The turf maze at Agecroft Hall
As you survey the 23 acres on which Agecroft Hall sits, you may notice two low cut areas on the back lawn. The bowling green is a low-mowed rectangular area for playing lawn bowls, but the other spot may not be so self-evident. Take a look at the map below and find the maze design behind the house. This is not a hedge maze but a turf maze – a maze cut into a level area of short grass.
Here's a maze trod indeed, through forth-rights and meanders!
Gonzalo in The Tempest Act III Sc 3
Agecroft Hall and Gardens
The genesis of the turf maze was the labyrinth – “a single winding path not meant to puzzle or confuse” (Smithsonian), but rather for use as a spiritual journey or meditation. The earliest recorded labyrinth is from the fifth century BC in Egypt. In Crete, the story of the minotaur and the labyrinth illustrates the confusion one can encounter in a labyrinthine maze used for a non-spiritual journey.
The Romans used the symbolism of the labyrinth above their doors or in the streets as protection for their fortifications. In Ireland, a labyrinthine pattern incised into a granite boulder dates to AD 550.
By the Middle Ages, labyrinthine paths were being used by religious penitents moving along them on their hands and knees. They were most often found in churches and cathedrals as pavement mazes.
The English turf labyrinth or ‘turf maze’ is a series of shallow cut ground and ridges with one path leading to the center of the pattern. They were once found in Britain, Poland, Denmark and Sweden and were usually circular. Those that are extant are a mixture of ancient classical designs and medieval designs. It is hard to accurately date a turf maze because of the constant cutting and recutting required.
The quaint mazes in the wanton green, for lack of tread are undistinguishable.
Titania in Midsummer Night's Dream Act II Sc 1
According to English folklore and a small number of records, they were at one time popular at village fairs and festivities. Turf mazes were perhaps used in processionals at Whitsuntide and Mayday celebrations. They could be found on village greens, near churches or on hilltops. There are only eleven extant examples in England and Germany.
Though the historical labyrinth is unicursal (one path), Agecroft’s turf maze is multicursal. Walkers (or runners!) can enter the maze at each of the four corners and move towards the center. One of the benefits of a low cut turf maze is the ability to see the entire “puzzle” at a glance. You can see where you are going and where you have been and enjoy the beauty of the entire design. Also, if you get tired after finding your way to the center, you can simply walk over the “walls” of the design and take the quickest route out!