Lyveden New Bield
Lyveden New Bield

Lyveden New Bield is a beautiful shell of an Elizabethan lodge, surrounded by a moated pleasure garden. Lyveden can claim to be one of the first garden layouts in Britain.

The fascinating gardens are an intriguing mix of paths, terraces, mounts built to a spiral design. and moats. The latest addition to the gardens is a restored orchard, the largest orchard in the care of the National Trust.

The House

The area around Lyeveden was settled as early as Roman times, but much of what we see today we owe to one family; the Treshams, who owned Lyveden estate since at least the 15th century. The manor house, sometimes known as Lyvden Old Building, dates to the 15th century. Parts of the Old Building were incorporated into a New Building in 1600, under the ownership of Thomas Tresham (see Rushton Triangular Lodge).

The 'New Bield' as it was known, was a small scale house, or lodge, meant to provide Tresham with a retreat where he could safely adhere to his Catholic faith. Thus, the New Bield makes copious use of religious symbolism in the decoration and layout of rooms. For example, there are five sides to each bay of the house (the number five being a common symbol for Jesus and Mary).

Sunset on the 'New Bield'
Sunset on the 'New Bield'

The design may have been modelled on St Peter's in Rome, with a symmetrical cruciform layout like a Greek cross. Religious carvings and Biblical inscriptions decorate the walls.

The most compelling piece of Catholic symbolism in a house built with symbolism in mind is the parlour, where the morning sun casts a shadow on the wall in the shape of a cross. One unusual architectural feature is that lead pipes were built into the walls, carrying rainwater from the roof directly through the house.

The New Bield was never intended to be Tresham's main house, but an escape, the 16th century equivalent of a summerhouse in the garden, where Tresham could retreat with a few servants while his main house was being cleaned.

Tresham died in 1605, leaving extensive debts, and his son and heir Francis Tresham was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot that same year and was executed in the Tower of London. Francis' wife administered the estate for his younger brother Lewis, but the younger Tresham's lavish lifestyle meant that the money soon disappeared, and the house was never finished. The incomplete shell of Lyveden House stands essentially as it did in 1605.

The Garden

The gardens at Lyveden are elaborately designed, with spiral mounts, pyramids, and a system of canals laid out on formal lines. Lyveden was one of the most influential and grandest gardens of the Elizabethan period.

Lyveden was featured in the BBC television programme Hidden Gardens.

I thought I'd add an update after [finally] getting a chance to visit Lyveden. What a fantastic site! The gardens are idyllic, and the shell of the house is as evocative a historic house as I've ever had the pleasure to visit. Come on a quiet summer afternoon and you won't want to leave. What a fabulous place to visit. The Royal Institute of British Architects calls the design of Lyveden New Bield 'peculiar', but I call it beautiful and compelling.