An X-Ray on the Landscape


The heatwave throughout Britain this summer has brought a number of lost features of the landscape temporarily into view again. Last month the BBC reported on the reappearance of the Victorian formal garden at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The “ghost garden” was designed in the 1850s by Sir Charles Barry (who also designed the Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle). It was lost during World War II.

Sarah Lascow at Atlas Obscura explains the phenomenon:

Cropmarks make sense when you think about them. Years ago, the people who settled in these places dug furrows and moats to help protect their lands, built foundations into the earth, and constructed walls. Those features are now invisible on the surface of the land, but their remnants still lurk beneath. Where walls once stood, the soil might be shallower; a filled-in ditch can mean a deep pocket of rich soil.

Most years, these variations in the ground don’t make much of a difference to plants, especially if they’re hardy and shallow-rooted. But when resources are scarce, a filled-in ditch can be a source of much-needed water, allowing the lucky plants above to grow green and strong while their neighbors wilt. Conversely, plants growing above old walls might struggle while their neighbors thrive.

Other reappearances include “Roman forts, Iron Age farms and Medieval castles” in Wales. Clumber House, one of the great English country houses lost in the twentieth century, resurfaced in Clumber Park. The house was built in the 1760s and torn down in 1938. Rachael Hall, an archaeologist for National Trust Midlands, tells iNews: “The parch marks at Clumber House have been fantastic. You can see the entire mansion laid out in front of you, so you know which room you’re in. And you can walk down the corridors into the grand hall, or the yellow drawing room, or the kitchen or the dining room and clearly know where you are.”

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