Voyages to the House of Diversion
Seventeenth-Century Water Gardens and the Birth of Modern Science
June 2015 - Playing Catch-up
Having completed the third of this year's excursions to France
a return to digging was long overdue. Peter had been working on the
foundations and stone paving uncovered next to the barn at Enstone but
everything else had gone to rack and ruin... or at least had become
rather overgrown. There was still a little more recording and analysis
to be done on the curious sunken feature then we had the suggestion
from a local farmer Peter Hughes that it might be a hound bath! I know
I hadn't come across such a thing either, I shall have to steel myself
and approach a local hunt for information.
Back at Hanwell, after a quick tidy up before showing the Cropredy
Historical Society round the garden, we turned our attentions to
preparations for the Big Dig in the Sunken Garden. The issue here is
that we know this large hollow dug out of the side of the valley was in
existence since at least the first large scale edition Ordnance Survey
map from the 1880s. Much of what can be seen today is twentieth century
additions and repairs but it would be entirely consistent with the
layout of a Jacobean garden to have a sunken garden, possibly quite
ornamental in nature, or even a grotto of some sort. This needed
examining so following consultations with Christopher we had two areas
marked out. One section, a metre wide cut through the sloping bank on
the west side of the area in the hope of picking up details of the
construction of the retaining wall free from later improvements. The
other trench was set out on the east side to explore various walls
running down the slope and the possibility of an earlier stone
structure which Christopher reported seeing on a postcard from the
opening decades of the twentieth century. We were very conscious last
year that some of the most significant discoveries were made after our
student volunteers had left so this year we were determined to get the
work underway rather more in advance so Peter and I selflessly started
stripping weeds and lifting topsoil.
the new areas in the Sunken garden marked out and ready to go: HANI (W) and HANI (E)
As Peter clears the overburden the dimensions of the wall become
clearer and on top of the bank and packed stone revetment, no
And here's the first bunch of finds from HANI (W) 001: medieval pot, seventeenth century glass and a matchbox toy, typical.
One of the great benefits of the Internet is it gives a
platform to a whole world full of collectors who document, often in
meticulous detail their particular passions. So here we have the
specifications for the toy illustrated above and a date range: 1967 -
1970 as near as you could wish, pity this doesn't work for all our
And then one evening Rowena and Christopher were moved to make the crossing to the island by walking the plank(s) and why not?
Back at Enstone I had been looking at
Peter's excellent notes then examining the site first hand and came to
a strategic decision that this exposure of wall and associated
foundations really did merit further study and publication. We were
left with the surface pretty well as the digger had left it so a
thorough clean up of exposed deposits was started prior to a massive
programme of wall elevation and plan drawing. I finished the cleaning the following week and photographed general views from a multitude of angles and heights.
The eastern face of the northern half of the barn, general views looking south west and north west
The work is done, the recording remains.
Back at Hanwell I was keen to walk
the plank and re-establish contact with the island. Once there I
continued on the programme of clearance that was already underway by
weeding the area in and around Sir Anthony's Bath. Then after further
clearing and rolling the odd tree trunk out of the way I was able to
mark out the trench for the fourth of this year's big dig areas. In
this instance we are planning to examine the perimeter of the island
for evidence of erosion and to try and determine where the original
edge was. Could be quite challenging!
Yes another before and after, Sir Anthony's Bath looking north east.
... and a brand new area HANJ on the southern edge of the island, the
test pit in the corner was to investigate how far we could go before
striking water and to start to create a kind of sump for bailing out.