Dr Claire Donovan (left) and Dr Penny Cunnigham (right) in the grounds of Politmore House.

Investigating Poltimore and its landscape

Detective work on a Grade II* listed country house and its gardens are about to begin as part of a two year research project between the University of Exeter and the Poltimore House Trust.

The evolution of the Tudor estate on the outskirts of Exeter will be explored with help from community groups and schools.

They will play an important role in finding critical information about the development of the gardens and historic landscape that surrounds Poltimore House.

Part of the Arts Humanities and Research Council (AHRC) funded project is to establish a blueprint for engaging local populations in the development of landscape heritage and for promoting community ownership of the research.

BBC 2’s ‘Restoration’ television programme featured Poltimore House, with a focus on restoring this important building and its architecture.  This new project combines an historic and archaeological approach to discover more about the way the landscape was once used and how it has changed over time from private to public use. It went from family ownership with a deer park, stylised gardens for the social elite to public re-use as a wartime refuge for Dover College and HQ for the Royal Observer Corps who monitored A bombs falling in the South West. In the latter end of the 20th century the Poltimore House accommodated a maternity ward as part of Exeter Hospitals Group in 1963 and has now become a community heritage site, dedicated to preserving the house and grounds. 

Archaeologist Dr Oliver Creighton and Historian Professor Henry French will conduct the research alongside project officer Dr Penny Cunningham from the University of Exeter in collaboration with Poltimore House Trust. They will equip local interest groups, school children and individuals with the skills to investigate above ground archaeology including earthworks and hedgerow surveys as well as traditional historical research techniques such as the use of maps and archive records.

Dr Cunningham commented, ‘Encouraging the local community to contribute to the ongoing research is a really important part of the project in helping to discover the hidden mysteries of the Poltimore estate.’
She added, ‘The results from the research will be used to create an interactive website to widen access to this remarkable landscape. A virtual environment, involving virtual tours that will have commentaries based on the research findings showing geophysical surveys, aerial photographs, interactive plans, images, and audio and video observations.’

The project ‘Community and Landscape’ should transform access to Poltimore House’s grounds as a community heritage resource enabling a wider range of people to gain a rich understanding of the changes in the landscape.

Dr Claire Donovan, Secretary of Poltimore House Trust said ‘This project provides us with a fantastic opportunity to bring a mix of serious archaeological and historical study to enhance our knowledge of Poltimore and the estate. We are looking forward to this project opening up our understanding and engaging new communities with interests in Poltimore’s heritage.’

To find out more about the project and how to become involved, the project team will be at Poltimore House as part of the Heritage Open Weekend, 11- 12 September between 11am and 4.30pm. That weekend is part of Poltimore House Trust‘s Tenth Anniversary Appeal, raising funds for the Tudor Roof project.

Date: 9 September 2010

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