Page last updated: 27/01/19
Lyveden New Bield
The Re-Discovery Story
Uncovering the Elizabethan Garden
Mark and Angela moved into the cottage at Lyveden on 4th July 1995. From September that year, Bob Oakley started volunteering at Lyveden on Wednesdays to work with Mark.
Mark was part-time at Lyveden for the first 18 months, then made full time. For those first few months, Mark also used to do some work down at the Manor House – designing and constructing a parterre garden, carrying out some excavations and establishing various gardens for the then owner.
The cottage had by then been connected to mains water (“brought across from Pilton side”). “Despite that, when we got there, there was no water. Friends that had some plumbing experience eventually determined that the problem was caused by low water pressure, a problem that continued for the next 10 years!”
New Bield Green
“The only equipment there was an old strimmer, and a ‘Westwood’ diesel mower.
“So I got a local farmer (Willy Hall) from Brigstock to come over to cut and bale the grass. Willy, with his trousers held up with binder twine, looked like a tramp and lived like a tramp, but he was a very generous, lovely man.”
Our First Winter
“The first winter we experienced at Lyveden was frequently cold and frosty. The cottage only had a wood burning stove in the front room!”
But there were some excellent photo opportunities. The view below (left) is along the east moat from the causeway, and below right is the moat around West Wood mount looking NW.
“Angela travelled to work in Peterborough every day. Fortunately, we had a Land Rover by then, which was essential over the winter periods when significant snow falls were much more common than today. Even so, we got cut off a number of times.”
Clearing and maintaining the area immediately around the lodge took priority but it was the Elizabethan garden that desperately needed attention – the two spiral mounts; the two pyramidal mounts; the terrace; the canals. The approach along the track also needed clearing, and that is where the work started.
Clearing Upper Lane Green
Urgently requiring clearing was the west side of the lane leading up to the cottage (now referred to as Upper Lane Green). In many places, the area from track side to moat, was covered in dense scrub and bramble. According to Bob, “the scrub, and particularly bramble, was solid right to the track. The local farmer must have used a flail or something, to keep the bramble trimmed and clear of the track in the past. When we started cutting it back, it was green at the front, but a mass of dead bramble behind. Mark would cut this out in cubes with the hedging shears, and I would drag these ‘solid’ blocks of bramble out to the fire site. We did measure some of the bramble stems, and found them to be 20 to 30 foot long, growing through each other, and up into the trees.”
Work began in the winter of 1995/6 to clear this area, starting near the garage. Mark says “There was a bit of a grass verge, and then very dense scrub. I remember we came across a boat hidden in the bramble. It was quite a surprise, a reasonable size rowing boat. The scrub was so dense that we had no idea it was there. We also came across a well in that area – or the stone surround of one.”
The image on the right was taken after this area was cleared. Note that when this photo’ was taken, there was a ditch (hardly visible) between the lane and the pyramidal mount, and the fence was a simple post & wire arrangement right up against the bottom of the mount.
The ditch shows up more clearly in this next image taken in the following spring when the old post & wire fence had been removed, and the grass was starting to recover. Taken at the same time, but from nearer the garage and looking down the lane, the image below also shows the grass re-growing – but it takes a little longer where there was previously dense bramble.
Hedge and Copse Planting
A number of hedges, clearly visible on old aerial photographs, had been scrubbed out over the last few decades. Mark was keen to re-establish many of these, which would also separate the Elizabethan Garden property from the surrounding arable land.
The first hedge to be planted was the one between the Hay Meadow and Sheep Field. In the autumn of 1997, “I marked up the line of the previous hedge, but the farm manager disputed that, suggesting that I had grabbed more than was due – I seem to remember that I successfully rejected that based on an aerial photograph.” This was planted in the winter of 1997/1998 using hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn.
There were quite a lot of plants in this hedge!
A year or two later, a number of field maple trees were added along this hedge line to give added interest, and autumn colour.
Over the next decade, the hedge grew strongly, but Mark notes that he came to “regret planting blackthorn in places due to the problems caused by suckering roots.” In March 2007, this hedge was layed – see ‘hedge laying section‘ below.
A number of the existing hedges on the property had suffered from a lack of maintenance, resulting in large and small gaps developing where the original hedge had died or been damaged. In these areas, whips were planted to fill these gaps. As shown above for the first new hedge, black sheeting was laid to restrict weed growth and help moisture retention, and the whips planted through holes in the sheet. This method was used for the hedge on the east side of the Hay Meadow (on the property boundary) and for the hedge between the Moated Orchard and Upper Lane Green.
A number of hedges have been planted since (detailed in the ‘Garden Extended‘ pages), including:
- Sheep Field (west)
- Corner Copse
- Old Manor Green (west)
- Orchard (west)
- Outer Meadow Copse
- Park Lane (east)
The hedge to the south of the Orchard was planted by the new owners of the Manor House when the property was purchased from Barnwell Estates. A covenant raised at the time of the sale required that the owner of the Manor planted and maintained this boundary hedge. It is likely that that covenant is still valid today (2018).
Clearing Cottage Green Hedge
There was also a fence and hedge running around the top edge of the moat on Cottage Green, effectively cutting off access to East Wood and the East Spiral Mount. “In order to remove the hedge, we had to first get permission from the local authority because it was longer than 30 metres. Getting that permission, and removing the fence and hedge was the first step to opening up the garden, and starting to see the link between the lodge and the moat.”
These photographs show the fence and hedge around the outside of the moat .
Below, two video clips show examples of the work being carried out in early 1996 to remove the hedge and trees.
Bob remembers that on one occasion in 1999 when they were working on clearing another hedge, Mark’s wife, Angela (who was heavily pregnant) came over, and said to Mark that she thought that her contractions had started, and that she needed to go to the hospital. Mark replied, “OK, we’ll just finish clearing this section”.
There are two versions of what happened next:
- Bob says that Angela responded saying “I MEAN NOW!”
- Mark says that Bob interrupted, and said “I think you’d better go now. I’ll clear up, and put everything away.”
In either case, Mark left quickly, and Tom Bradshaw was born a few hours later.
East Spiral Mount
Now that the hedge blocking access to East Wood had been removed, clearing a route to the East Spiral Mount became a priority. Some work had been done here in the early 1990s, but there was still plenty to do.
Bob remembers that “We got quite excited, because we thought we had found some original planting of laurels. However, it turned out that it was planted in the early 70’s, when a volunteer group had cleared the top and done the planting.”
The 1996 image was taken after some clearing had been done. Mark points out that the top of the mount “was covered in vegetation, primarily hellebores, which had been strimmed off by the time this photo was taken.”
Taken after the moats had been cleared and dredged, the 2005 image is an example of how Mark envisioned it might have been when work stopped in 1605 (apart from the trees).
At one point, Mark did consider clearing the mount of all trees which is how it probably was in 1605. He was concerned, however, that this might be going too far. So to help making that decision, a photograph was edited to give the likely before/after visual effect.
As a consequence, (one comment was that it looked like a burial mound) this idea was abandoned. Perhaps, if the trees behind had remained . . . ?
The meadow to the south of the lodge (now referred to as the Hay Meadow) was leased to the Duke’s estate and used for arable production. This photograph taken in 1996, is an example of the detrimental effect on the environment around the Lodge by unsympathetic agricultural use of land close to the property. It became more obvious to Mark that he needed to regain control over these leased areas and bring them back under the Trust’s management. That way, he would have better control of the setting for the Lodge and Elizabethan garden, and could improve the visitor experience. 1996 was also the last year before stubble burning was prohibited nationally.
Soon after the negotiations on terminating the Duke’s shooting rights (as described in the The Moated Orchard section below), Mark wrote to the Duke and his Estate to seek relinquishing the agricultural tenancy on this meadow. Up to that time, the field was ploughed right up to the Bield platform. The Duke was quite supportive to the plan, and in 1998, the last crop was planted. After the harvest that year, the area was back under NT management.
At the end of 1998/early 1999, the field was cultivated and seeded by Barnwell Estates for the Trust using a wild flower mix from Emorsgate. “The first year after that, the field was filled with wild oats which caused Claire Bense (another volunteer at that time) and I to spend many hours with sickles taking out stacks and stacks of these wild oats. In hindsight, it was probably unnecessary because the hay was taken off before they would have seeded, and, being annuals, we should not have seen them come through for a second year.”
The wild flower mix (corn cockle, poppy etc.) really came through the second year and the area has become a stable grassland mix.
By May 2010, though still varied, the species mix had changed, with oxeye daisies being prevalent.
Clearing the Terrace
On the north side of the terrace was an old stock fence separating the terrace from the arable field which was Sir Thomas’s original orchard. According to Mark, “this (fence) was constructed right up against the terrace and mounts, which were themselves covered in trees and rank grass.” Bob adds that “The bottom of the fence was rabbit proof, and took a great deal of effort to get it out because the netting at the bottom was a good 18” into the clay.”
The following video shows the terrace in December 1995, before major clearing work started. The video begins with a view of the East Moat from the top of the East Pyramidal Mount, and finishes with a view of the terrace from the arable field to the north (now the Orchard).
Many of these images below were taken from the video.
The next images and 3 video clips show the terrace at various points after clearing work started in October 1996.
Although Mark was doing a lot of the chainsaw work, another guy called Bob Limmage also helped quite a lot. “All this tree clearing resulted in a massive stack of tree trunks. Some were sold, some retained for our own use for fire logs, but really we just needed to get rid of them to anyone that could take them”. Bob Oakley recalls that Bob Limmage “was the guy who took down a lot of the big trees – he was also the guy who once cut through a tree limb that he was standing on! One of the big trees he took down was on the corner of the West Pyramidal Mount. It was a huge, massive tree. Mark said he needed it to drop in a particular direction, and Bob Limmage paced out a distance, stuck a cane in the ground, and said ‘well that’s where the top will come to’. Sure enough, it did – the very top of the tree, knocked the cane over.”
New Bield Fencing
“The fence around the lodge was taken out by one of the National Trust working groups (probably Cambridge) in about 1998. The rails were knocked off, and then the posts pulled out with the lift arms on the tractor. These were oak posts, and Mike (my dad) cut these up, and turned them on a lathe to make apples which were sold to the visitors. There was so much timber left that we had to burn most of it”
Cottage Garden Hedge
The Upper Lane Green section of this hedge “just didn’t sit right”, and would eventually obstruct the view across the moat to the East Spiral Mount. So, a few years later and before the garage was converted to a visitor centre, this section was removed.
This photograph, taken in c1997, shows the western part of the cottage garden, with the East Spiral Mount in the background. The dry stone wall was constructed “really, just to use up some of the stone that was scattered all over the garden.” Also shown is a metal fence which was on the south side of the garden, and followed a line going over to the moat bank, and into the water. Shortly after planting the hedge described above (on the north side of the garden), this metal fence was removed and replaced by a hedge following a similar line, but turning north a few metres before the moat to meet this wall.
The Moated Orchard
The sides of the moats, and the meadow margins in the Moated Orchard (previously known as the ‘Middle Orchard’, or ‘Labyrinth Meadow’) was “covered in dense scrub, almost making the meadow impenetrable. The meadow itself was relatively clear of scrub, but covered in a sort of juncus grass.”
Although the Trust owned this area, it was leased to the Duke of Gloucester’s estate and used as a pheasant release pen. “There were two pheasant pens, one over in the ‘Elm Meadow’ area, and a large one in the middle of the parterre area.” The agreement included shooting rights which further restricted public access. “The Duke had a number of covers throughout his estate, but this was one of his main ones because it was such a dense scrubby thicket. The area was described as a ‘wet scrubby meadow’.”
“The Duke would come up occasionally for shooting, and was slightly opposed to any clearing work because it would have a detrimental affect on his shoot. Bearing in mind that there were probably only 2000 or so visitors to the property, and we had to rely on those that did come to put their entrance money into the honesty box, then the Trust continued to be reluctant to support anything which would result in the loss of income from the shooting rights.” This was possibly worth £100 a year income to the Trust. At that time, the property was probably operating at a £10,000 per year loss.
“Mick Gregory, the Duke’s game keeper, was an interesting guy. Initially he was very precious about his pheasant rearing pens and really objected to any disturbance of the area. Eventually, we formed quite a positive relationship and Mick began to understand the significance of the site.” Access to the Moated Orchard was brought to a head because the National Trust funded (at a cost of £10K) a topographical survey by Gifford & Partners of the garden archaeological remains. “In effect, this gave a ‘back door’ way into getting started on doing more clearing work.” Mark successfully argued that “the only way a survey could be carried out in the Moated Orchard area was to cut some access points through the scrub.” After many weeks of discussions, “it was agreed that the release pens and shooting rights would cease, and after the end of the 1997 shooting season, we began cutting access routes (slices along the bank) so that they could get line of sight to survey rods at various point along the banks.”
While it was known that a labyrinth originally existed in this area, it was a few years later that the location of a labyrinth was identified from the Luftwaffe aerial photograph (more information about this photograph on the Extending the Garden page).
In 2008(?) the labyrinth was marked out on the ground based on the details in this photograph, together with information gleaned from earlier research.
After that, the Labyrinth pattern was regularly mown to keep the grass short, while the rest of the Labyrinth area was only mown intermittently.
To celebrate the Labyrinth’s re-introduction, and led by Fermyn Wood Contemporary Arts, local school children made model flowers to their own design. These were placed around the edge of the mown paths, where they remained for a number of weeks.
This aerial view was taken c2010 shortly after completion of the new access road and car park.
The south west corner of Moated Orchard is now referred to as Elm Meadow due to the area being surrounded on 3 sides by a number of elm trees (unfortunately, many of these are suffering with Dutch Elm disease). In 2010/11, silt collected during the second dredging operation was spread out over this Elm Meadow area.
Cottage Mains Supply
Mains power had been connected to the cottage in the 1970s. The supply was taken from near the Manor house by overhead cables to a transformer (giving 240V) on a post in the south east corner of the Moated Orchard. From there, a cable was taken down the post, underground across to the side of the East Moat, under the moat, and continuing underground to the cottage. Mark considered the overhead section to be visually obtrusive in an historic Elizabethan garden, and in late 1999, started enquiries and planning to get it moved underground.
The new route would take the cable underground from the post in the Outer Meadow (near the Manor boundary), east across the lower orchard and out onto Lower Lane verge. From there, the route would follow the verge, heading south to join the original cable where it emerged from under the moat.
This involved “raising the money and getting in touch with the power company to explain the benefit of making the change in terms of the historic asset. The electricity company agreed to the change, and I remember Geoff ‘G’ (real name Geoff Gillespie) a JCB driver, came and dug the trench out about half a metre deep.” The electricity company then disconnected and removed the old cables and posts; moved the transformer to the post in the Outer Meadow; laid new cable in the trench, and made the connection onto the old cable. ” The new cable was covered with a layer of sand and a warning tape on top of that. We then back filled it with soil. That really was quite a milestone, getting that moved. It must have been around 1998/9 when that was done. I’m not sure, but it is possible that the old cable under the moat is still there?” We funded digging the trench, and making good after the cable had been laid. The power company agreed to fund their costs – a very generous gesture. The work was completed in 2000.
Clearing the Moats
Work started in 1999 to clear the trees that, over many years, had fallen into the moats. Bob recalls that “Mark went out in a boat with a chain saw, while I stayed at the side of the moat holding a rope. Mark then used the chain saw to cut off pieces that we could use the rope to pull out onto the bank.”
Man power was not enough for much of the debris, particularly sodden tree stumps, so we needed some horse power for this task. Mark remembers that “There was this chap (Peter Knight), a church warden at Benefield, who had an old JCB. We used to go into the moats to put chains round these trees, and use the JCB to pull them out and lift them up onto dry ground.” Bobs adds that “Mark would still need go out with a boat to cut through roots – soaking himself and others in the process.”
The following four video clips are examples of the JCB in action removing tree stumps from the moat next to Cottage Green.
A fifth clip shows the JCB working from the bank in East Wood to remove clumps of willow scrub from the South Moat.
The next clip shows the JCB being used to clear debris from the moat around the East Spiral Mount, again working from the East Wood bank. The old bridge across to the mount can be seen in the distance.
All these moat clearing videos are for work carried out on the South Moat, and the moat around the East Spiral Mount. A little clearing was also done on the East Moat, and the rest of the moat clearing was carried out during dredging operations in 2000.
Many of the hedges currently on the site were suffering from the lack of maintenance. For these, hedge laying was undertaken to remove dead or dying branches, and to re-vitalise the plants that showed potential. The hedge on the east boundary (between Oak Green and, what many years later, was to become the new car park) was a good example. It was very big and old with lots of dead material – but it also had potential. For this hedge, a man with some hedge laying experience was brought in (c1998) to do the work.
In 2000, Mark arranged for a hedge laying course to be given at Lyveden by the local agricultural training group. As part of that course, the hedge to the south of East Wood and West Wood would be used by those on the course.
Note that the second of these photographs also shows the then newly planted hedge (between the Hay Meadow and the Sheep Field) running across the field on the right.
Hedge laying and planting work continues to this day (2018), with some hedges (such as the one shown here) being thinned and layed for a second time.
The following three photographs show the hedge around Old Manor Green (planted in 2001) being layed in 2010.
Dredging the Moats
“Before the de-silting works in 2000, we did palaeobotanical analysis of the silts to obtain a record of the pollen that had fallen in over that time.
“The purpose of dredging the moats was to open up the original moat system, and to re-establish the form of the moats to put them back as they were when Tresham died. The silt, which had accumulated over the centuries, was dug out and spread over the Sheep Field, where it was later ploughed and seeded.” Only the south and east moats, together with the moats around the east and west spiral mounts, were dredged. The north moat was considered to be reasonably clear of silt and vegetation, making dredging unnecessary.
“The work, at a cost of some £32,000, was undertaken by a company called Land & Water”. Two dredging methods were employed. The first method involved pumping the water out of a section of moat before taking a digger down into the moat base. This was then used to ‘push’ the silt into a ‘heap’ (see first video below), and then dig it out and onto a waiting large dumper truck on the moat bank (see second video below). This method was used to de-silt the moat around the West Spiral Mount and the South Moat, having first isolated it from the rest of the moat system by putting a bung across the moat in the area of the bridge across to the East Spiral Mount.
The second method used a digger operating from a floating pontoon. This method was used for the moat around the East Spiral Mount, and the East Moat. But first, they had to get the digger and its pontoon into the moat. This is a strange contraption, and an unusual method of propulsion! See next video (note that this video has been speeded up times 2).
Once in the water, the digger was used to dig out the silt into a floating ‘barge’ (see next 2 videos below – note, the first is running at twice speed).
Two barges were used so that one could be filled while the other was emptied.
A ‘mini-tug’ moved the barges between the emptying and filling point at the side of the moat, where it was emptied into the dumper truck by a second digger on the bank (see next video below).
The property remained open throughout this time, but with restricted access to much of the garden.
The moat system was dredged for a second time in 2011/12. “This time, the work was done by ‘Contour Projects’ (a new company set up Boughton Landscape Trust, following the work done to create the moat system at Boughton House). The project was funded by Countryside Stewardship at a cost of £30,000, and all the work was done using diggers working from the bank.” On this second occasion, some dredging was also carried out at the eastern end of the north moat where the build up of silt had become more pronounced.
‘Lyveden NEWS Bield’ and the Lyveden Website
In 2000, Mark produced a newsletter entitled ‘Lyveden NEWS Bield’. Four issues were produced covering the years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. Unfortunately, it would appear that the 2003 issue was the last to be produced. Click on the year to view that issue. These newsletters provide an excellent reference to the year’s activities. Hopefully, they do not contradict the information given on these pages!
In 2002, the Internet was starting to make a difference in people’s lives. While the National Trust website at that time covered all the Trust’s properties, it was limited to (in effect) a copy of the information in the members handbook.
Some of the larger properties had started producing their own individual websites to further promote their property and include details not available on the National Trust’s own site. Mark felt that perhaps, Lyveden’s unique historic building and garden merited special mention, and set about producing a Lyveden website which provided much more detail than was available on the Trust’s website. This earlier Lyveden website (which can be viewed here) went live on 1st January 2003, and continued to be Lyveden’s primary internet presence until 2005.
During that period, the National Trust were re-assessing their own internet presence, and in 2005, a new national website came on-line. While sticking to a pre-determined format, this new website allowed individual properties to submit their own details and event information, which could be updated as required. At this point, Lyveden’s own website became redundant, and was eventually shut down.
Equipment, Storage and Security.
By 2003, there were more volunteers working on a one day per week basis, and as more areas were cleared, the areas of grass increased significantly. A second mower became an essential requirement particularly during the grass growing seasons, and as a result, a (larger) John Deere mower was purchased (courtesy of a legacy) together with mulching deck, and trailer. The two mowers were also an essential means of transport during the rest of the year (for taking tools to work areas, brash to fire sites, or logs to log store). There were also two strimmers which were put to good use during the grass growing season keeping the grass under control in the areas that could not be mowed – for example, the sides of the moats, mounts and terrace.
The new mower had a few more features that the older one, one of these being cruise control. Whenever new equipment is acquired, it is customary to check everything operates. Its first use was for cutting the grass on ‘Upper Lane Green’. The driver decided to test the cruise control as he approached the visitor centre, which worked fine. Nearing the hedge in front of the visitor centre, the driver realised the he did not know how to cancel the cruise control until a bit late, and a sizeable gap was made in this hedge! Fortunately, the property was closed, and there were no visitors around. Even more importantly, it was not one of the volunteers using it at the time!
This new mower ran on diesel. On one occasion a few years after its purchase, one of the volunteers fuelled it with petrol. This caused a half day delay to drain the tank, and bleed the fuel system. Fortunately, no damage was caused on this occasion. That was not the case when, one morning, two strimmers were filled with petrol instead of 2-stroke mixture. They ran for about 5 minutes, before one failed, and then the second failed. In this case, both engines had seized, destroying them. Replacement machines had to be acquired urgently. These incidents led to better labelling of fuel containers, and a list in the fuel store showing which fuel should be used with each piece of equipment.
Between 2005 and 2010, even more equipment was added to the inventory including a quad bike, a third strimmer, and a (second hand) flail mower.
Despite (or perhaps, because of) its remoteness, security became a significant issue. As the property became more known in the neighbourhood and more equipment was acquired, a solution had to be found for secure storage. Although contrary to one of the primary aims of the garden restoration, namely to provide an uncluttered timeless visual setting for the Lodge, it was decided in mid-2000 to acquire two secure metal storage sheds (not particularly sympathetic to the Elizabethan age!) to be installed to the rear of the visitor centre. Placing these out of sight of the lodge and garden (for example, to the west side of West Wood) was considered but rejected as negating some of the security benefits of a location near the cottage, which was occupied 24/7 in those days.
A number of years after their purchase, (2010?), both metal sheds, and the wooden store next to them, suffered the indignity one night of having their locks broken. The quad bike and chainsaw were stolen. Some of the regular outdoor team volunteers were heard to ‘mutter’ that the strimmers were not taken!
By 2012, the first two ride-on mowers had been replaced with two newer ones.
BBC Hidden Gardens.
In 2004, “the Hidden Gardens programme on the BBC with Chris Beardshaw provided an excellent platform on which to explain the significance of the garden. This caused our visitor numbers over the next couple of years to spike from 15,000 to a little over 22,000. Over the following 5 years, our annual visitor count increased to around 27,000/28,000.”
To accompany this programme the BBC published a book entitled ‘Hidden Gardens’. The book describes all six gardens featured in the television series, Lyveden being the first.
Finally, a comment from Mark: “By 2003, after all the work to re-established the garden so that the historic features (mounts, moats, terrace, orchard, labyrinth, parterre) could be identified and enjoyed by the visitors, we had reached a point were the property was operating with a surplus”.
A very satisfactory result for the work carried out so far, but there was still much more to do.