in the 1979 edition of 'Gardens of the National Trust', Graham
Stuart Thomas noted that a, 'bird's eye view is still extant, showing
its (a large formal garden
) general layout and also a small amphitheatre to the north-west'.
Well this was enough to send me scurrying over there to take a look
courtesy of Neil Cook the head gardener who kindly provided me with
some very useful photocopied material as well as affording me the
opportunity to take a look round.
The first thing to clear up is
some confusion in terminology - an amphitheatre in classical times was
an oval shaped enclosure with a central arena often with opposed
entrances and banked seating all the way round. As well as the great
stone structures such as the amphitheatres at Nimes, Arles, Pompeii and
of course the Colosseum itself - all made of stone - there were lesser
examples on the fringes of the Roman Empire including Maumbury Rings
(Dorset), Cirencester (Gloucestershire) and Silchester (Berkshire) to
name but three. These survive largely as earthworks.
Roman Amphitheatres: Maumbury, Cirencester, Silchester
kind of semi-circular form seen at Wilton and in the illustrated
material from Hanbury share the same kind of layout as classical
theatres where a stage area was the focus for a semi-circular bank of
raised seating. Such structures as with the famous example at Epidauros, Greece
were almost always cut into a convenient hill slope and, with the
exception of Verulamium (St Albans) are absent from the British
landscape. In general terms we may then perhaps define
'amphitheatre' in the context of seventeenth and eighteenth English
garden architecture as a combination of earthworks: terraces, banks
and/or ditches which define an area which is both curvilinear in
outline and exhibits significant changes in level. So much for form,
we'll leave the question of function until later when we will examine the
question to what extent these constructions were consciously echoing
back to Hanbury. The view Thomas had seen and an accompanying plan are
reproduced (badly) below - the originals are in the Worcester County
Record Office. What they clearly show is the outline of something which
closely resembles a classical theatre: semi-circular in plan and
marked with lines that could seem to represent seating arrangements.
The truth is somewhat different. The site of the 'amphitheatre'
(SP944641) is a
low bluff facing north-west - the relief of the hill largely defines
the shape of the site - as does a comparatively modern fence. Its
function, made clear by what one assumes is a contemporary drawing,
(see below) is that of a view point with lines of sight to prominent
defined by avenues of planting. This is referred to on the plan and by
the current staff as the 'Semi-circle'. Now structurally this bears
very little resemblance to the Farnborough 'amphitheatre' but it does
illustrate the pains to which people would go too to structure the
viewing experience and it may well prove to be the case that our own
example has some element of viewpoint in its rationale.
View and plan by Joseph Dougharty 1731 - 1733Plan
of 'Semi-circle', I don't know the provenance of this, it's from a
photocopy given me by Neil Cook, the head gardener at Hanbury. I must
find out where he got it from. The
'amphitheatre' viewed from the west
Looking out from the 'amphitheatre' towards the Clee
Hills, now obscured by plantingAerial view of the 'amphitheatre' and the adjacent 'Brick Kiln Pond'
enough there is another feature within the park which does bear an
uncanny resemblance to a classical amphitheatre. Towards the north west
corner of the park (SP 940642) is a rounded hollow with terraced sides
reminiscent of seating and opposed entrances (See view and sections
below). There are a series of broad deep ditches close by and the
foundations of two large rectangular brick buildings to the north-west.
Now the large pond below the Semi-circle is named ' Brick Kiln Pond'
but I wondered if this was a mis-attribution. The complex
described above looked like an abandoned clay pit with adjacent
workshops and kiln. However, further information from Neil Cook
indicated that they had had the complex down as marl pit next to the
foundations of a set of kennels for the local hunt so there you are.
This does suggest that it may be worth, therefore, searching for the
remains of a brick kiln on the other side of the park.
Panoramic view of marl pit looking southSection across marl pit
Aerial view of marl pit and kennels