Today the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund jointly announced that Gunnersbury has been awarded its first stage of development money to support its full bid for a Parks for People award. This is for £321,330 from Parks for People, to which will be added £87,200 from other sources.
The second round application (which would be made in either August 2013 or February 2014) would be for £4,311,857, to which would be added a further £3,594,150, to make the cost of the total project £7,906,007. We know that four out of five applications succeed at the second round, so this is a huge vote of confidence in the process of restoring the Park. A separate application for the restoration of the Large Mansion and the upgrading of the Museum will be considered very soon by the Heritage Lottery Fund
The electronic application to the HLF is 283 megabytes of data, so the rest of this article is a selection of the highlights and has to leave out a lot of detail. The headline figure is that the project team have calculated that the park now has 600,000 visits a year, and after the restoration it would expect 1m visitors, many of whom would stay for longer than they do today.
The bid makes the case for the historic value of the park and its buildings, with its links to the architects William Chambers and Sidney Smirke, the landscape designer William Kent, and the Head Gardener under the Rothschilds, James Hudson. It notes its two most important owners, Princess Amelia and the Rothschild family, and describes the buildings and landscapes as they changed from the mid-17th century to the present day. It describes the condition of many of the buildings and garden structures such as the arches, walls, steps and the Gothic ruins and makes the case for their urgent restoration. But it also reports many of the positive features such as the 2,500 mature trees, the ecology and wildlife, the breadth and variety of garden features and historic landscapes and the deep affection in which the park is held by its many visitors and users.
There are two proposals which would make significant changes to the park and greatly improve the experience of the visitors. The first would be the relocation of the pitch and putt course from the centre of the park to the top of the large sports field. This would open up the landscape in a completely new way and almost double the historic core area. Paths and routes through the park would change, and the effect would be very significant. People who know the park well would be amazed and delighted by the change.
The second would be the restoring of the western half of the Horseshoe Pond to complement a restored Orangery. This pond was developed from the 17th century “canals” of the formal garden into the major feature seen from the garden front of the mansion occupied by Princess Amelia. Divided in half by the piecemeal sale of the estate in the early 19th century, it was not rebuilt when the Rothschilds reunited the estate at the end of that century. The eastern side was filled in first and the western side perhaps only 50 years ago.
The restoration of the Orangery would include the building on its back wall of toilets, a food serving area and a brides’ changing room. In the 19th century it was glazed on this back side, with a row of hot beds of decomposing horse dung and compost, in which were grown high quality fruit – pineapples, and grapes up the wall, for example – for the household and to take up to the Rothschild bank in the City. The restoration, the conversion and the new pond would make the building and its setting a fine site for functions. Through our web site, we (the Friends) have been getting a stream of enquiries from prospective brides, so we know the demand is there. The income could be very important.
Other elements in the proposals are to restore the boating to the Round Pond, to re-landscape the area around the cafe and to improve the toddlers’ play area, to set out new paths to give access to the new parkland, to restore and improve the views, to improve the entrances and the signage, to create nature trails and to upgrade the parkland setting around both Mansions.
On the east side of the park, between the two walls and into the area north of the Stables, the proposal is to introduce a community kitchen garden, and at the same time to improve the steps down from the Terrace to the Rose Garden, and on to the new garden, especially for disabled access.
The North Lodge (by the main gate onto Popes Lane) would be restored as a base for volunteers, and repairs would be done to the Potomac Tower to allow for safe occasional use. At the same time the landscape around it, which incorporates Pulhamite rocks, would be restored.
A large component of the bid is to increase the amount of community activity within the Park, to build up the role of volunteers, and to increase the opportunities for the Park to be a place for learning, by the extension of the Museum’s successful schools programme as well as informal learning. As the Park is already fortunate in having Capel Manor College on the site, there will be many opportunities for greater partnership and involvement with the college and its students.
The work between now and the second round will be a full range of surveys and specifications for the work the Park needs, along with public consultation and engagement.
James Wisdom, Chairman
2 July 2012