The Marlborough Mound in its garden setting

In 1548, the castle was granted to Edward duke of Somerset, Protector of the young Edward VI. He was executed in 1552, but his heirs retained the estates, and it was Charles Seymour, newly restored to the title in 1660, who built the elegant mansion which is now C House in the College. By then the last stage in the Mound’s history had taken place: its adaptation, probably in the decade before the civil war, as a major feature in the garden laid out by Francis Seymour, the owner since 1621 and builder of the first house on the site of the Castle. John Evelyn and John Aubrey both noted the spiral path that had been cut into it.

 Sir Robert Moray gave a detailed report of the Mound and garden to the newly-formed Royal Society in 1664. He described a spiral path some 700 yards ‘making a very insensible accent, which is now fully restored, and is indeed an easy path to the summit, where an octagonal arbour was built with a cistern on its roof to supply the house, forerunner of the water tank of the twentieth century. The thorn hedge that bordered the path has now been replanted, but not the fruit trees with which it was studded. The present trees are largely self-sown, apart from the quincunx of limes at the very top. In 1724 the great antiquary William Stukeley published his engravings of the garden, parts of which represent plans which were never realised; his image of the Mound, however, is accurate.

The Grotto was installed not long after the building of Alexander Pope’s famous grotto at Twickenham. Its site may be that of the barbican protecting the entrance to the keep. Charles Seymour’s daughter-in-law, Frances, Lady Hertford, was responsible for its creation, and wrote in 1739 that she felt it was ‘much prettier than that at Twickenham’.

 The heyday of the garden was around this time. By 1750, the Marlborough residence was surplus to the Seymour family’s requirements, and was leased out as the Castle Inn. For nearly a century the Mound was an adjunct to the inn, which was an important stopping place on the road between London and the fashionable world of Bath. While the inn flourished, the garden seems to have been well maintained. By 1843, however, the canals, railways and new turnpikes had reduced the once splendid establishment to a shadow. Contemporary paintings show the Mound in good condition, with schoolboys on the spiral path. Early photographs, however, record steady decay and encroaching trees, and for the whole of the twentieth century little was done until the present restoration.

The last section of the book presents such archaeological evidence as has been found during The Mound Trust’s work. If there is little dramatic to report from that quarter, the Trust’s efforts have resulted in the restoration of something of the impressive aspect of the original Mound, which can now be seen more clearly than at any time in the last two hundred years.

This newly published book commemorates the newly visible mound and offers the first full account of this extraordinary monument, presenting a fascinating picture of the history of the hidden treasure in the heart of the College.

This is the third of three blogs about The Marlborough Mound, edited by Richard Barber, who has had a huge influence on the study of medieval history and literature, as both a writer and a publisher. The first blog can be found here and the second here.

The Marlborough Mound
Prehistoric Mound, Medieval Castle, Georgian Garden
Edited by Richard Barber
41 colour and 14 line illus.
9781783271863, Hardcover, £29.25 / $42.25

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