Warmley Historic Gardens

Grid Reference: ST 6692 7283

Site Overview

You may consider that Warmley Historic Gardens is a perfectly normal gentleman’s residence and accompanying gardens, but the constructer, William Champion, was an industrialist and each part of his home and garden contains a clue to that industrial past.

The secret to Champion’s initial success was that he was the first in Europe to develop a technique for producing metallic zinc on a truly commercial scale (Bryant & Howes 1991). This was patented in 1738 (Dungworth & White 2007, 1).

Investigation History

Excavations in 1986 near the Clocktower building, as a result of construction work, exposed remains consistent with cementation furnaces (Dungworth & White 2007, 3).

Avon Archaeological Unit have also excavated and discovered industrial debris, but their findings are unpublished (Dungworth & White 2007, 4). The Pastscape listing records an 1987 excavation by Avon Industrial Building Trust (Pastscape Website 2010).

An emergency excavation carried out by English Heritage in 2006 recorded a number of exposed industrial features and artefacts, including slag bricks, clinker, refractory material and zinc-rich deposits, which have been analysed to attempt to learn more about Champion’s processes (Dungworth & White 2007,4). This analysis may reveal more about the industrial archaeology of the site than the documentary evidence, owing to the fact that Champion’s patent revealed very little of his actual technique, and there was an effort to hide the secrets from any visitors (Dungworth & White 2007, 14).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

William Champion built and owned the first multi-process integrated production plant of its kind, based in his gardens at Warmley. It was not his first site, he had a works in Bristol near Old Market Street, but in 1742 he started to move his operations to Warmley (Bryant & Howes 1991,6). All processes to do with the manufacture of brass were carried out on this new site: from the smelting to the actual manufacture of sheet and wire brass, to the forming into objects such as pins and kettles (Dungworth & White 2007, 1).

His garden was an integral part of the works: the water for the mills was managed by the damming of the Siston Brook to form a 13 acre lake (now the caravan park). The Summerhouse was actually a set of sluice gates disguised as a folly. The statue of Neptune in the middle of the lake was constructed from the industrial waste of copper production, and the grotto and chequered garden also incorporate this industrial material (Bryant & Howes 1991).

Chequered Garden Wall. Copyright K Bragg 2011

Even the grottos may have industrial secrets about them: when we were looking around, it seemed to us that they were a bit more than decorative, there seemed to be excessive water management arrangements.

Sadly, William Champion overextended himself, and his vast complex, which in 1761 included 22 copper furnaces, 15 brass furnaces, 5 zinc furnaces, one wire mill, three rolling mills and five battery mills had to be sold, due to the financial collapse of Champion’s company in 1767 (Dungworth & White 2007, 2).

Dyrham Park

Grid Reference: ST 745757

Site Overview

Dyrham Park today is a National Trust property and encompasses a 17th Century house with gardens surrounding it. Closer inspection of the house reveals that the front and rear facades are 17th Century but that the inner building is Tudor in date.

dyrham park house from neptune hill

Dyrham Park. Copyright K Bragg 2011

Within the grounds of the house is the church of St Peter, which is the village church for Dyrham.

The house is grade 1 listed by English Heritage, as is the church, whilst the park around the house is grade 2* (Smith et al. 2002, 2).

The site of the house is at the bottom of a re-entrant valley and is overlooked by hills on either side. There are natural springs in these hills, which may have made the area favourable for settlement as a reliable water source (Smith et al. 2002, 3).

One of our tasks on this field trip was to compare an engraving made of the formal gardens of the 17th Century, to the present state of the land and to establish how much of the image represented what had been there, and how much was flattery or tricks of perspective.

Investigation History

A geophysical survey of the West Garden revealed some of the features shown on an engraving made by Johannes Kip in 1712, which had been obscured and slighted by subsequent garden design and service trenches (Papworth 2001). This also revealed a rectangular building outline on a different alignment to the current house and garden.

Richard McDonnell compiled an archaeological assessment of the park in 2000, and AC Archaeology undertook archaeological monitoring in 2007 as the Serpentine pathway was being constructed (S Driscoll pers. comm.). Absolute Archaeology performed a watching brief at Dyrham House to observe the trench of a copper pipe as it was replaced. This showed evidence of a potential Romano-British settlement in the vicinity of Dyrham House (Martin 2011 (forthcoming)).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The area around Dyrham has produced archaeological artefacts dating from the Iron Age onwards, and the fields systems that can be seen near the Iron Age hillfort at Hinton may well be associated with that site (Smith et al. 2002, 4).

Evidence for Roman settlement is quite strong (S Driscoll pers. comm.) based on some unpublished excavations in the gardens, and there were Roman burials found less than a mile South of the park (Smith et al. 2002, 4).

The earliest written evidence for Dyrham comes from a 9th century document(Smith et al. 2002, 5) and a place called Deorham is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle as being the site of a famous battle in 577 (Prior 2006, 74), but as Deorham means ‘ an enclosed valley frequented by deer’(Garnett 2000, 3), there may possibly be more than one and my copy spells it Derham.

There is also evidence for medieval strip lynchets on the hill slopes within the park area, so it’s reasonable to say that the area around Dyrham has been used for settlement since at least the Iron Age, if not before.

The house as visible today dates from the time of William Blathwayt, who, between 1692-1704 transformed the existing Tudor house into a baroque mansion, influenced by the Dutch style and accompanied by formal gardens (Garnett 2000, 3).

Various documents attest to the existence of the formal gardens: bills, accounts, letters, and the Kip engraving (Smith et al. 2002, 4). The East garden seems to have been the earliest (Smith et al. 2002, 7) and contained a cascade of 225 steps down from the statue of Neptune and into a canal (Garnett 2000, 23). There does not seem to be any earthworks to show where this canal was and the statue of Neptune is now higher up the hill than originally placed but it might be that the edges of the cascade are visible as slight earthworks (Smith et al. 2002, 15).

Maintaining formal gardens is an expensive undertaking, and documentary sources record that by 1779 the gardens were neglected and decaying (Garnett 2000, 25). The gardens were re-landscaped in the romantic style, so as to appear as naturalistic as possible and erasing much of the formal landscape in the process.


  • Bryant, A. & Howes, L., 1991. Warmley Historic Gardens, A. Bryant & L. Howes.
  • Dungworth, D. & White, H., 2007. Warmley Brassworks, Siston, Bristol Analysis of some Eighteenth-Century Brassworking Debris, English Heritage.
  • Garnett, O., 2000. Dyrham Park, Swindon: The National Trust.
  • Martin, P.W., 2011. The Results of a Watching Brief in the West Gardens of Dyrham Park
  • Papworth, M., 2001. Dyrham Park: Evaluation Trenches in the West Garden [Online]. National Trust Annual Archaeological Review, pp.63-64. Available at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-ar4_t_wes.pdf.
  • Pastscape Website, 2010. Warmley Brass Works [online]. Available at: http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=201362 [Accessed May 15, 2011].
  • Prior, S.J., 2006. A Few Well Positioned Castles: the Norman Art of War, Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.
  • Smith, N., Calder, M. & Field, D., 2002. Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire, English Heritage.

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Notes from a field