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Archaeologists on HS2 line uncover grounds of perfectly preserved 16th-century manor gardens

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·2-min read
The ornamental garden was completely unknown of until excavators recently uncovered the 300 metre foundations. (SWNS)
The ornamental garden was completely unknown until excavators recently uncovered its 300-metre foundations. (SWNS)

One of the best-preserved gardens ever discovered in Britain has been uncovered by archaeologists working on the HS2 train line.

Historians have been left stunned by the ancient discovery near Coleshill, on the outskirts of Birmingham, which has been dubbed "Warwickshire's answer to Hampton Court".

The ornamental garden does not appear in any historical records and was completely unknown until excavators recently uncovered the 656ft foundations.

The remains of Coleshill Manor and an octagonal moat were first picked up by archaeological teams working on the high-speed railway two years ago.

The outline of a massive garden that dates back to the 1600s. (SWNS)
The outline of a massive garden that dates back to the 1600s. (SWNS)

As the dig progressed, the outline of a massive garden dating back to the 1600s was discovered alongside the impressive manor house.

Stunning aerial photos show well-preserved gravel paths, planting beds, garden pavilion foundations and ornaments organised in a geometric pattern.

Structures including pavilions and artefacts including smoking pipes, coins and musket balls have also been uncovered at the site.

Watch: Boris Johnson backs ‘incredible’ HS2 project

It is believed Sir Robert Digby, who owned the house, married an Irish heiress and built his gardens in the modern style to show off his new wealth and status.

The 500-year-old site has parallels with London's Hampton Court Palace and has been described as "one of the most exciting Elizabethan gardens" ever found in England.

Dr Paul Stamper, a specialist in English gardens and landscape history from the University of Leicester, said: “This is one of the most exciting Elizabethan gardens that’s ever been discovered in this country.

"The scale of preservation at this site is really exceptional and is adding considerably to our knowledge of English gardens around 1600.

"There have only been three or four investigations of gardens of this scale over the last 30 years, including Hampton Court, Kirby in Northamptonshire and Kenilworth Castle, but this one was entirely unknown.”

A Wessex archaeologist shows post medieval pottery from the Coleshill Medieval Manor site. (SWNS)
An archaeologist shows post-medieval pottery from the Coleshill Manor site. (SWNS)

HS2’s historic environment manager Jon Millward said the site discovery was “incredibly exciting”, while Wessex Archaeology’s project officer Stuart Pierson added: “The preservation of the gardens is unparalleled.”

Coleshill Hall, situated in the historic market town of Coleshill on the south-east side of Birmingham, came into the hands of Simon Digby in the late 15th century.

Read more: Family slam 'despicable' HS2 for tearing down daughter's memorial tree

The change of ownership set in motion huge alterations to the landscape around Coleshill and the hall, including creation of a deer park and the formal gardens in the 1600s.

Excavations have revealed structures dating to the late medieval period, with evidence of a large gatehouse alluding to a possible 14th- or 15th-century date.

Watch: HS2 protesters occupy tunnel network under central London park