Monday, 7 September 2015

Camlet Moat, Trent Park: Part Two

View of the surrounding moat at Camlet Moat, Trent Park.
A busy summer has resulted in a delay in writing my follow up to part one of Trent Park's history. Nonetheless, I felt it still important to bring your attention to an equally fascinating yet somewhat more obscured feature of the park, the Camlet Moat. After exploring Philip Sassoon's house, I wandered down to the lake and into the nearby woodlands. This diversion meant I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Camlet Moat, which is registered under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979. According to Historic England, it is a particularly good example of a medieval moated site and therefore is well worth seeking out when you next visit Trent Park. 

The settlement as it appears today.
Sites of this type were largely built between the mid thirteenth and fourteenth century and generally consisted of domestic or religious buildings, often accommodating a prestigious, perhaps aristocratic residence. Rather than serving defensive purposes, the moat itself was often seen as a status symbol. 

Camlet moat is believed to be the site of the original manor, Camlet Manor, which occupied Trent Park, when used as a royal hunting ground. Archaeological surveys made during the twentieth century uncovered evidence of roof tiles, 14th century green glazed tiles and timber dating from 1357. Below is a sketch which is displayed on site giving visitors to the park, some idea of how the moat appeared at the time.

Illustration of the site as it appeared during the medieval period. Courtesy of English Heritage.
It is understood, that in 1440, 'the manor of Camelot' was demolished and the materials were used to pay for repairs to Hertford Castle, indicating that the property was a substantial one. After the fifteenth century the moat and remaining buildings which stood on the site, gradually fell into neglect and have since vanished from view. 

Camlet Moat, Trent Park.
The absence of any further substantial historical evidence about Camlet Moat has resulted in numerous myths and legends. For example, its name 'Camlet' bears association with the Arthurian legend. There have also been reports of buried treasure, black magic, pagan rituals and other mystical qualities of the site. Eighteenth-century Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott, even used the moat as a setting for the murder of one of his characters Lord Dalgarno, in The Fortunes of Nigel (1822). 

Frontispiece for Sir Walter Scott, The Fortunes of Nigel (1822-1840) by Edward Finden. British Museum, Prints and Drawings Collection. 
Camlet Moat's ability to have stirred so much in the imagination over the centuries is testament to its uniqueness as well as the mystical qualities of lost histories. Many questions of the site's original purpose and use remain under speculation and arguably this is all part of what intrigues us about these spaces. In spite of historical uncertainties, it remains crucial that we are aware of the importance of the Camlet Moat in order to protect and preserve it as an excellent example of English medieval settlements.