New Evidence of Tudor and Jacobean Garden Remains Will Help Save Historic Landscape in Thurrock
Initial research undertaken by volunteers as part of the 'Designed Landscapes' project suggested that remains of Tudor and Jacobean formal gardens lay beneath the surface of the Belhus Park Golf Course, part of the former Belhus Park estate that once included a manor house.
The volunteer researchers discovered, in aerial photographs and remote sensing data, features that appeared to mirror a 1619 pictorial survey of Belhus Park and a late-17th- to early-18th-century painting depicting a bird’s eye view of the property. This evidence suggested that the layout of the former gardens had survived.
The gardens were replaced in the mid-18th century with a landscape park designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
It was a great pleasure to be able to get back out to conduct the fieldwork at Belhus after lockdown, and we were very grateful for the help and interest from all the staff at Impulse Leisure. We were very excited when we started to see the image of the Tudor water garden appear on the laptop screen as we were collecting the data - that made all the hard work worthwhile!
At the request of Land of the Fanns and with the support of golf course operators Impulse Leisure, Historic England carried out detailed on-site research, which confirmed significant parts of the original garden design beneath the golf course fairways.
The survival of a circular water feature to the west of the former manor house, and the patterns of paths and walls verifies the view of the gardens shown in the late-17th- to early-18th-century painting.
The fieldwork carried out by Historic England’s Archaeological Survey and Investigation and Geophysics teams used non-invasive methods that allowed detailed analysis of the subtle earthworks and shallow buried archaeology without the need for excavation, ensuring their preservation in situ.
Partners join forces to protect this historic setting
Historic England’s research provides a valuable foundation to assist the creation of a Conservation Management Plan for the wider Belhus Park estate.
Such a plan will enable better collaboration between landowners and operators to protect and raise awareness about the significance of this important historic landscape.
Historic England will be working in partnership with Impulse Leisure, Thurrock Council, The Woodland Trust, Essex County Council, the Thames Chase Trust and other partners to ensure the conservation of this important historic setting and work towards the removal of Belhus Park from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
It’s great to see the efforts of local volunteers recognised in this important piece of work to record and protect such a valuable piece of local heritage. The findings have been a real boost for interest in the site, with a diversity of partners now committed to planning for its future.
Belhus Park history
Belhus Park contains the remains of a mid-18th-century park designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Richard Woods. Together, they transformed the formal Tudor gardens and the park of the much earlier Manor of Belhus.
The manor was lived in from the 14th century and passed through marriage to the Barrett family who rebuilt Belhus House towards the end of the 16th century. By the mid-17th century, they had built up one of the largest estates in Essex.
Following a period of neglect, the house and grounds were updated by Lord Dacre between 1744 and 1777, with Lancelot Brown commissioned to remodel the grounds between 1753 and 1763.
During the Second World War, Belhus was damaged by bombing and military occupation, leading to the house being demolished in 1957.
The historic garden features lie within a part of the live golf course where there is no public access, and many of the remains cannot be seen easily from the ground.
It is hoped that there will be future opportunities for community engagement, volunteering, exploring and enjoying this fascinating place.
For more information about the historic landscape of Belhus Park, anyone interested should go to the Capability Brown Clubhouse at the Belhus Park Golf Course before accessing the private site.