Saturday, November 6, 2010

Elizabethan garden labyrinth spotted in luftwaffe spy photo

A German spy photograph of a ruined house in Northamptonshire surrounded by oddly marked fields, has revealed a secret unguessed at by the Luftwaffe cameraman: such important evidence of a lost Tudor garden that the site has been awarded Grade I status by English Heritage, ranking it among the most important gardens in Europe.
The garden's grass ring marks, shown clearly by the aerial, monochrome, photograph, are 120 metres across and almost certainly mark a Tudor labyrinth tracing in symbolic form the religious faith of its creator – a faith that finally cost the man his family fortune and his son's life, after the latter was exposed as one of the Gunpowder plotters.
In 1944 the photographer was probably disappointed with his efforts: the house and garden of Lyveden New Bield, near Oundle, and now owned by the National Trust, were undoubtedly peculiar but could have had no military significance.
The Luftwaffe images are now part of the US national archive, kept in Maryland, and were only studied closely when the National Trust ordered copies in the past six months.
The full story is here 

This is very interesting. Aerial archaeology is quite a big thing but I have never read much about it in relation to garden archaeology, I guess partly because only very large and obvious designs would be visible, more subtle plantings would be harder if not impossible to see. Aerial photos are an interesting source for the study of gardens. I have been using the ones on Google Earth and Google Maps to look for historical garden sites. This may sound odd but often I actually have very little idea about the modern state of a seventeenth or eighteenth-century garden just from primary and secondary sources. Less famous gardens are often only referred to in passing and may only be illustrated with an old engraving rather than a modern photo.  I'll try and find some of the comparisons I put together for a post tomorrow.


  1. Aerial photos are particularly interesting in England, because they can show things in fields dating back to Roman times. Just a simple rise in the land can be significant.

  2. Tresham clearly remained a staunch Roman Catholic at a very dangerous time. The article notes that he even filled his garden with Roman Catholic symbolism. So maybe we should not be shocked that his son Francis was exposed as being a member of the Gunpowder Plot.

    History-telling through garden design.


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