Abbotswood gardens in Lower Swell are amongst the best known in Gloucestershire. The medieval park, on the other hand, which helped to shape the development of the Abbotswood estate and gardens, and provided its name, is not well known. The Park’s clearly defined boundaries have remained distinct, but the name of the park was effectively superceded by Abbotswood in the later nineteenth century. The park has nonetheless remained a distinct feature in the landscape, much of it still with the appearance of parkland.
There has been a flurry of interest in historic and modern parks, partly because the pressure to find land for building threatens their survival. As well as the national register of parks and gardens, we have the Gloucestershire Gardens and Landscape Trust. On the first Thursday in the month you may have noticed the researchers in the Archives Office delving into records that illuminate the development of parks and gardens. Each volunteer takes a site. My interest has become medieval parks, of which there were many but few have been researched.
There is a nice collection of material in the Archives relating to Lower Swell park, which in 1659 was bought by Sir Robert Atkyns, and was inherited by his son, another Sir Robert, author of The Ancient and Present state of Glostershire, published in 1712. This volume is particularly interesting to the GGLT researchers because a large number of full page engravings of great houses in the county were included, commissioned from the Dutchman Johannes Kyp. They are birds eye views, despite no helicopters or balloons to aid the artist, and they show the surroundings as well as the buildings. Naturally there is one of Sir Robert Atkyns’ house at Lower Swell, known as The Bowl or The Boulde. It is fascinating to compare the detail in the engraving with what is known of the park about a century later.
The park covered 250 acres, and stretched from the Fosse Way at Stow to the road linking Lower Swell with Upper Swell, and was bounded north and south by two more roads, so defining it quite unmistakeably. The new house called Abbotswood was built on a part of the park; ‘Abbots Wood’ was an alternative name for the park because it had once belonged to Hayles Abbey.
Volunteer researchers and GGLT members are warmly welcomed! For details please see GGLT website.