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Garden restoration is a question of plumbing

Restoration of the UK’s largest formal garden to its original splendour is all a question of plumbing, according to geography lecturer Dr Joseph Holden. He is leading a year-long survey of Bramham Park, near Wetherby, North Yorkshire, to show whether the garden’s unique water features can be brought back to life.

Plotting the pipelines – research students Dan Stanley and Aaron Lockwood (l-r) setting up equipment at Bramham Park

Bramham Park is the only large-scale formal garden in the UK to survive virtually unchanged from the 17th century. Created by Robert Benson, the first Lord Bingley, to imitate the gardens of Versailles and Italy, the garden’s water features are now in disrepair. A slope of turf covers what was a 30-step cascade, pools have been turned into rose gardens and those features which still survive contain a pitiful amount of water.
The original designs by John Wood the Elder, the architect responsible for some of the finest buildings in Bath, were destroyed in a fire at the house in 1828. The family subsequently left the house and didn’t return until 1900. As a result, the house escaped the remodelling which was all the rage during the 19th century, and so the 1698 layout still remains.

“We’re having to start from scratch,” explains Dr Holden, who is collaborating with English Heritage on the project. “We’re surveying the park using ground penetrating radar and other geophysical techniques, mapping out the original supply lines, the pipework between the features and the holding reservoirs and seeing where the system is leaking. Global positioning satellite systems will enable us to produce detailed maps accurate to within a few centimetres. Such techniques provide vital information on the gardens without the need for any invasive excavations.”

Part of the project will also look at the ‘hydrological budget’ for the water features – the maximum and minimum amount of water they will need to function properly – and determine whether the area can provide that water, throughout the year, without a negative environmental impact on the surrounding landscape.

“It’s not clear from the documentary evidence and archaeological surveys whether the original features were ever successfully supplied with enough water,” said Dr Holden. “Water from nearby springs was channelled to the gardens by gravity using ditches and pipes, but they had to follow a long contour to avoid a valley which lies between the springs and the ponds.

Watering the garden – Dr Joseph Holden will show whether Bramham's water garden can be restored to their former glory

“We will be continuously monitoring the amount of water the springs supply, and how much reaches the water features, to assess the levels of water available and how much leaks away. We will also assess the potential effects of any change in water management of the area upon the rest of the catchment.”

The £21,000 project is funded by English Heritage and the Bramham Estate and runs until June 2003.

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