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.
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.
The Bridewell Organic Gardens have organised open days.
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.
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.
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