Monday, February 12, 2018

Medieval Gardens

There is little action in the garden as the deep freezes continue so noting historical events is interesting. In 2003, the buried remains of a 700-year-old garden at Whittington Castle in Shropshire, England changed historian's understanding of medieval gardens.

The 14th-century garden had one of the earliest and largest viewing mounts ever found in England, an unusual layout, and an elaborate ditched water system. Viewing mounts were created to provide elevated views of a castle's garden, grounds, and surrounding landscape and symbolized the owner's wealth and high status… Wittington had one of the first such mounds.

The Whittington Castle mount, a 16-foot man-made mound, puzzled archaeologists for years. However historical researcher Peter King discovered in records dating to 1413 reference to ‘a garden with a ditch of water around it,’ which led archaeologists to conduct a geophysical survey of the area. Employing techniques such as magnetometry, ground penetrating radar, and soil resistivity surveying to look below the site's surface, the archaeologists traced the buried outlines of the paths and rectangular plots of the garden. The findings suggest the mount and garden were built sometime between 1300 and 1349.

It is the earliest example to survive in the United Kingdom and was quite ornate in its heyday. Wittington had been built as a stronghold for the protection against Welsh raiders, the French and Scots, and when the hostilities ended in 1282 the landowners turned their attention to such leisure luxuries as gardens.

The Nearby streams, no longer essential to the defense of the castle, were diverted to fill trenches surrounding the castle thereby creating a moat. Small footbridges needed to be crossed to reach the garden while another footbridge connected the garden and the viewing mount.

Following Wittington, lavish water features became common in medieval high status gardens and a special pavilion was perched on the top of the mount so vistas of parkland with unusual imported animals and fruit trees could be viewed from above.

These gardens were statements of the owners' wealth and power, designed to imitate a vision of paradise and to impress visitors. The Wittington castle was owned first by Fitz Warin and his family… Knights of the First Order, wealthy from dutiful Service to the Monarchs they owned it from 1204 to 1420 and it is they who built the spectacular gardens for their enjoyment.

Several hundred years later it would be in ‘utter ruin’. It is unfortunate Wittington has been reduced to piles of stone however it is amazing that technology has allowed us to view this long buried British treasure.

* Of note: The ruins are said to be haunted.
*Photo is of the gate houses, all that remains of the Castle.

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