Friday, 22 March 2013

A snapshot of the past

After a long winter the signs of Spring are starting to show, the days are getting lighter, the flowers are starting to blossom and even more exciting it’s the first Friday we have ever been open. This means we’re now open seven days a week (the house is closed on a Thursday and Friday) come and visit us for an unforgettable experience and join one of our snapshot tours.

These exclusive new tours, only available on a Thursday or Friday offer the opportunity to see different areas of the Petworth estate; some not normally open to visitors. You could find yourself climbing the staircase to venture into the rarely seen attic rooms, last used as servants’ bedrooms or exploring the history of the Pleasure Grounds (you may even spot Samuel the spaniel taking a stroll in the park!). Our dedicated team of volunteers will take you on a journey of discovery.

All tours are 45 minutes long and are allocated on a first come first served basis. Tickets for afternoon tours will be released at 1pm.  Tickets cost only £5 per person and you can even see the Pleasure Grounds, Shop and Restaurant for free! Tours are free for National Trust members.

Whether you would like to muck around in the stables, see scrumptious delights in our Historic Kitchens or visit one of Turner’s masterpieces, there is a tour for everyone. Find out more on our website.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Core Principles : A Geoarchaeological Survey in Petworth Park

To many visitors, Petworth Park can appear - at first glance - to be a ‘natural’ landscape.  This was, of course, the impression which Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and the English Landscape Garden tradition in general, wished to portray.  Brown’s changes to Petworth were on a grand scale, sweeping away the formal gardens of the early 18th century to replace them with vast expanses of lawn, gently sloping hills and serpentine bodies of water. The accounts relating to Brown’s association with the park (held in the Petworth House Archives) between 1752-1763 are littered with references to this landscaping; “lowering the land in front of the House”, “Infilling the stone pits near the Ice House”, “lowering the hill where the stone was dug”, or simply “levelling in the park”.  The 3rd Earl of Egremont continued this tradition, and in 1795-96 spent around £4000 (the equivalent of around £250,000 today ) on further levelling of the lawn in front of the House, moving over 65,000 cubic metres – the volume of 26 Olympic swimming pools.

All of this work has implications for the archaeology within the park and how we can interpret it – what did the landscape look like before; how was the landscaping undertaken; what has been removed during the levelling; where was the material moved to; and what might have been sealed beneath the moved material?  Looking at the landscape now, it is difficult to tell what is man-made and what is not.  To help us investigate some of these issues, geoarchaeologists (archaeologists who are interested in soils and sediments) from Wessex Archaeology recently came to Petworth to help us undertake geoarchaeological survey.

  Geoarchaeological Survey – ‘Window Sampling’ in progress

Window sampling 'cores'

This involved a technique known as “Window Sampling” so-called because the clear tubes containing the soil from the borehole give us a window into the soil profile.  By looking at the changes in the type of soil, the colour and texture, and any inclusions (like bits of brick, or charcoal) we can start to interpret how the landscape has been formed, and used.

The survey showed the complexity of the changes to the landscape, particularly in front of the house, and it also gave us information about how the landscaping was done - we might expect to find a rich organic layer in the soil profile, representing the buried turf underneath redeposited material, but at Petworth the turf and subsoil appear to have been removed and later replaced on top of the levelled ground to give an instant finished look.

Petworth volunteers were able to get hands-on with some hand-augering as well - a manual method of sampling the soil which can be pretty tiring! Looking at areas of potential buried archaeology, we came up trumps with evidence for parts of the old formal gardens, post-medieval settlement at Tillington and a possible ancient droveway.  We’ll be focussing on these, and a range of other features, in our forthcoming geophysical surveys over the Spring.

Petworth Archaeology Project Volunteers undertaking hand-augering

Recording the results

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Footprints in the snow

Hi all, Samuel the spaniel here. 

I was a bit surprised to see the return of all that snow yesterday, I don't know about you but I was rather looking forward to spring... walkies always seem to get longer when it gets warmer!

Anyway one good thing is that it gives me an excuse to share one of my favourite games with you - animal tracking! And it's so much easier in the snow, especially if you're not blessed with my excellent sense of smell.

So here's a few footprints in the snow... can you guess which animals they belong to?

I'll reveal the answers in my next blog post. Happy tracking.