Elsyng palace scheduled monument lies in the public park and Grade II registered garden of Forty Hall at Enfield. The palace is a unique and nationally significant archaeological monument, not only as the site of an early Tudor courtier's palace later developed by Henry VIII, but as a complex multi-phased landscape with a rich history stretching back to medieval times. The palace was also a childhood residence of King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I.
Since 2004 an interesting project combining archaeology, survey and historical documents has been undertaken by Enfield Archaeological Society to try and fill in the many gaps in our knowledge of the palace layout, garden and the wider landscape. Although it is not clear when the garden was established, a letter of 1597 indicates 'ponds, walks and orchards, willows and sallows'. A 1773 sale map shows thickly wooded 'Pond Groves' with a large rectangular lake containing three islands as well as a small narrow canal enclosing another island, in which were two smaller ponds. Archaeologists found part of a brick structure 4m square on the west island which might have been a planting bed. They realised that LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) aircraft- mounted laser scanning survey could help understand the pond groves better. The survey appears to reveal an upper and a lower garden terrace, each about 60m square formed by low banks 2-4m wide perhaps representing raised walks; the lower terrace surrounds the narrow channel and the two small ponds. Most gardens of this type and period in this country have been destroyed or masked by later design schemes, so the survival of these elements is of national importance.
Early 17th-century documents give more clues to the garden. An area to the west of the palace was dug and fruit trees were planted. and a new kitchen garden was laid out with 'prune and whitethorn trees planted on grades' (perhaps terraces). A stone cistern was built to convey rainwater to the garden over a bowling alley, four arbours were repaired and a Portland stone sundial was sent from Scotland Yard to be included in the garden.
The palace was demolished around 1657, a generation later Forty Hall was built by a future Lord Mayor of London, Nicholas Rainton. In the 18th century, Eliab Breton, a later owner of the hall, transformed Turkey Brook to the north into a formalised reverted watercourse. A reservoir was constructed where a double avenue of lime trees already crossed the brook, and in doing so created the illusion of a wider expanse of water when viewed from the hall. Archaeologists found part of its revetment, an earlier brick ford across the brook and two brick cascades; each featured a weir, water stairs and an inclined brick surface. The 1773 sale catalogue states that 'canals' are 'fortunately placed for Embellishments and form Cascades that rush impetuous'.
The project shows how archaeological excavation, survey and contemporary documents can all help to create a more complete picture of the garden. In fact, the new information has persuaded the Secretary of State (advised by Historic England) to now extend the area of the site protected in law as a scheduled monument to include all of the garden features.