Gunpowder, treason and a lost Tudor plot

A Luftwaffe photograph has revealed the lost garden of a family who collaborated with Guy Fawkes

Victoria Summerley
Saturday 06 November 2010 01:00
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An aerial reconnaissance photograph taken by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War has helped trace the outlines of a lost Tudor garden.

The picture shows the land surrounding the National Trust property of Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire, including an arrangement of 10 concentric circles measuring 120 metres across, which may have formed a labyrinth, or maze.

Lyveden's property manager, Mark Bradshaw, said: "We're still not clear exactly what these circles represent, but it's amazing that the outline can be clearly made out in an aerial photograph taken almost 350 years after the garden was created."

The discovery has led to the garden being listed by English Heritage as Grade I, its highest category. Tony Calladine, of English Heritage, said: "Its remarkable state of preservation and its association with Thomas Tresham, the famous gardener, recusant and architect, make it one of the most extraordinary and unique designed landscapes in the country."

The Treshams were a respected Northamptonshire family who moved in the highest circles. However, they were also Catholics at a time when to be a Catholic was perilous. Thomas Tresham managed to navigate the dangerous political waters of the Tudor age, and as a horticulturalist, contented himself with demonstrating his piety in his garden, where it would only be apparent to those familiar with Catholic symbolism.

Mr Bradshaw said the find was one of the most important garden discoveries of recent times: "There is evidence of roses, raspberries and what we would call wild flowers today, but which had a religious significance for Catholics. Raspberries represent the Passion, for example, while the campion was known as 'Mary's rose'."

Sir Thomas died on 11 September 1605, leaving his garden and house unfinished. On 19 October, his son Francis was drawn into the Gunpowder Plot by his cousin, Sir Robert Catesby, who wanted Francis – newly rich, thanks to his inheritance – to fund the purchase of the gunpowder.

Francis was arrested with other members of the plot. He died in the Tower of London on 23 December and that was the end of the Treshams, and of Lyveden New Bield.

After Francis's death, Tresham's correspondence was hidden away at the family's principal home of Rushton Hall, a few miles away, amid fears of further persecution.

The papers, which were rediscovered in 1821 and deposited in the British Library, include detailed plans for the garden. "With time and funding," said Mark Bradshaw, "they will reveal much more."

The Luftwaffe photograph is one of a series at the US National Archive at Baltimore, Maryland and was discovered by National Trust gardens and parks curator Chris Gallagher during his research.

Mr Gallagher said: "When we ordered up the image it revealed far more than we ever expected. Not only did it expose the remnants of the original circular design – set within what Sir Thomas Tresham called his 'moated orchard' – but you can also make out the vestiges of a regular array of planting holes, which we have taken to be the last remains of an Elizabethan fruit garden."

Aerial photographs taken in 1935 were also consulted, but did not give such a clear image. Prior to the Second World War, the land had been cultivated, and after the war, it returned to agricultural use.

To give a sense of how the Lyveden garden may have looked when it was created, the National Trust has created a temporary labyrinth by mowing a pattern into the grass.

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