The Carden Park estate is now part of the St David's Hotel Group and home to two full-size golf courses, a golf academy, a large hotel and a conference complex. The estate, once the part of the estate lands of William Leche, can be found approximately 14 kilometres to the south of the city of Chester and 15 kilometres east of the city of Wrexham in North Wales. It lies on the south side of the A534 that runs from Wrexham to Nantwich (at NGR SJ 460535). The estate includes a western outlier of the Mid Cheshire Ridge, a series of sandstone deposits of Permo-Triassic age that lie within and near the base of the Keuper Marl (Goudie 1990: 124-5). The sandstone ridge produces marked escarpments with vertical cliffing, and although not high in altitude, the low-lying, undulating nature of the surrounding land makes these ridges much more prominent within their local setting than their height above sea level might otherwise suggest. From the ridge on the Carden Park estate, fine prospects of the Dee estuary to the northwest are revealed.
In addition to its modern developments, Carden Park has a complex historic and prehistoric past. The Cheshire Sites and Monuments Record records the presence of a scheduled Bronze Age barrow and a Mesolithic lithic assemblage found eroding from the talus of one of a number of sandstone rock shelters on the Park. Through the last 500 years, Carden Park has been witness to the rise and recent fall of a great landed estate. Starting in the 14th century, 17 successive generations of the Leche family built up their land holdings. By the time of the tithe map surveys in the mid nineteenth century, the Leche's estate encompassed more than 3000 acres of prime Cheshire land, as well as properties in the city of Chester itself. Material remains of the Leche ownership are to be found throughout the modern estate. They include among other things, stone lodges at the north and south entrances to the estate, a well-preserved ha-ha, an artificial lake and deer park, old farm buildings and the remains of a pleasure garden.
As with many great landed estates in Britain, the events of the twentieth century have not been kind. In 1912, Carden Hall, a half-timbered house probably built in the sixteenth century, burned down in a great fire and the Leche family moved away from the main hall site to live at Stretton Hall, 2 kilometres distant, though still on estate lands. Although planning permission was granted in the 1960s for the building of a new hall, none was built. The Carden estate dwindled in size and was eventually sold in 1991 and again in 1994 to its present owners.
A field evaluation carried out before the construction of the first golf course in 1991 identified a rock shelter on the Park that was reputed to have been the home of John Harris, and it is here that the first excavations took place. Since 1996, however, the University of Liverpool and Chester Archaeology have conducted a joint archaeological project on the Carden Park estate. They are undertaking an investigation into the early Bronze Age barrow cemetery and the Upper Paleolithic occupation at this site.
The prehistoric site was discovered in 1985, when a small collection of flints was found in the opening of a rabbit burrow, but there was no opportunity to investigate it until 1996.
The Bronze Age interest at Carden has previously focused on the barrow cemetery. The only real information about it comes from a brief description given by the Cheshire historian George Ormerod, writing shortly before 1819. He describes “the enormous tumulus of Coddington, and to the left of it, in and near Carden are several smaller tumuli, one of which is in a field south-east of the hall, where some Roman urns were discovered a few years ago.”
The description of the urns as Roman is unsurprising: in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries many prehistoric artefacts were believed to have been Roman in date.
In the 1998 season, something rather unexpected happened. In dismantling a structure that appeared to have been put up by the hermit in the mid-eighteenth century, they began to find pieces of Bronze Age pottery, dating from about 2200-1800 BC. One of them was decorated with incised lines, while another looked very like a plain sherd from a Beaker style vessel. Nearby, a few scraps of badly eroded burnt human bone (including the distal - or hand - end of a radius) were found.
Beakers are associated especially with ritual sites - henges and burials - and they wondered if we had a very disturbed burial. Beaker burials have been found in caves, so it is possible that John Harris removed this material when he moved in to the cave in 1744 and incorporated into a small structure outside its mouth.