parkland, and no evidence that the trees didn’t thrive.
There are surviving patches full of elegant beech trees. There is no evidence in the estate accounts that they were cut for timber.
What really happened?
Perhaps it was just changing taste and fashion - but wouldn’t it be lovely to really know what happened to those trees planted centuries ago?
Research like this plays a crucial part in understanding our places and revealing fascinating stories. It also helps us develop a clear understanding of the significance of a particular place and inform our conservation plans. It's the sort of work that relies on the support of National Trust members.
We don’t often get a riddle like the trees at Lodge Park – but when we do its fascinating, and sometimes almost impossible to solve.