Built on the remains of a motte and bailey castle, the gardens were probably created by the landscape designer Charles Bridgeman in the 18th century. Bridgeman was an early pioneer of the more natural approach to gardening and became Royal Gardener to Queen Anne. Although none of the original garden buildings survive at The Moot, the layout is still visible with an amphitheatre and tri-lobe lake. There are plans to recreate some of the garden buildings.
The gardens are free to visit and are open all year. There’s a car park nearby.
The house is across the road from the gardens and is now privately owned.
It’s a great place to walk the dog.
Check the website before visiting as occasionally the Downton Moot Preservation Trust hold events.
The name of the property probably came from the motte or keep mound of the motte and bailey earthworks dug by Henry of Blois in
1138. A grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry was brought up at the monastery at Cluny, was made Bishop of Winchester in 1129 and became one of the most powerful English bishops. His brother was King Stephen. The inner ditch and the outer ditch which encircled the site can still be seen while the two mounds in the centre of the grounds are the remains of the castle keep or motte.
In about 1600, the Downton estate was owned by the Coles family who built a new house near the castle. Fifty years later, the house was demolished and another built which by 1773 was known as Downton House and later The Moot. The building was remodelled at the beginning of the 18th century and it is likely that the gardens were created at the same time, probably by Charles Bridgeman.
Further alterations were made to The Moot in 1750s, when the Rococo–style Ombrello to the God Mercury was built at the top of the motte and a Gothick Alcove was sited on the far side of the three–pointed lake to the grass amphitheatre.
Pococke described the garden on his travels in 1754: ‘very prettily laid out and improved, being on a large old fortification with a double fosse improved into terraces above and walks below, with buildings on two mounts; the old keeps of the castle, and the river runs at the foot of it.‘
In 1784 the estate was owned by the Rev John Shuckburgh and then passed through several hands until 1873 when it was bought by an estate agent, E P Squarey. Some alterations were made in the garden during his ownership but its main structure and layout remained the same [Land Use Consultants, 1992].
In 1923 Moot House was damaged by fire but was subsequently restored and was sold c1964 to a developer who separated the house from the garden. Since 1988, the garden has been owned and managed by a preservation trust and is subject to an ongoing programme of management and restoration