IN SEARCH OF JOHN KNIGHT’S LOST GARDENS OF SIMONSBATH

An archaeological dig to uncover features of a lost garden created by ‘father of Exmoor’ John Knight in the nineteenth century is about to begin. The work is being led by South West Archaeology with local volunteers, and funded by Exmoor National Park Authority in association with the Simonsbath Programme Steering Group.
An archaeology open morning is being held on Wednesday 27 June from 10am – 1pm to give people the chance to see the excavations and learn more about John Knight’s ambitious plans (Ashcombe car park, TA24 7SH).

In 1820 John Knight, a businessman from Worcestershire, paid £50,000 for a wild, uninhabited area of moorland within what is now Exmoor National Park. He moved there with his wife and six young children and began a project to single-handedly colonise and reclaim the 16,000 acre wilderness previously untouched since the Bronze Age, and to transform it into a great estate with a mansion at its heart in Simonsbath.

Nearby Ashcombe gardens were begun as part of this vision, but were never to be completed. Traces of garden terraces, bridges and paths remain, but very little is known about what the gardens were to be like.

Charlotte Hornsby from the Simonsbath Programme, said: “We have exciting plans to tell Simonsbath’s story and to enlighten both visitors and residents. We also want to bring together the local community, friends and family from around the world who have been touched by the beauty and magic of Simonsbath and its history.”

Rob Wilson-North, head of conservation and access at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “No one person has done more to shape the direction of Exmoor’s landscape than John Knight, yet we still know relatively little about his influences and motives. We hope this latest excavation will provide further clues to his vision for Exmoor, and help us better understand this cornerstone of the National Park’s history.”

PHOTO: A quartz outcrop in Ashcombe dating back to the 1820s that once formed part of John Knight’s vision for a designed landscape. Credit: Hazel Riley.

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