Ruins of Tudor royal mansion discovered at Hampton Court

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS HAVE discovered the remains of an Elizabethan royal mansion near Henry VIII's palace at Hampton Court.

Excavations have revealed evidence of a 165ft-wide palatial complex flanked by substantial walled gardens.

The archaeological investigations have shown that the mansion was lavishly decorated. A series of beautiful Flemish tiles, illustrated with hunting scenes, has been unearthed and is currently with the British Museum.

Before the discovery of the mansion 1.5 miles north-west of Hampton Court, in Bushy Park, historians had thought that only a small hunting lodge had stood on the site.

The archaeologists have, however, unearthed a much larger and grander building, which may well have been used by Elizabeth I herself. It is known that she was a devotee of blood sports who enjoyed using a crossbow to hunt deer and other animals in Bushy Park.

The excavation, directed by Chris Currie, has found Elizabethan and early Stuart pottery, window glass and roof tiles, as well as parts of brick foundations, 62 Flemish tile fragments and the remains of a monumental gateway.

The blue, yellow, green and white tin-glazed tiles show a series of hunting and other scenes, including a hare apparently running along a hare coursing track. Significantly, there was just such a track in Bushy Park in Tudor times. Some of the tiles, which were almost certainly specially commissioned from a manufacturer in the Low Countries, may also have shown peacocks.

Bushy Park, which was known for its game, including stag, hare and pheasant, was the nearest large hunting facility to Hampton Court. The 1066-acre site was twice the size of the palace's own hunting ground. Indeed, it is likely the mansion was a favourite party venue for courtiers based at Hampton Court.

The site is still crown property and is being investigated by archaeologists so that a 2.5-acre 18th-century water garden can be surveyed, restored and opened to the public. If sufficient funds are raised by a charity, the Bushy Park Water Garden Trust, the gardens will be fully restored to their original glory complete with waterfalls, pools, canals and grottoes.

The archaeological survey will reveal exactly how the canals and pools were constructed and what sort of technology was used to achieve the effects. The restorers then plan to use the same raw materials and technology to recreate the water gardens.

"Our archaeologists will be uncovering hundreds of years of garden history and will be able to discover just how the gardens evolved over time," said Kathy White, who chairs the Bushy Park Water Garden Trust.