The Caversham Court Mystery Wall

The Friends of Caversham Court Garden need help from you in solving the puzzle of one of its garden walls. What was it for and how was it used ?

If you walk through St Peter’s churchyard and turn left into The Warren, you will see a long, high brick wall stretching down to the river Thames.   This is the western wall of the kitchen garden of the old house later known as Caversham Court. Behind the wall now are RBC allotments. On the inner side the wall there was once a peach house and a palm house. On the outer side, what we see from the Warren are 22 equally-spaced buttresses built along the 220ft (67 metres) length of the wall.

The brickwork dates from the latter part of the 19th century, the bricks are machine-made, the buttresses seem to have been later additions or have been altered: the lower parts are mortared, but not keyed in to the wall (Figure 1). The buttresses go down underground for about another 15 rows of bricks. There is no evidence of there ever having been any pipework on the inner side of the wall. The nails that secured the espaliered fruit trees are still there.

If you look up at the top of any of the buttresses you will see a terracotta rim that sits just under the coping (Figure 2). –

Figure 2   A terra cotta rim just inside the coping at the top of the buttress

 

 

 

 

 

Looking down from above you can see (Figure 3) that the rim once flared out from a pipe that runs down inside on the left-hand side of each buttress.

Figure 3  The top of another pipe, outer  rim broken, showing  flowerpot’ shape and its junction with the glazed down pipe.

 

 

 

 

Two-thirds of the way down the left side of each buttress is an inlet/outlet tube that links up with the down pipe. (Figures 1 and 4). Years of accumulated soil were removed from the ‘flower pot’ and the pipe below it downwards to the level of the side arm. When water was poured into the terracotta pipe at the top it poured out, with a lot more dirt, through the side outlet. There may be another outlet further down which is blocked by brick rubble or this may be the bottom of the pipe.

There is no evidence of linkage between the pipe work between the buttresses.  The wall has been described as a “heated wall” or “hot wall”, but heated walls date back to the 18th century, a century before our wall: flues carrying heated water or steam ran between two layers of bricks. Our wall is two bricks thick, but with only a narrow space between, not enough to fit pipes through. There is no evidence on the wall of fire as a heat source, no scorch marks. And no visible pipe work or fixtures on the outer or inner side of the wall.

This is where we need your ideas!  What was this system for and how did it work over the entire length of the wall?  Was it heating, feeding, watering or fumigation ?  Was it ever used? There are the remains of old ironwork railings along the top of the wall: did these play any role?

The Friends have contacted specialists on kitchen gardens and on 19th century walls, but even the experts were stumped. The wall is now in urgent need of restoration, and we need to find out more about it.

Next time you walk down the Warren, take a close look at this great wall. We’d love to hear from you at friends@fccg.org.uk , all suggestions welcome !

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