|HCC Site ID:||1947||Parish:||Winchester|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:|| Winchester City Council,
managed by Friends of Hyde Abbey Garden
Location and Site
Hyde Abbey Garden is located at the eastern end of King Alfred Place, Hyde in Winchester, and extends into the car park and grounds of the adjacent Leisure Centre Complex.
The history of the site is important in assessing the re-creation of a garden within its precincts. In 1110 the monks of New Minster processed to their new monastery at Hyde just outside the North Walls of Winchester. Squeezed out of existence by the new Norman cathedral and royal palace, they carried with them the coffins of King Alfred, his wife, Aelswitha, their son Edward the Elder and saints’ relics. These they laid to rest in their new abbey church, burying the royal remains in front of the high altar. There they lay, respected and revered, until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in devastation for Hyde Abbey; its treasures scattered far and wide, the church and the royal burial site destroyed. All sight of the church and its relics rapidly vanished. Further defiled in the late 18th century by the building of a gaol or bridewell there, the Abbey church was partially re-discovered in the late 1880s.
It was not until 1999 that the site of the east end of the great abbey church was extensively excavated by archaeologists and volunteers, revealing the foundations of pillars and walls. Eventually they dug in the area where the royal remains had lain and a burial pit gradually emerged.
The scale of the church began to be appreciated as probably equal in size to Romsey Abbey. It seemed unthinkable that this significant site should just be covered over and returned to its previous, somewhat neglected state near the Leisure Centre car park at the bottom of Alfred Place.
Hampshire Gardens Trust was approached to discuss the idea of creating a garden to mark the site; the Chairman readily agreed that it was an excellent idea and with the retired Head of Hyde Historic Resources Centre brought in and the support of the local community, the agreement of the City Council as owners of the site was acquired.
Initially, a Steering Committee of volunteers was formed and the renowned designer, Kim Wilkie’s simple and dignified design was accepted. In 2002, the Friends of Hyde Abbey Garden was launched and donations and grants, large and small, came from all quarters including the Hampshire Gardens Trust, Winchester City Council, Hampshire County Council, businesses, churches and individuals. Work started in March 2003 and the Garden was opened by the Lord Lieutenant on 7 June, 2003, as Winchester’s Jubilee Project.
Based exactly 3–4 metres above the protected remains, Kim’s beautiful design echoes what lies beneath. Knapped flint paths follow the lines of the walls, yew hedges outline the north and south chapels, three great ledger stones lie above the burial pit, each carved by the Cathedral stonemasons with a simple cross. Hollies in burnished steel frames mark the site of the pillars and wooden benches, based on two in the Cathedral, provide seating in the yew chapels. At the far east end, a bridge crosses the ditch and leads onto the playing fields.
Kim’s most inspired idea was to ask Hyde resident, Tracy Sheppard, the well-known glass engraver, to create on glass an impression of what the interior of the church would have looked like. Perfectly aligned to match the outline of the garden, this beautiful piece of art stood at the western entrance so that visitors could gaze through it and feel that they were walking into a church. Softly lit at night with lamps representing the candles, one could even see the drops of wax running down.
Tragically in July, 2010, the exquisite glass panel was destroyed by vandals. Tracey Sheppard agreed to recreate it and money was raised for the project. In July, 2012, the greatly strengthened new panel was re-instated. Once again, you can stand in front of the glass panel and see the nave of the 11th century Hyde Abbey conjured up before your eyes.
Artistic landscape depiction of the 11th century Hyde Abbey designed by Kim Wilkie using flint paths, yew hedges, hollies in burnished metal frames. A glass panel designed by Tracey Sheppard reflects the interior of the church.
Information: Friends of Hyde Abbey Garden 2013