Remains of Tudor and Jacobean gardens discovered at Belhus Park, Essex

Between 1753 and 1763, renowned architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown remodelled the gardens into a landscape park.

A recent survey project has identified the remains of Tudor and Jacobean formal gardens beneath a golf course at Grade II listed Belhus Park in Thurrock, Essex.

Belhus Park was once home to a 14th century manor house, and by the 17th century it was one of the largest estates in Essex. Between 1753 and 1763, renowned architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown remodelled the gardens into a landscape park.

Belhus Manor, however, was demolished in 1957 after suffering damage from bombing and military occupation during the Second World War.

Aerial photograph of Belhus Mansion in 1929. Image: © Historic England (Aerofilms Collection EPW026628).

In partnership with The Gardens Trust, and with financial support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Land of the Fanns scheme was set up to record heritage across East London and South West Essex.

As part of their ‘Designed Landscapes’ project, volunteer researchers examined aerial photographs of Belhus Park Golf Course and discovered features that appeared to mirror a 1619 pictorial survey and a late 17th to early 18th century painting of the former estate.

To confirm whether remains of the former gardens had survived, Historic England carried out non-invasive, detailed fieldwork at the site.

By conducting ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and analytical earthwork surveys, Historic England’s Archaeological Survey & Investigation and Geophysics teams successfully identified the subtle features of the original garden.

They discovered a circular water feature and patterns of paths and walls which matched the garden layout depicted in the painting.

N1Linfor Extract of the GPR survey (left) showing the survival of the historic garden features (Image: © Historic England). The features are visible in a painting (right) depicting the gardens c. 1710 (Image: © Historic England with permission of Thurrock Museum).

Phil Lobley, Land of the Fanns volunteer, said: ‘Having spotted the hint of a circular Belhus Park garden feature on satellite images and a site visit, it was very satisfying to discover that the subsequent field work undertaken by Historic England has produced stunning results, confirming my earlier research.’

‘We already knew that Belhus Park was a special place, and a designed landscape of great historic interest,’ said Christopher Laine, Landscape Architect for Historic England. ‘This research proves the survival of these rare formal gardens just underneath the surface of the golf course and improves our knowledge of how the gardens and landscape park at Belhus Park developed.

‘It will help to inform strategies for improving management and conserving this important heritage for current and future generations.’

Vertical aerial photograph of the remains of Belhus Mansion captured by drone survey. Image: © Historic England.

The discovery offers a new incentive for the creation of a Conservation Management Plan for Belhus Park, which would aid its removal from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

Impulse Leisure (operators of the golf course) welcome further volunteering, conservation, and community engagement opportunities at the site.