Bishopthorpe Walled Garden: Early History and Historical Importance


Bishopthorpe Walled Garden (north of St Andrew’s Church on Bishopthorpe Road) was the Archbishop of York’s kitchen garden. It was completed in 1767, in the Georgian era, under Archbishop Drummond (1).  At over 250 years old, it is of similar age to walled gardens at Harewood House and Sledmere House.

During the period 1761-69, many changes were made to the Archbishop of York’s estate, including a gateway, stables, church and new façade for Bishopthorpe Palace.

By 1785 further changes had been made to the kitchen garden by Archbishop Markham, with the construction of ‘an exceedingly good convenient pinery and a flued wall 181 feet in length’ (1).

Early maps

The oldest map of the garden is from 1832 (2). This shows the walled areas as they are today: a large rectangular, 1.5-acre garden with a central canal, and a smaller 0.5-acre garden attached to the south.  At that time there were additional ‘slip gardens’ outside the walls, extending south to Palace Garden Cottage.


There are more details on the OS map of 1851, with glasshouses against the south facing wall in the slip gardens and buildings on the other side.






What remains today

The boundary walls, which are 12 to 13 ft high, are still intact, and built of red brick with flat coping stones. Externally, on the longest south-facing wall, there is evidence of past use for glasshouses, including an old fire place at the base of the wall. This may have been the location of the ‘pinery,’ or hot-house for growing pineapples, which was an essential component of a kitchen garden in that period.

The flued wall (or hot wall) is an important feature and is located between the two walled gardens. This is a hollow wall, with internal horizontal flues which took the heat from small fires lit at the bottom of the wall out through vents at the top. Hot walls were important horticulturally from around the mid-18th century to mid-19th century, and were used to protect and ripen delicate fruit such as apricots and peaches growing against the south-facing side.

Small arches can be seen in the brickwork, arranged vertically in twos and threes, which were used to gain access to the flues to clean out the soot.  From the arrangement of the arches, it is likely there were four separate flued sections, each c.36 ft long (7). The wall is thicker than adjacent walls, and iron wall ties give it strength. Originally it was 9 ft high, with doorways at either end.  Later alterations were an extension to the height and a doorway through the centre.


Throughout the garden the walls are pock-marked with iron nails, evidence of past ‘tagging and nailing’ of fruit trees into espaliers and fans: a tradition that died out with the use of wire from the late 1800s.

Original doorways can be seen, mostly now bricked up. The small doorways were wide enough for a gardener with a wheelbarrow. There are two doorways wide enough for a horse and cart, or pony-chaise.

The canal is fed by a stream and was an important water source for the garden. It is an unusual feature for a walled garden and is likely to have been an ornamental feature as well as having a practical purpose in holding fish (4).

The north-facing brick buildings in the large garden, are probably of Victorian origin or later. They contain a double furnace (now bricked up) and once housed the boiler for the glasshouses.

There are free-standing veteran pear trees against the high south-facing wall in the large garden. A few lead labels are attached to the walls, giving the names of old fruit tree varieties and dated 1867-1879.

Palace Garden Cottage, home of successive head gardeners, is still a residence today.

Eye witness accounts

Kitchen gardens were a source of pride to their owners, and a status symbol.  The design of this garden indicates it may have been a ‘show garden’ as well as a traditional kitchen garden.

In 1818, local historian and newspaper editor William Hargrove reported that the kitchen gardens ‘contain extensive hot-houses, fruit-walls, store ponds for fish and every other requisite accommodation’ (4).

The German landscape gardener and traveller Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau visited in 1827 and recounted: ‘The Archbishop [Vernon Harcourt] showed me his kitchen gardens and hot houses, which are remarkably fine. They were as neat as the most elegant drawing room… On the walls were the choicest fruit trees arranged in symmetrical lines… In the hot-houses in which pines and grenadillas grew luxuriantly, was a different sort of vine in every window… The multitude of flowers…which edged the beds of the kitchen garden were striking’ (5).

Later years

Photo by Robin Hill

A photograph taken from the church tower in 1949 (8) and an aerial photograph from 1947 (11) show the full extent of the gardens, with glasshouses intact. The slip gardens and glasshouses were removed in the 1960s, and this area is now an arable field.

More information about the later history is in the book ‘Bishopthorpe in Blossom’ (9).





The walled garden is within Bishopthorpe Conservation Area (6). It is owned by the Church of England and leased to Brunswick Organic Nursery.

Bishopthorpe Local History Group has applied to Historic England for the garden to be assessed for Listed status, which would give it the recognition and additional protection it deserves.

There is much still to be learnt, and expert assistance would be welcomed to help interpret the many original features which remain.

For more information contact Bishopthorpe Local History Group.




(1)    The History and Antiquities of the City of York, from its Origin to the Present Times (York 1785) Vol 3, p.79. Printed by Ann Ward, Coney Street. Available online

(2)    Robert Cooper. MAP/1, no.32: A Map of the County of the City of York [showing York and the Ainsty], From an Actual Survey made in the Years 1830-1831, by Robert Cooper, Land Surveyor etc. (1832) Explore York Archives

(3)    Susan Campbell, A History of Kitchen Gardening. 2005. Published by Francis Lincoln Ltd. Pp. 42, 48, 60-62

(4)    William Hargrove, History and Description of the Ancient City of York, Vol II, Part II [York, 1818, p.523] Available online

(5)    Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau, Tour in England, Ireland and France [etc]. Letter 18, 20 September 1827, p. 196 [1833] Available online

(6)    York Historic Environment Record. SYO1676 Bishopthorpe Conservation Area.

(7)    Elisabeth Hall, Hot Walls: An Investigation of their Construction in Some Northern Kitchen Gardens. Garden History Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 1989), pp. 95-107. Published by The Gardens Trust.

(8)    Photograph from the tower of St Andrew’s Church, Bishopthorpe. Robin Hill, 1949.  Bishopthorpe Community Archives.

(9)    Bishopthorpe in Blossom: Our Orchard Heritage. 2019. Bishopthorpe Orchard Project and Bishopthorpe Local History Group. Published by Quacks Books, York. Pp. 25-42. Available from Bishopthorpe Local History Group.

(10) OS Six-inch England and Wales 1851 (surveyed 1846 to 1847) National Library of Scotland

(11) Historic England Aerofilms Collection. York Racecourse, York 1947. Photograph number EAW009395 flown 17/08/1947.