'The Howse that was so Fayre'

Painting of Campden House showing how it might have looked

Painting of Campden House showing how it might have looked.

In 2016 and 2017, with the permission of The Landmark Trust, Scheduled Monument Consent  and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund we carried out the first archaeological dig on the site of Sir Baptist Hicks’ ‘Great House’.

This followed on from exhibitions on the subject.   In October 2013 CCHS won the ‘Best Display’ at Gloucestershire Local History Association’s Local History Day and the subsequent expanded exhibition in the Town Hall in June 2014 attracted nearly 600 people.

CCHS turned detective to recreate how this magnificent house would have looked, its extensive formal gardens, the lavish interiors and its impact on the town of Chipping Campden.  By a combination of archival research, local knowledge and practical investigation of the site itself, including a geophysical survey and archaeological digs, we hope to resurrect the ‘great burnt howse’* which has been lost for 400 years.

Twenty four display boards cover the results of our research so far including sections on Sir Baptist Hicks, the Civil War and ending with ‘What Happened Next’ to bring the story up to date, but the heart of the display covers the superb house and its magnificent garden.  Among the sources used were books, articles and papers, a variety of documents of many ages, photographs of various dates from Victorian to modern including aerial ones and information provided by the Landmark Trust.  Members of CCHS have assisted in clearing part of the garden area and also carried out (with permission) a geophysical survey of the garden and house site.

Then in 2016 we were awarded a two-year grant of £26,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake excavations on the site of old Campden House and do further research, to try to find out more about the original design of the garden and evidence of the layout and internal decoration of the house.

Display by schoolchildren

Campden House Exhibition 2014

Involving local schools

Local schoolchildren have toured the site on several occasions and were invited to paint, draw, build – imagine – what they think the house and gardens looked like.  Their efforts were displayed in the Lower Room at the Town Hall during the 2015 exhibition.

In 2017, two of our volunteers have visited local schools to run classes on Elizabethan food and, in particular, the sweetmeats that would have been served in the Banqueting Houses.

The challenge is that the house existed for a very short period from c.1612 to 1645, and there is little reliable evidence of what it really looked like and virtually nothing left of the house and its spectacular gardens.  Tantalising clues remain in the form of the Banqueting Houses, the distinctive gatehouse with its rare ‘pepperpot’ lodges and the lumps and bumps that are the vestiges of the once fine gardens.  However, of the house itself only a small fragment of ruined wall remains. There are several images of the house, thought to be taken from a 17th century drawing, but their accuracy cannot be wholly relied on.

geophysical survey of old Campden House

Results of the geophysical survey

The geophysical survey CCHS did two years ago clearly showed the outlines of the house and gardens. This encouraged us to get Scheduled Monument permission and the funding to do some real exploration, including soil sampling.

We hoped that more details of the garden design would be revealed, such as walls and walkways and possible evidence of planting.  In Spring 2017 CCHS members visited Aston Hall in Birmingham, built just after Campden House, and in July Hatfield House, the home of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury.  We will also visit other houses and gardens of the period to get ideas of what features our house might have had.  We are also researching the life of Baptist Hicks and family and what life would have been like in Campden in the early seventeenth century.

Would you like to be involved?

We are looking for people to research Jacobean gardens, go to record offices to look at old documents, look at life as a stone mason, a laundry maid, a cook. Would you like to plan a meal for Sir Baptist Hicks and his guests?  Perhaps you could organise our trips to other places or create exhibition displays?  We also need some help with project organisation.

Digging the Parterre at Campden House, Autumn 2016. Picture shows five volunteers trowelling in a shallow trench.

Digging the Parterre, Autumn 2016

Or would you like to help on one of the digs?

So far two digs have taken place.  In Autumn 2016 we explored the parterre garden and in Spring 2017 three trenches were opened on and around the house itself.  The volunteers doing the excavations are trained and supervised by an experienced professional archaeologist.  We hope to be able to carry out more digs in the future.

Information about the progress of the project, including what we uncovered on the digs, can be found on our Project Blog.

We are grateful to The Landmark Trust for permission to work on the site, to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors for funding and to Historic England for Scheduled Monument consent.

Heritage Lottery Fund logo


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