In 2005 the Hestercombe Gardens Trust Archive was established under the direction of Kim Legate BBA, MLA, MA, with three main aims: one, to document the historical development of the Hestercombe Estate, the recorded history of which dates to 682; two, to help inform the continuing restoration of both its built and landscape heritage, in particular the Grade II listed Formal and Landscape gardens; and three, to raise awareness of the significant architectural and landscape heritage of the property.
Based in Hestercombe House, the Archive organises, catalogues, stores and preserves images, written sources, maps and plans, artefacts (including archaeological finds), conservation/restoration studies and artworks, whether facsimile or original. These are described on a user friendly central database that now comprises over 11,000 entries.
Images, many of which have been digitized, comprise mainly photographs, slides and drawings that date from 1675 to the present whilst written records embrace a broad range of document types that derive mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. These include personal correspondence, diaries, family notebooks, parish records, meeting minute books, estate accounts, auction catalogues, probate inventories, wills, census returns, tax and rating assessments, newspaper articles, and marriage settlements.
Special collections include:
- the correspondence and artistic output of C. W. Bampfylde (1720-91), designer of the Landscape Garden and noted amateur landscape painter;
- original Country Life editions from 1906, 1908, and 1927 that trace the development of the Hestercombe Formal Garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll & Edwin Lutyens;
- over 200 plans and drawings that describe the occupation of Hestercombe House and grounds by the Somerset Fire Brigade 1954-2006;
- the De Vesci Album, a timeline of over 300 black and white photographs that portray life on the Estate 1904-39, including the building of the Formal Garden.
Secondary published sources are housed separately in the old Chauffeur’s Cottage, now the executive offices of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, comprising over 1,100 volumes that range in date from 1731 to 2017 and include some first editions. Noteworthy among them are The Farmer's Tour Through the East of England by Arthur Young (1771), and The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset by the Revd. John Collinson (1791).
New research is ongoing to address gaps in the historical record, improve interpretation of the estate, and provide data for special exhibitions and in-house publications, the most recent examples of which are A Gentleman of Taste: A Celebration of the Life of Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (2020) and Recipes and Remedies: An 18th century collection by Margaret Bampfylde of Hestercombe (2014).
The ‘From the Archives’ series further supports the education goal by disseminating research findings through blogs that address various aspects of Hestercombe’s multi-layered history, for instance the life of E. W. B. [‘Teddy’] Portman (1856-1911), the history of the Medieval Chapel, and the trials and tribulations of The Hestercombe Cricket Club (est. 1893). Read more Archive blogs for further instalments.
More detailed reports are periodically generated to inform the conservation of certain areas of the gardens. Past examples are a replanting plan for the Pergola (2005), a restoration strategy for the Victorian Terrace (2001), and a scheme for reintroducing irises to the East Rill Borders of the Formal Garden (2004).
Assistant Archivist, Ben Whitworth, is responsible for slides, scans, photographs, and most recently, the newly formed Conservation Management Plan (CMP) Archive with its rapidly expanding database of conservation management plans from heritage properties across the UK -- Ben has catalogued over 600 CMPs to date.
With the help of volunteers from the local community, including The Arts Society Taunton, Ben Whitworth has also greatly improved accessibility to Hestercombe’s historical record by meticulously transcribing over three thousand pages of Warre, Portman and Bampylde family papers, including Coplestone Warre Bampfylde's ninety-five page marriage settlement of 1755; three hundred pages of accounts, chronicling the remodeling of Hestercombe House by Taunton builder, Henry Davis, for Henry Berkeley Portman, 1st Viscount Portman 1874-76; and Thomas Vesey's endearing childhood diary, written 31 Dec 1901 to 4 Aug 1902.