Context

The Bridewell Organic Gardens are established in the walled garden of Wilcote Manor. Wilcote is a hamlet about five kilometres north of Witney. The current owners of the manor have allowed the charitable group behind Bridewell organic Gardens to use the walled garden as an organic garden and vineyard offering therapeutic services for those suffering from mental illness. Historically, this piece of land was donated by the Champney family in 1555 to Bridewell Hospital in London. The Champneys lived in The Manor at Wilcote, now known as Wilcote Manor.

Description

The earliest map evidence for the Wilcote Manor walled garden is the 2nd ed. OS map of 1899 which shows a clear central path leading to buildings on the west side of the land. This map indicates a possible wall dividing the garden into two parts. The buildings with small enclosures may have been for animals. By the third OS map of 1922, the wall dividing the garden into two parts is no longer indicated.

It is unclear from the maps whether historically this was ever a productive walled garden and there is no evidence of trees, paths or glasshouses. The Bridewell Organic Garden started in 1994 and has built a number of fences and structures in a rectangular rural setting, encompassing the original walled garden and the fields beyond.

Access

The Bridewell Organic Gardens have organised open days.

Current use

The west and central parts of the kitchen garden are mainly laid to lawn except to the south-west, which is now an orchard nursery,and a cultivated vegetable area towards the centre north. The slip garden to the south was always planted as an orchard and currently contains, amongst others, Blenheim Orange apples. Many glasshouses still contain fruit trees. The bothies/sheds on the outer north wall are now occupied by a collection of historic agricultural implements. The area to the east, about a third of the walled garden, is now called the ‘Pleasure Gardens’ and is accessible to the public. This is currently occupied by a hedge maze created in 1991, a model village, and a fountain at the site of the original dipping pond. The south slip continues around the east wall and this is a childrens’ playground.

Special features

Architectural features: walls, gateways, bastions, niches, and bell on north wall. Parts of the original walls were built as double layered ‘hot walls’ heated via flues, visible in part on the outer south wall where some brickwork is missing. Many fruit trees have lead labels and some have leather or fabric wall ties.

Designation status

Blenheim Park is included in the Historic England, Grade I, Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, and the walled kitchen garden lies within this. The kitchen garden walls and attached house are listed Grade II by Historic England as being of special architectural and historic interest.

Degree of completeness

Good. Architectural features are substantially complete. Some restoration of walls where necessary. Glasshouses are demolished, restored or replaced. The west pond is filled in.

Ownership and access

Privately owned. The formal palace gardens and the eastern third of the walled kitchen gardens (the ‘Pleasure Gardens’) are open regularly to the public (www.blenheimpalace.com/).

Sources of information

Victoria County History – Oxfordshire

Unpublished site survey undertaken by volunteers with Oxfordshire Gardens Trust, October 2013

Map reproduced by permission the National Library of Scotland – Maps

Name of district

West Oxfordshire

Grid reference

SP44769 15630

Arrival 27th July 1921

The Botanic Gardens

Magdalen College

The bike ride from Woodstock to Oxford would have been along the same road as today but a much quieter road. The 1921 [Oxford and District special edition one inch map] shows the road  passing by Yarnton, over the Oxford Canal, through Peartree Hill, past Upper Wolvercote and down the Woodstock Road. As Loyal and Sam arrived in Oxford on the afternoon of the 27th July, it was possibly quite a leisurely ride.

The following day they manage to squeeze in visits to the Botanic Gardens, Magdalen College, a glimpse of Merton, lunch at the University Museum, a flash past Wadham, St John’s College, the Bodleian (Duke Humphrey’s), the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College.

In the Botanic Gardens Loyal was able to identify a tree that he had been unable to at Blenheim – (possibly) the ‘Cypress’ planted by ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The specimen he recognised at the Botanic Gardens was a Taxodium disticheum – the cypress that Loyal may have been familiar with from the swampy south eastern States of America.  The tree planted in 1840 was unfortunately severely damaged by a freak gust of wind and the top snapped off.  It had to be felled in 1995.  To celebrate the 400 anniversary of the gardens (2021) it has been decided to plant a Taxodium very close to the original spot where the first tree grew.

Just over the road at Magdalen College, Loyal was greatly impressed with the ‘most beautiful tower  . . .but the finest thing there is the meadow with the deer, the walk along the Cherwell and best of all Addison’s walk with the beautiful trees overhanging’