Sources for Researching Garden History

By Gail Falkingham, Record Assistant

The archives at the County Record Office contain a wide variety of information of interest to those researching the history of gardens and designed landscapes across North Yorkshire. Material can be found in many of our collections, and in a number of different formats, both primary and secondary. In this blog, we will introduce a range of these sources to provide an overview. Future blogs will highlight specific archive collections and particular garden history themes.

North Yorkshire has a wealth of country houses, surrounded by extensive designed landscapes which have developed and changed over several centuries. These landscapes are often a palimpsest, comprised of several layers of evidence through time, both above and below ground. Some may be visible as extant features or buildings, others may no longer survive and have left little or no trace. Archival evidence may, therefore, be one of the few ways to understand and unravel their historic development.

ZJX 10/1/12 Extract from William Senior’s map of ‘Wharlton, West Laithes, Sleathorn Bancke, Swainbie and Huthwaite together with the Newe Intacks’, 1628 showing Wharlton Castle and associated Park.

A survey by the Yorkshire Gardens Trust suggests there are as many as 250 designed landscapes throughout the county and a total of around 475 across the whole of Yorkshire. The earliest of these have their origins in the medieval period, including castles and medieval deer parks. A large number date from the 18th century, when there was a sharp increase in country house building and the creation of landscaped parks and gardens around them. The 19th century saw the establishment of public parks, the introduction of new varieties of plants, and technological developments which revolutionised the practice of gardening and landscape design.  

In many cases, we know the owners and patrons who commissioned work on their designed landscapes and gardens, and we know the names of those responsible for creating the designs, even if they were not fully implemented, as in the example of Ingleborough below. However, in other cases those involved are unknown and they have left few, if any, written records, in which case field evidence and site survey work are key resources.

ZTW 58 Design for the gardens of Ingleborough House, Clapham, North Yorkshire for JA Farrer Esq. by Thomas Mawson, December 1909

The range of sources for studying garden history at the County Record Office includes:

  • Original archival material, especially from our estate and family collections. This can comprise surviving letters, bills and accounts, field books and original manuscripts.
  • Historic maps and plans, including Ordnance Survey maps, tithe maps and apportionments, enclosure maps and awards, estate plans and surveys.
ZS  Swinton Park Estate: Plan of the gardens, deer park & pleasure grounds of William Danby Esq. Mashamshire, 1820
  • Illustrations and historic photographs, including prints and engravings, drawings, old postcards and photographs, and aerial photographs (from the mid-1940s to 1980s).
ZCG M1/6  John Booth’s painting of Howsham Hall and its formal gardens, 1718
EE 76/22  Engraving of Bolton Hall and its surrounding landscape by Paul Sandby RA, published 1st June 1775
EF 103/1  Aerial view of Pepper Arden Hall and grounds, South Cowton, undated
  • Printed and published material, such as books, articles, sale catalogues, newspapers and the results of previous research.
K [ZPI]  Page from a sale catalogue for ‘Lancelands’, Cotherstone, North Riding, 1950

Whilst researching garden history is an enjoyable pursuit in itself, increased understanding of historic designed landscapes, their development and key features is essential for their future management and conservation. You can discover more about the range of primary sources available in our archives via our online catalogue, and find examples of research already undertaken by the Research and Recording Group of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust on their website.


Further reading

Parks and Gardens: A researcher’s guide to sources for designed landscapes by David Lambert, Peter Goodchild & Judith Roberts, 2006 (3rd edition). Landscape Design Trust in association with English Heritage.

Related websites:

Yorkshire Gardens Trust

The Gardens Trust

Parks & Gardens database

Historic England Garden History  

The Historic England ‘Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England

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