Outside the garden: archaeology around Stourhead
LANGPORT & DISTRICT HISTORY SOCIETY TALK REPORT Jan 2020
The Society's first meeting of the new decade featured an illustrated talk from industrial archaeologist Dr Peter Stanier, who took us on a fascinating tour of the landscape features around the outside of the gardens of Stourhead in Wiltshire.
Everyone in the audience had visited Stourhead, but few had explored the wealth of archaeological remains in the surrounding countryside. With the aid of detailed maps and clear photographs, Peter explained the history and functions of everything from Neolithic settlements to pumps, dams and King Alfred's Tower.
He began with a brief history of the ownership of the estate, which extends to over 2,000 acres and is now in the care of the National Trust. The banking family of Hoare took over a medieval house which had deer park and fish ponds, and set about building a new house and improving the landscape on a grand scale.
His tour took in an iron bridge dating from 1860, a cascade reputedly copied from one at Hestercombe, and water wheels and pumps relating to the many lakes and ponds that now exist. Peter showed how the views from within the garden extend to the wider landscape, thus 'borrowing' the area around and making the gardens seem even more extensive. Like many estates of a similar vintage, Stourhead also has an obelisk, an ice house and a ha-ha, in addition to the more familiar structures near the house such as the Pantheon and the grotto.
We also learned about the archaeological digs carried out in the early 19th century by Sir Richard Colt Hoare on Whitesheet Hill, where many ancient features and monuments are marked on the Ordnance Survey maps. Aerial photographs showed their positions more clearly than they can often be seen from ground level.
Peter's talk not only showed us how to understand some of the landscape features we might find, but how easy it is to explore walks and areas of the countryside that are only just off the beaten track. Sadly, this was Peter's last public talk. He has featured in our talks programme every year for the last 10 years, and we will miss his insights into our industrial heritage.
The Society's next meeting will be on 3 February at the Sixth Form Auditorium, Huish Episcopi Academy, when Sonja Rogers will be talking about The National Trust collections in their Somerset houses. Refreshments will be available in the cafeteria from 6.45pm. Non-members are very welcome, £4 per person. Anyone interested in joining the History Society should contact Sue Standen (01458 273471, firstname.lastname@example.org). Follow the History Society at @langporthistory, and: https://sites.google.com/site/langportheritage/home.