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Managing Change at Historic England Properties NHPP Activity 7A2

Research carried out 2011-2015 to inform and manage change on Historic England's Estate in order to maintain its historic significance. This work formed part of the National Heritage Protection Plan. It predated the seperation of the English Heritage Trust (who manage the properties) and Historic England.

Scope of the activity

This activity comprised a range of investigation projects that supported development or repair of English Heritage's national collection of Historic Properties. It can comprise landscape survey and analysis, architectural investigation and archaeological investigation, and will normally include analysis, archiving and dissemination of findings.

Protection results

The main goals of this Activity were to preserve the significance of English Heritage assets subject to change, or to mitigate the loss of significance through investigation offset by enhanced understanding.

An enhanced image of Wrest Park generated from Lidar survey and aerial photography analysis
A high-resolution Lidar image of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, with information added from transcribed aerial photography evidence. © Historic England

Key examples of projects in this activity

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

The designed landscape at Wrest is a rare survival of 17th-18th century formal gardens. However, its true significance lies in its multi-layered character, including elements of landscape design from the medieval park and a number of phases of garden design. That significance had been both preserved and damaged by the institutional use of the house and landscape for much of the 20th century, and a major repair programme was initiated in 2008, linked to an ambitious presentation programme. This was supported by a multi-disciplinary research project.

Work has included aerial photography analysis of a 36km2 area to place the house in its wider landscape context. High-resolution Lidar survey has helped to provide further evidence for earthwork features in and around the gardens. Analytical earthwork survey identified the remains of earlier features, for example remains of planting beds in the Rose Garden. Geophysical survey of the lawns to the south of the house confirmed the extent and locations of buried remains, and evaluation and area excavations determined historic path surfaces and courses, and confirmed the original layout of the French Parterre.

This research has confirmed the presence of extensive archaeological remains, including those of the old house, and the extensive and complex remains of garden features from all phases of the development of the designed landscape. There is also good evidence for the medieval agricultural landscape. The results of our work have been compiled in a Geographical Information System (GIS), holding modern and historic plan evidence. This will form a valuable resource for further repairs to the designed landscape.

A report on the Geophysical Survey is available through the Research Reports Series.  You can also download a final report synthesising the full results of all the other work at Wrest Park. We have also compiled a final report drawing together all the other results of the multidisciplinary research project around Wrest Park.

View of excavations at Chiswick House
Excavations at Chiswick House, London; showing the uncovered remains of stables, service buildings and yard walls © Historic England

Chiswick House, London

English Heritage and external archaeologists carried out work between 2005 and 2010 as part of the Chiswick House and Gardens Regeneration Project. English Heritage developed the project to restore and revive the gardens at Chiswick and to improve the presentation, historic interpretation and visitor facilities of the site.

A variety of organisations funded the project, including English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Hounslow Borough Council and the Wolfson Gardens Challenge Fund, along with donations from private individuals.

Excavations in advance of the construction of visitor facilities revealed a stunning and complex sequence of development on this internationally important and high status site: including evidence of previously unknown buildings. Most of the remains were preserved in situ below new structures. English Heritage archaeologists carried out other work during this period including monitoring excavations for site services and landscaping works affecting the scheduled area, with work on site completed in September 2009.

Following assessment of the results, we worked on an analysis project in preparation for a publication.

Kirkby Hall, Northamptonshire

Kirby Hall is the ruin of one of the great innovative Elizabethan houses. Begun in 1570 by Sir Humphrey Stafford (died 1575), and probably completed by the Lord Chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton (died 1591), it was altered during the 17th century and later, becoming partially ruinous in the early 19th century.

In advance of proposed planned  re-presentation of, the State Apartments, we provided specifications and briefs for evaluation by Northamptonshire Archaeology and building analysis by Wessex Archaeology, based on new photogrammetric survey. In addition to documentary analysis, a study of the masons’ marks has been carried out, and the surviving timbers have been sampled for tree-ring dating. A new and more nuanced understanding of the development of the buildings is beginning to emerge, with new information on the later phases of the buildings’ development. We now know, for example, that the surviving section of Long Gallery roof was built in the 1630s, part of the extensive works carried out by Nicholas Stone.

Our Assessment team’s landscape survey has enhanced the study of the house. It has shed further light on the former Wilderness Garden and the deserted medieval village of Kirby.

A view of the interior of a stone built gallery range of a ruined country house
Tree-ring dating of the roof of the surviving bay of the Long Gallery at Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire has given a felling date of AD 1636. © Historic England

Publications

The results of our work on Historic England properties are published in a variety of formats, depending on the scale and significance of the work. This can include monographs such as the forthcoming volume on Silbury Hill, popular books such as The Story of Silbury Hill, and journal articles, notably in the English Heritage Historical Review. A great deal of specialist work is published through the Research Department Reports Series; the database of reports can be searched by the names of our historic properties.

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