The Botanical Gardens have their roots in the early 18th century, but Bicton itself dates back more than 1300 years. It was originally called Beoccatun, meaning the hamlet belonging to Beocca, a Saxon chieftain who settled in the forest on the west bank of the River Otter, then much wider than it is now.
Four centuries later, the Normans took over and built a prison at Exeter’s Rougemont Castle to keep the local Saxons under control. Wardenship of the jail became a hereditary duty of lords of the manor at Bicton for some 700 years until the office of prison keeper was rescinded when the castle fell into disrepair in the late 1700s.
By then, Bicton’s Italian Garden was well established, and horticulture was set to play an increasingly significant role in the future of the estate.