Bannockburn House Ha-Ha Ditch

by Alasdair MacPherson 14th May 2009

During the determination of a recent planning application for a proposed development at Granada Service Station near Bannockburn, Council officers discovered the existence of a ha-ha ditch, which prior to the formation of Snabhead interchange, formed part of grounds of Bannockburn House estate. There is approximately 100 metres left of the ditch and the stone walls are 1.2m high.

Below is brief description of the ha-ha ditch from Stirling Council's archaeologist Lorna Main.

"A ha-ha is a dry ditch or sunken fence which served to divide the formal landscaped garden of a country house from the wider landscaped park area without interrupting the view. As it was designed not to interrupt the view from the House or other garden viewpoints/features, a ha-ha was therefore invisible until seen from close by.

Bannockburn House Estate Grounds Ha-Ha Ditch
Photo taken 14th May 2009

It was an alternative to a wall, fence or hedge and consists of a trench, the inner side of which is vertical and is often faced with stone; with the outer slope face sloped and turfed, making the trench, in effect, a sunken fence or wall.

It functioned as a visually discreet means of keeping cattle and sheep in the pastures and out of the formal gardens, without the need for obtrusive fencing. It also kept wild animals such as deer out of the more manicured gardens. On occasions the ditch contained a hedge rather than a built wall. In this context they were first used as an element in early 18th century French formal landscape garden design as a discreet sunken fence.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

However, the concept has its origins in miltary history where it was first used in fortifications as a blind ditch to surprise the enemy. Sunken ditches were also features of medieval deer parks where the ditch was designed to keep deer inside the park boundary. With regard to the origin of the term 'ha ha' it has been anecdotally suggested that the name is derived from the surprise of ordinary folk on their access being suddenly prevented by a sunken obstacle that they called them Ha! Ha's! reflecting this surprise!
Most typically ha-has are still found in the grounds of grand country houses and recorded examples vary in depth from about 2 feet to 9 feet. Although ha-has are thought to still be a common feature of Country Estates across Britain not many have been formally recorded. 12 are noted across Scotland in various states of survival, five of which are in the Stirling Council area, namely Bannockburn, Mugdock, Airthrey, Gargunnock and Keir.

Bannockburn's ha-ha ditch has been divorced both physically and visually from the big house. The wall of the Bannockburn House ha-ha lies on the east side of the feature, concealed from the views west from Bannockburn House itself and keeping animals out of the formal gardens from that side. It is an interesting, if short and detached survival of what was once presumably a more extensive estate feature.

Photo taken on 14th May 2009

It was first noted during an archaeological survey of the site in 2003 as part of preparatory research undertaken at the request of the planning authority in relation to an earlier planning application on Pirnhall site."

 

Lorna Main
Archaeology Officer
8th May 2009

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