Otterhead Estate Heritage Update May 2013


1. Walled-in Garden Walls: Attempts are being made to secure funding for the restoration of the perimeter walls of the two adjoining gardens. A condition survey and a feasibility study have been carried out. Restoration would provide safe and relatively secure use of the one acre of walled-in land. Without funding, thousands of bricks and hundreds of Somerset tiles, lining and capping the two interior walls facing the sun, will fall. One of the three types of tiles, a gutter tile, was patented in 1851 by William Beadon, the developer of the Otterhead Estate. Although a standalone project, walled-in gardens restoration is compliant with the Otterhead Estate feasibility study and the Otterhead Estate conservation management plan, produced respectively by Land Use Consultants and Swan Paul Partnership.

2. Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society (SIAS): Members carried out resistivity and magnetometry surveys on 7 May. The area covered included part of the Otterhead House site. It is hoped the surveys will show pipes and culverts as well as other structures. Demolition rubble could be a problem. Results are being plotted on old maps. SIAS members hope on 15 May, weather permitting, to survey a wooden structure, possibly a door or sluice, at present under a stream. This is part of the project to locate the site of the hydraulic ram that supplied water to the walled-in gardens.

3. House Leat: Large amounts of debris, mainly fallen branches, have been removed from the course of the leat upstream of the house site. The leat, depicted on the 1864 estate plan, may have been associated with Week Farm, the predecessor of Otterhead House. This work has been beneficial to wildlife. There has been a significant increase in watercress, formerly threatened by more vigorous competitors and it is hoped to transfer plants to the old watercress beds. The watercress is not considered to be safe for human consumption.

4. Water pipelines: The work along the House Leat has revealed the inlets to three water pipelines as well as an aqueduct carrying one of the pipelines across the leat. It is believed that the pipelines successively supplied spring water to Week Farm and Otterhead House. Short sections of two of the pipelines are again carrying water.

5. Heritage Rhododendrons: Storm damage has affected two of the most prominent rhododendrons at Otterhead: ‘Russellianum’ by the Coach House and ‘Cynthia’ close to the house site. There is also the threat of Phytophthora ramorum disease. Attempts over several years have been made to increase light reaching rhododendrons to encourage flowering. A record number of rhododendrons are now showing flower buds and flowering will enable identification so that forms of Rhododendron ponticum, used as rootstocks, can be removed. Reduced rhododendron cover may lessen the spread of the disease. Discussions have been held regarding micro propagation of the heritage rhododendrons to enable future replanting. Otterhead rhododendrons include ‘Baroness Henry Schroeder’, a Victorian introduction, commercially very rare in this country and forms of the once sought after North American Rhododendron maximum, rarely seen in present day gardens. The four earliest rhododendrons are now flowering: ‘Cunningham’s Blush’, ‘Rosamundi’ and the sadly much reduced ‘Russellianum’, all near the Back Drive, were introduced in the 1800’s and there is a red form in a less accessible location. It is not yet clear whether the season of flowering is simply delayed this year or will be compressed into less time.

Roy Coombs   13 May 2013