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Research into Rural Sites and Monuments

Rural landscapes show how humans have exploited and manipulated their natural environment over millennia. This rich archaeology contributes to the beauty and character of the countryside.

It can be threatened by environmental shifts and by the changing ways in which landscapes are cultivated, inhabited and managed.

Historic England carries out research to promote the public understanding and awareness of the archaeological importance of rural landscapes.

This research feeds into the decision-making for the future management of significant sites.

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

Wrest Park, a substantial country house of the 1830s, sits within a historic landscape that can be traced back to the12th century. The most significant period of development was probably during the early 18th century, when the well-known Archer Pavilion was built and the framework of the garden was established.

We started a substantial multi-disciplinary project analysing the landscape in 2009 to support a Heritage Lottery Fund project and help determine how the garden would be restored and redeveloped.

We used a variety of archaeological techniques to analyse the gardens, focusing on the registered park and garden.

The research showed that archaeological remains had survived from the medieval period through to post Second World War. See the research report on Wrest Park.

Thomas Archer’s pavilion reflected in a pool at Wrest Park.
Thomas Archer’s pavilion reflected in a pool at Wrest Park. © Pat Payne/Historic England

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire: garden, settlement and landscape

Kirby Hall, an English Heritage site, is an impressive ruin of an Elizabethan courtyard house, dating from 1570 and listed at Grade I. There are remains of formal gardens at the south and west of the house.

These were partly reinstated in the 1930s and again in the 1990s. Historic England investigated the landscape around the Hall, making a detailed survey of the deserted medieval village of Kirby, a Scheduled Monument.

We also identified the slight earthwork remains of a 17th-century garden known as the Wilderness, which once formed part of the Hall’s formal gardens. It comprised a series of regular compartments divided by a network of paths.

This work improved our understanding of the wider setting of the house, in order to help with future management decisions at the property. See the research report on Kirby Hall.

View across earthworks to 16th-century country house
Kirby Hall with the earthwork remains of the village of Kirby in the foreground. © Pat Payne/Historic England

Netheravon barrows, Wiltshire

Three round barrows stand on the boundary of Figheldean and Fittleton parishes on the lip of a high river cliff overlooking the River Avon at Netheravon.

Badgers digging in the mound of the central barrow have resulted in several remarkable finds dating from the Early Bronze Age and a quantity of human bone.

Historic England surveyed these archaeologically neglected barrows and found that at least two of the barrows are multi-phase monuments and that the finds almost certainly come from a secondary, earlier burial relatively high in the mound of the large central barrow.

Three people surveying a barrow
Surveying one of the barrows at Netheravon. © Historic England

The Pleasance, Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire

The Pleasance was a royal pleasure garden, built in the early 15th century by Henry V in the grounds of Kenilworth Castle. Now a Scheduled Monument, it formed part of the castle’s extensive medieval pleasure grounds, which included a vast artificial lake and hunting parks.

Historic England conducted a detailed survey of the Pleasance, which survives as a large double-moated enclosure defined by a series of grass-covered banks and ditches.

The survey helped Historic England to determine the future of this nationally-important site which is frequently damaged by burrowing animals.

A forthcoming article on the Pleasance will be published in Medieval Archaeology in 2015.

For our large-scale landscape interpretation work, read about our projects in:

Aerial photograph of earthworks near Kenilworth Castle
Aerial view of the Pleasance looking east, with Kenilworth Castle beyond. © Damien Grady/Historic England
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