Located near Oundle, Lyveden New Bield is unlike any other National Trust property I’ve ever visited. The vision of Sir Thomas Tresham, Lyveden was supposed to be a beautiful addition to his manor house for guests to enjoy, with the intention being they’d begin at his home and walk through orchards and gardens overflowing with colours, smells and textures until they eventually reached the garden lodge.
Unfortunately, Sir Thomas’ dream was never fully realised and to this day Lyveden has remained unfinished, and perhaps more amazingly unchanged from when the workers downed tools upon hearing of Sir Thomas’ death in 1605.
As a dedicated Catholic Sir Thomas’ lifetime (1543-1605) was filled with obstacles. For him, Lyveden wasn’t just for entertaining guests it was a celebration of his faith, with various symbols and words carved around the outside of building. However, with the constant threat of imprisonment or death Catholics had to be careful; these symbols were like a secret code that other Catholics knew and understood, but that Protestants were unaware of. For much of the building work it appears that Sir Thomas was imprisoned, giving many of his orders from behind bars.The workers were owed a great deal of money and following the news of his death and the realisation that the money was never coming, they downed tools and left.
Perhaps even more unfortunately, Sir Thomas’ son Francis was not able to inherit his father’s estate due to being arrested for his role in the Gunpowder plot; he died two months after his father while awaiting trial.
What amazed me most was that Lyveden has remained exactly the same in the 400 years since the the workers left. While at other properties owned by the National Trust, English Heritage and other such organisations you see an attempt to recreate the look and the feel of a time period for visitors, Lyveden is quite literally a snapshot of history, of that moment when the workers upped and left, leaving the vision of one man unfinished forever.
Alongside the garden lodge there is a on orchard, which the Trust have replanted to Sir Thomas’ original specifications, the outline of something that looks like it was intended to be a maze, a moat where Sir Thomas wanted guests to be able to enjoy boat and punt rides (which I think would be quite cool and should definitely be an option in the summer months), and four mounds which visitors can climb to enjoy the views.
You have the option to explore the grounds at your leisure or you can listen to an audio guide. As we wandered and listened I was torn; on the one hand I felt a real sense of sadness that the gardens hadn’t been completed because the pictures being painted by the descriptions sounded truly beautiful, but on the other there is a joy in being able to wander and imagine, after all who knows what may have happened to Lyveden had it not suffered the tragedies it did?
Lyveden offers a real place of intrigue, especially for history buffs, but it is also a great place to let your imagination run wild. I would definitely recommend taking the trip, and I will be revisiting when the summer months arrive to see the changes that the season brings.