Unearthing Sussex past

The remains of an historic estate have been revealed in Kew's country garden at Wakehurst.

25 Oct 2010

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Excavation site at Wakehurst

During excavations at Wakehurst, the remains of an inner courtyard have been revealed.

On 7 October 2010 a fascinating archaeological discovery was made at Wakehurst Place, Kew's country garden in West Sussex. The remains of Elizabethan buildings have been uncovered, which have confirmed that the Wakehurst Mansion once had an inner courtyard surrounded by four wings.

Digging into history

As part of the Mansion's conservation management plan, digging began in front of Wakehurst's 16th century mansion, near Haywards Heath, which is run by Kew and home to the internationally renowned Millennium Seed Bank.

The magnificent gardens, woodlands and nature reserves were left to the National Trust in 1965. The Trust has commissioned expert historians from Richard Griffiths Architects and Wessex Archaeology who have made the finds. They wanted to determine whether there was evidence of any other buildings in front of the mansion and to confirm the suggestion that there had, at one time, been four wings around an inner courtyard.

"We have had very exciting news", says Andy Jackson, the Head of Wakehurst Place. "After just two days of digging, the archaeologists have confirmed that Wakehurst has four wings".

"Remarkably, what appears to be a large brick hearth - perhaps an Elizabethan inglenook fireplace, has survived with the remains of an associated coloured tile surround." says Bob Davis from Wessex Archaeology.

Settling a historic dispute

Talking about the excavation project, Andy Jackson said "there had been some dispute among historians as to whether the south wings had ever existed, or were only ideas on plans and drawings which have been discovered. Excavations in 1904 by Gerald Loder, Wakehurst's owner until 1936, did not leave detailed records and to have found some evidence of them confirms that Wakehurst did indeed once have a fully enclosed courtyard in front of the sandstone mansion."

Three further trenches are being dug in the next week and further exciting discoveries have been made this morning. "We are still looking for evidence of the earlier twelfth or thirteenth Mansion at Wakehurst" says Jackson.

"This is a one-off opportunity to see the history of the Mansion being uncovered", says Simon Lee, National Trust Property Manager for Nymans and Wakehurst Place. "The evidence will help us to complete our conservation management plan for the Mansion and to enrich the interpretation of this wonderful building and gardens".

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