Wandlebury has over 2,000 years of human history. It has been an Iron Age Hillfort and home to Romans, an 18th century country estate and the stables of the famous Godolphin Arabian horse. Parts of the park are designated as a Scheduled Monument in order to protect important archaeological and historic features. Below you can read about the estate's incredible history and archaeology and some of our work to preserve it.

Iron Age

Archaeological evidence from Wandlebury tells us that around 2,300 years ago it was inhabited by the Iceni, an ancient British tribe occupying Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. They built a hillfort on top of the hill - a ditch enclosed by wooden ramparts. This was altered in the later Iron Age into a large multivallate hillfort (the fort was protected by two ditches). This type of hillfort is rare, with only around 50 examples recorded nationally. 

Iron Age Hillforts are generally regarded as centres of permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare, a reflection of the power struggle between competing elites.

In the 17th/18th centuries the inner of the two ditches was filled with soil in order to level the ground for the gardens and estate but the outer ditch is still very visible with a footpath in most of it.

Human remains have been found in the area outside the hillfort (games field area) which is though to be an Iron Age cemetery. There are also remains of buildings (a small village) just outside the hillfort in Varley's Field.

Wormwood Hill at Wandlebury is also thought to be an Iron Age structure but so far there is insufficient evidence to say what its purpose was. There are also Iron Age features across the A1307 on Magog Down. It is clear that Wandlebury was a significant place during the Iron Age and was one of several in this area of England, such as the hillfort at Arbury Camp to the north. Wandlebury may also have formed part of a series of defended sites including Borough Hill, Arbury Banks and Ravensburgh Castle which extend across the chalk uplands to the south east.

For further information about the archaeology of Wandlebury follow these links:

Click here to read a summary leaflet about the archaeology of Wandlebury.

Click here for fuller details about the Iron-Age Hillfort at Wandlebury (Historic England website)

Click here for a report on excavation at Wandlebury 1994-7 by Cambridge University. French, C. A I., (2004). Evaluation survey and excavation at Wnadlebury ringwork, Cambridgeshire, 1994-7. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 93. Vol 93, pp. 15-66.

Click here for a report on excavation at Wandlebury 1955-56 by Cambridge University. Hartley, B. R., (1957). The Wandlebury Iron Age Hill-fort, Excavations of 1955-6. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 50. Vol 50, pp. 1-28.

Click here for a short report on human skeletons found at Wandlebury. Taylor, A. and Denton, B., (1977). Skeletons at Wandlebury Hill-fort. Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 67. Vol 67, pp. 1-2.

Romans

Around 1,800 years ago Wandlebury was occupied by Romans. On the northern edge of Wandlebury is the Roman Road, which once stretched all the way to the main Roman settlement of Colchester. There is no archaeological evidence to suggest that the Romans added much to the Iron Age fort that was already in existence, however Roman coins were found in 1685 and 1752 and a ring in 1844 (now in the British Museum).

The Godolphin Arabian

The main purpose of the Wandlebury Estate was for stabling horses for racing. The building of the stables was begun in 1685 by Tregonwell Frampton, who trained horses for King Charles II and King James II for racing at nearby Newmarket (the original race was 8 miles long in a straight line from Fulbourn to Newmarket - how Six-Mile Bottom got its name).

All modern thoroughbred racing horses descend from three famous stallions. One of them is a horse known as the Godolphin Arabian, which was stabled at Wandlebury from 1733-1753. He never ran a race but he fathered some of the best race horses of their generation.

There are many paintings of the Godolphin Arabian, including this one in our care. 

You can find the grave of the Godolphin Arabian under the archway next to the toilets. We are thinking of ways that we can better commemorate one of the legends of horse racing.

Click here to read a 20-page booklet "The Godolphin Arabian" by Wendy Clark. Copies of this booklet can be obtained from our office for £3. You can also learn more about the Godolphin Arabian and the early history of horse racing at the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket.

18th Century Estate

Lord Francis Godolphin inherited the stables at Wandlebury in 1728 from his friend Tregonwell Frampton. By 1729 he had begun to enlarge the stables and had started building a large house and gardens which was completed by 1735 (although with further enhancements over the years - the cupola clock tower was added to the stables in 1743).

Lord Godolphin died in 1766 and his cousin (also called Francis Godolphin) inherited the estate. Over the years the estate passed though the hands of a number of families, finishing with the Grey family in the 1950s.

Today you can still see the 18th century stable blocks at Wandlebury (all Grade II listed), which have mainly been converted into residential use or for our offices and visitor toilets. Unfortunately, the manor house had to be demolished in the 1950s due to rot, however you can see the outline of where the mansion house once stood - it is the low wall between the Tadlow Granary and the stable block (with the sundial in the middle).

We carry out work to maintain the 18th century features of the estate, for example since 2003 we have been restoring the garden wall at a cost of around £200,000.

Lost Gardens of Wandlebury

Wandlebury had a series of private country gardens between 1740 and 1954, which were designed to complement the manor house and followed the fashions of their day. These included parkland, flower beds, lawns, orchards, ponds, clipped hedges, rockery, vegetable garden, gardener's cottages and even a tennis court. Some of these features can still be seen today, such as the garden wall built in 1743, the garden terraces in the lawn and the orchard, that we think was planted at the end of the 19th century.

As well as serving an aesthetic and leisure purpose the gardens also supplied food for the estate, which employed and housed a team of gardeners to carry out the work. The gardens also included greenhouses and hothouses so that in 1912 bananas were grown! As you walk along the driveway from the car park - the meadow on your right hand side was once a chicken coup.

Click here to read a 19-page booklet "The Lost Gardens of Wandlebury" by Twigs Way. Copies of this booklet can be obtained from our office for £3.

When we purchased the estate in 1954 the gardens were looking neglected and the manor house had to be demolished due to rot. Our aim was to enable the gardens to be opened to the public and to this end they had to be made safe as well as being put into a condition which the charity could afford to maintain - such as meadows rather than lawns and flower beds.

We are working to maintain and restore some of the garden features, for example by replanting fruit trees along the garden wall, caring for the orchard and replacing a derelict pond.

Myths & Legend

Although only a modest 71 metres above sea level, the Gog Magog Hills have attracted myth and legend since the middle-ages. Writers, poets, newspapers and now the internet all tell stories about giants, knights, pagans, gods, chalk patterns on the hillside and ley lines. Gog and Magog are Greek gods.

One ghostly tale comes from Grervase of Tilbury who, in 1219, told that Wandlebury was once ruled by a dark night-rider who seemingly no mortal could defeat. Anyone brave enough to test their prowess had to ride up into Wandlebury on a moonlit night and cry "knight to knight, come forth!". The warrior would appear on horseback, ready to fight until he or his opponent was dismounted.  

Click here to read a leaflet about some of the legends of Wandlebury.

There is no doubt that Wandlebury is a magical place and it seems likely that religious rituals were carried out by early British tribes - but whether the myths, legends and superstitions are true depends on what you believe.

We have a responsibility to try and preserve the important human heritage at Wandlebury for future generations. Caring for ancient monuments, archaeological sites and historic buildings is not easy and costs a lot of money. Click here to read about some of our work caring for Wandlebury's buildings and structures, including the Tadlow Granary.

"Once around Wandlebury" is a 120-page book by Wendy Clark detailing the history of Wandlebury from earliest records to the Millennium. This book is available from our office, £7.