‘Fascinating’ Tudor gardens found hidden under Essex golf course

The remains of Tudor and Jacobean gardens have been discovered beneath an Essex golf course.

Historic England made the discovery at Belhus Park Golf Course in Thurrock, which was part of the former Belhus Park estate that once included a manor house.

Volunteer researchers first noticed similarities between aerial photographs of the course and a 17th-century painting depicting a bird’s eye view of the property.

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From this evidence the researchers suggested that the layout of the former gardens had survived and a further study by Historic England confirmed this.

Historic England used a ground-penetrating radar, with senior geophysicist Neil Linford describing how the image of a Tudor water garden became clear.

“We were very excited when we started to see the image of the Tudor water garden appear on the laptop screen as we were collecting the data – that made all the hard work very worthwhile,” he said.

Historic England now wants to conserve the historic setting and to work to remove Belhus Park from its ‘Heritage At Risk Register’.

Belhus Park in 1929. The remains of Tudor and Jacobean gardens have been discovered beneath the golf course in Essex.

Christopher Laine, landscape architect for Historic England, said: “We already knew that Belhus Park was a special place, and a designed landscape of great historic interest.

“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.”

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The former manor house was lived in from the 14th century but was damaged by bombing and military occupation during the Second World War, leading to its demolition in 1957.

It’s thought that the gardens were replaced in the mid-18th century with a landscape park designed by prolific landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Brown’s other work included gardens at Hampton Court, Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth House.

The volunteer researchers who noticed that aerial images resembled a past survey and bird’s eye view painting were from the Land Of The Fanns scheme.

The scheme, which covers east London and south-west Essex, says on its website that it ‘aims to reunify and discover the landscape, strengthen attachment and create a sense of enjoyment of the landscape area for local people and visitors’.

Land of the Fanns volunteer Phil Lobley 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.”

The historic garden features lie within the private golf course and many of them cannot easily be seen from the ground.

Historic England said it is “hoped that there will be future opportunities for community engagement, volunteering, exploring and enjoying this fascinating place”.

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