New Book | Seventeenth-Century Water Gardens

Posted in books by Editor on March 8, 2023

From Oxbow Books:

Stephen Wass, Seventeenth-Century Water Gardens and the Birth of Modern Scientific Thought in Oxford: The Case of Hanwell Castle (Oxford: Windgather Press, 2022), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1914427169, £40.

book coverBased on a decade of archaeological investigation and historical research, this book tells the story of the Copes of Hanwell Castle in north Oxfordshire and the creation of a garden with links to the development of scientific thinking in Oxford in the late seventeenth century. New research using Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire as a starting point has uncovered details of a remarkable family and their rise and tragic downfall, their social circle, that included some great names in the development of early scientific thinking, and their garden that in effect became a place dedicated to the wonders of technology. The complex tale weaves together the activities of a royalist agent, Richard Allestree, a prodigious musician, Thomas Baltzar, John Claridge, a Hanwell Shepherd with a penchant for weather forecasting, and Sir Anthony Cope who in an atmosphere of secrecy and distrust began to gather together a community that eventually was named by Plot as The New Atlantis, a reference to a book published earlier in the century by Sir Francis Bacon in which he suggests a model for a Utopian science-focused society.

The book also chronicles the programme of archaeological excavation that has uncovered several unusual garden features and, most significantly of all, describes in detail the unique collection of seventeenth-century terracotta garden urns, an assemblage that is unparalleled in post-medieval archaeology. This collection was destroyed in a single episode of vandalism around 1675 and has been preserved in deeply buried deposits of mud and silt. Their analysis and reconstruction is opening new insights into the decorative schemes of seventeenth-century gardens. There is coverage of other gardens of the period and their surviving features as well as an examination of early science and how gardens impacted on its development in many ways.

Stephen Wass completed his MA in historical archaeology at the University of Leicester and then established himself as a freelance consultant specialising in historic gardens. Much of his work has been for the National Trust including major sites such as Chastleton House, Packwood House, Croft Castle, and Stowe Landscape Gardens. The current volume arises from a programme of doctoral research at the University of Oxford.


Preface: Robert Plot and Sir Anthony Cope

1  Introduction
• The Study of Gardens in Theory and Practice
• Hanwell: Geology, Geography, Archaeology, and History

2  The Sixteenth Century
• William Cope and the Building of Hanwell House
• The Origins of Early Modern Water Gardens
• Water Gardens in the Sixteenth Century

3  The Seventeenth Century
• Continental Engineers and Their Influence
• The Copes in Ascendancy
• Walter Cope’s Water Maze
• Francis Bacon, Gardening, and The New Atlantis
• Thomas Bushell and the Enstone Marvels
• Other Early Seventeenth-Century Water Gardens

4  At Hanwell House
• The Archaeology of the Gardens, 1600–1660
• Sir Anthony Cope, the Fourth Baronet
• Sir Anthony Cope in His Social Setting
• Hanwell, Cope, and Plot
• Sir Anthony’s Companions
• The Archaeology of the Gardens, 1660–1675
• Reconstructing the House of Diversion
• The Hanwell Pots and Other Finds

5  The End of it All
• The Aftermath, the Family and Estate after 1675
• The Archaeology of the Gardens from 1675 to the Present Day

6  Oxford, Science, and Gardening
• Oxford, Hanwell, and Early Scientific Thinking
• Gardens and Science
• The Tangley Mystery and Hanwell as the New Atlantis


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