From our starting point of the first Ordnance Survey map of the 1850s, we noted any indicators of parks and gardens sites. Orchard sites, of which there were a great many were a prominent feature. In far fewer numbers, we also recorded lakes, fish ponds, wells, ice-houses and garden features such as grottoes, follies and dovecotes. We followed up these observations on subsequent maps, dated at about fifty year intervals and, finally, by looking at Google images where available. This gave us a hint of evolutions that had taken place over the last century and a half. This desk-based exercise was followed up by site visits to enable us to assess their present condition or state of preservation. There were also instances where we were able to draw upon local knowledge to help us interpret or identify a site.
To record these sites in a systematic manner, we were aided by Kevin Cale, of Community Archaeology Ltd, our mentor throughout the early years of our project. Starting from the system he had developed for the recording of archaeological sites, we devised our own form for recording documentary data and the observations in the field.
We recorded the name of the site, the location, together with NGRs and any changes supported by map evidence. Subsequently virtually all sites were visited, including some highly remote ones in Upper Nidderdale. Some sites had public access and were recorded in more detail, whereas others were merely visible from a road, track or footpath. Our record, for our research purposes only, also included photographs from public highways or rights of way. Where prominent features were sited we sought permission from the owners to visit them if possible. For instance, this was the case for Arnagill Tower, a romantic ruin built to enhance the estate of the Danby family in 1824, which is sited at the head of the rocky and picturesque, but privately owned, Arnagill Valley.
When making field visits to our sites, we recorded the extent and condition of boundaries, their type of construction, their state of preservation, accessibility and whether they were attached or detached from the main complex. Any existing planting such as surviving hazel trees in a nuttery, borders, significant species of trees, or tree-lined drives were recorded as well as man-made features: greenhouses, follies or ornamental elements – even a late 19thC outdoor swimming pool!
For the orchard sites in particular, we found that we were able to document the decrease in numbers over the last century and a half – many had to be documented as ‘lost’, being either built over, absorbed into ornamental gardens, or marked only by their original boundaries. Some were categorised as vestigial where only a surviving tree or two were present whilst a small number were categorised as ‘good’, incorporating new planting and regular maintenance.
Overall, our analysis of desk-based work and field visits enabled us to draw up a distribution map, showing the varied features of the designed landscape of the Nidderdale AONB and the extent of their survival into the 21st Century.