The remains of an extravagant but previously unknown garden from the Elizabethan period have recently been revealed at Coleshill in Warwickshire.
The site was first identified a few years ago during an aerial survey that revealed the remains of Coleshill Manor and an octagonal moat. For the past two years, it has been extensively excavated by Wessex Archaeology on the behalf of LM (a joint venture of Laing O’Rourke and J Murphy), ahead of HS2 construction. Over the course of these investigations, traces of the massive formal gardens that once adorned the property were slowly uncovered, revealing exceptional details including well-preserved gravel paths, planting beds, and ornaments organised in geometric patterns (pictured above).
Stuart Pierson, who is Project Officer for Wessex Archaeology, said: ‘From our original trench evaluation work, we knew there were gardens, but we had no idea how extensive the site would be. As work has progressed, it has been particularly interesting to discover how the gardens have been changed and adapted over time with different styles. We have also uncovered structures such as pavilions and some exceptional artefacts, including smoking pipes, coins, and musket balls, giving us an insight into the lives of the people who lived here.’
Coleshill Manor has early medieval origins, but in the 15th century it was granted to the Digby family by Henry VII, following the execution (for treason, after supporting Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion) of its previous owner, Simon de Montford. In the late 16th century, after marrying an Irish heiress, Sir Robert Digby rebuilt the manor and added the formal gardens as a display of his new wealth.
Dr Paul Stamper, a specialist in English gardens, said: ‘This is one of the most exciting Elizabethan gardens that has ever been discovered in this country. The scale of preservation at this site is really exceptional and is adding considerably to our knowledge of English gardens around 1600. There have only been three or four investigations of gardens of this scale over the last 30 years, including Hampton Court, Kirby in Northamptonshire, and Kenilworth Castle, but this one was entirely unknown. The garden doesn’t appear in historical records, there are no plans of it, and it is not mentioned in any letters or visitors’ accounts.’