Research on Oxfordshire’s parks and gardens
The objectives of the Trust include the following activities related to research:
- To promote and publish research into the history and development of Oxfordshire gardens.
- To promote the better documentation of Oxfordshire gardens and the preservation and study of archives relating to such parks and gardens and kindred subjects.
These activities are coordinated by a Research Group. OGT members are invited to join the Group to learn new skills including how to undertake field work and research to support this key area of OGT’s work.
Details of the OGT’s research project on Walled Kitchen Gardens, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, are given below. Since this project was completed in 2014 the Group has focussed on research contributing to national initiatives such as CB 300 – recording landscapes designed by Capability Brown – and a project on Oxfordshire Parks and Recreation Grounds.
Historic landscapes, parks and gardens.
These range in age from medieval to modern and in scale from private gardens to the landscaped grounds of great estates through to manorial, college and domestic gardens.
The international importance of Blenheim Palace and its park was recognised through inscription as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Oxfordshire has several other landscapes of national importance including Shotover, Nuneham Courtenay, Rousham, some of the college gardens of Oxford University and the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Fifty-six of the most outstanding sites are included in the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. These are listed under each of the five Oxfordshire districts below.
Besides the registered sites there are many more which are of local historical importance or whose history is not yet documented. A review of historic parks and gardens in the county was carried out by Colvin and Moggeridge in 1997. Their report identified 185 sites of special interest, either nationally or at county level. The Trust promotes the enjoyment and understanding of all these landscapes through its programme of visits, lectures and research activities.
Recreational Parks Project
In 2020 OGT began a small research project to record a selection of the county’s urban, civic public parks and recreation grounds. Across the UK, parks are vulnerable from lack of funding, have features that are gradually being eroded through neglect or demolition, or may be under threat through housing targets and road construction.
In response to the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1837 the need for recreation space for children and adults was considered vital by some city and county councillors as well as by philanthropic benefactors. Fortunately some of the latter gave land or money and parks and recreation grounds and playing fields were created. In other cases, the city council and county councils purchased land for this purpose.
The five Oxfordshire District Councils have numerous urban and rural parks which may be cared for by them and the local parishes. Many of these are well recorded on their websites or have links to relevant information.
A full research report (pdf) is available at the end of each Recreational Park summary.
Capability Brown research project (CB300)
2016 marked the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716─1783). To celebrate this event, the Gardens Trust initiated a research project (CB300) aimed at county gardens trusts to investigate the landscape gardens that Brown helped to create. The seven sites recorded here are those in the modern county of Oxfordshire that were researched by OGT volunteers, each showing some evidence for Brown’s involvement. This excludes Blenheim Palace which was the subject of a leaflet ‘Capability Brown at Blenheim Palace‘ published by the Historic Houses Association and Blenheim as part of the CB300 celebrations. Further research on Capability Brown’s landscapes countrywide are available at CapabilityBrown.org
Walled Kitchen Gardens
In April 2012 the OGT was awarded £50,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to research the walled kitchen gardens of Oxfordshire.
The project co-ordinator recruited an enthusiastic band of volunteers to undertake the research, survey work and recording of these sites. The project was completed in July 2014 and has led to a much better understanding and appreciation of these often-neglected gardens. Summary information regarding many of the individual walled gardens can be found by clicking on the relevant district listed in the footer of this page.
The initial research involved looking at historical maps (mainly the first three editions of the Ordnance Survey c.1880 – 1920) and other readily available archives and data sources, including aerial photography. Our research identified the location of over 200 walled kitchen gardens in the county. We followed up with site visits to a selection of these gardens, where owners allowed access. Our surveys confirmed what elements of the original garden survive, and their condition. Some are still used as originally intended, others have been developed for housing and other purposes, some have simply been left alone, others demolished. We mounted a touring exhibition in 2014, visiting local libraries. A free booklet ‘The Walled Gardens of Oxfordshire’ is available from the OGT, summarising our findings.
We are grateful for the generous financial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and for the encouragement and advice of English Heritage (now Historic England) and their consultants. Full research reports from the Wall Gardens project have been deposited at the Oxfordshire History Centre.