Turf Maze at Troy Farm

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1468043
Date first listed:
09-Jun-2020
Location Description:
On the opposite side of the road to the Troy Farm buildings.
Statutory Address:
Somerton, Bicester, OX25 6NG

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Somerton, Bicester, OX25 6NG

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
On the opposite side of the road to the Troy Farm buildings.
County:
Oxfordshire
District:
Cherwell (District Authority)
Parish:
Somerton
National Grid Reference:
SP5188327903

Summary

A turf-cut labyrinth or maze of near circular outline which is apparently post-medieval and has fifteen circuits with a gravel, trench pathway and raised grass and earth banks.

Reasons for Designation

The Turf Maze at Troy Farm, Somerton, Oxfordshire is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: the layout, grass banks and sunken pathways all survive well; * Fragility: the maze is fragile, needing careful and frequent maintenance to ensure its preservation; * Rarity: the labyrinth is one of very few surviving examples of a formerly common type of monument; * Potential: the existence of a circular pond to the east of the labyrinth, combined with the probable date of the maze, indicates potential archaeological interest in the form of a wider-ranging garden layout of C16 or C17 date.

History

Mazes have a long history and have a variety of form and purpose, most commonly as garden features. They are thought by some to derive from prehistoric cup and ring marked stones and other megalithic sculpture with spiral designs, several examples of which are found in the British Isles. The earliest recognized maze design is the seven-ring classical or Cretan labyrinth, single-pathed and found as designs carved on stone, cut into turf or marked by boulders. Mazes also exist as designs on Roman produced mosaic pavements; and six are known to be in Britain. The medieval church adopted a new design of maze, the earliest known full-sized example being the pavement maze in Chartres Cathedral laid out in 1235. These medieval Christian mazes are circular or octagonal, with a single path following 11 concentric rings and forming an overall cruciform design, probably meant to be used as a penance, completed on the knees to gain forgiveness for sins. More secular uses of mazes continued until at least the C18, although between 1649 and 1659 maze games were one of the activities either discouraged or outlawed by the Puritan-dominated Republic. The first more complicated puzzle mazes developed from the C15 as features of ornamental gardens, with paths separated by hedges or flower borders, the most famous being the Hampton Court Maze which was laid out in 1689-96. In the C19 there was a revival of interest in mazes of all designs which continued into the C20. It is thought that there were over 100 medieval turf-cut mazes in England of which the approximate locations of 60 are known. Of these, less than eight are believed to survive in their original locations. A number of other maze types are also known, including small finger mazes carved on natural rock walls in Cornwall, and at least one boulder maze on the Isles of Scilly.

The maze at Troy Farm is believed to be of the late C15, C16 or early C17, although an exact date cannot be established. It may have been a part of a garden design. The pattern is elaborate having fifteen circuits, as opposed to the more normal number of eleven. An early C15 manor house called Somertons formerly stood on the site to the north of the maze which is now occupied by Troy Farm. This manor house was pulled down when the owner, Henry Fermor, went to live elsewhere in 1642. The farm appears as Troy House on a map published in 1797, and since the word troy can mean maze, it is likely that the maze was in existence prior to this date and was laid out as part of the landscape for the earlier building. To the south-east of the maze is a circular pond, which may have formed part of the same layout. The pond cuts across an area of ridge and furrow and is therefore likely to have been made in the post-medieval period.

Details

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS Located approximately 70m to the south of Troy Farm in Somerton, Oxfordshire, is a turf-cut labyrinth or maze of near-circular form which is apparently post-medieval, probably of C15, C16 or C17 date, and has fifteen circuits with a gravel, trench pathway and raised grass and earth banks.

DESCRIPTION The maze measures 18.3 metres east-west and 15.8 metres north-south. The single pathway is entered at its southern end and the pattern that the winding route makes is of concentric lines to the northern side and divided to form a central ridge with bi-lobal patterns of pathways to the southern side. Divisions are formed by turf banks and the pathway is now covered with gravel. Trenches are approximately 10 to 15 centimetres in depth.

The maze has required frequent attention to keep the pathways legible and free from encroaching undergrowth and to consolidate the trench sides, but there is no evidence that the pattern has been disturbed and it remains as depicted in 1959 (see SOURCES, Top. Oxon).

EXCLUSIONS The timber fence and interpretation board are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 3 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Legal

This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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