Landscapes At Risk

CHRIS SUMNER, Chair of LPGT's Planning & Conservation Working Group, reviews the English Heritage 'Heritage At Risk Register' with particular reference to London parks and gardens.

English Heritage (EH) is the Government's adviser on the historic environment in England and is part of the country's statutory planning system. Formal designations, carrying some degree of protection from unconsidered change or destruction and overseen by EH, include 'listing', 'scheduling' and 'registration'. About 500,000 built structures are 'listed', 20,000 archaeological sites are 'scheduled', and 1,600 designed landscapes and 43 battlefields are 'registered'. There are also conservation areas designated by local authorities, and World Heritage Sites.

Since 1991 EH has published an annual 'Heritage at Risk Register'. This flags historic buildings and sites whose wellbeing or even continued existence is considered to be threatened by one or more factors, such as underinvestment, lack of knowledge or understanding of significance, pressure for development and conflicts of interest. In the case of historic parks, risk factors include divided ownership, fragmented uses, and lack of a co-ordinated and funded conservation management plan.

In London Landscapes No 23 (autumn/ winter 2009 pp. 20,21) I reviewed the Heritage at Risk Register 2009. This included for the first time details of conservation areas and registered historic landscapes as well as of listed buildings and scheduled monuments. The 2009 Register for London included fourteen historic parks and gardens considered to be at risk; two at grade I, six at grade II*, and six at grade II. The Register for 2011 will be published in October this year. So far as landscapes and garden buildings are concerned, it is unlikely to be significantly changed from 2009 and 2010.

Worse Before It Gets Better

None of the fourteen registered historic landscapes in London that are included in the 2009 and 2010 Heritage at Risk registers looks like coming off the register in the near future. Despite positive developments on at least some of the sites – and the good news that the Heritage Lottery Fund has more money to give out in grants – the overall situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. This reflects, inevitably, the bleakness of the current financial situation and the major cuts in public spending following the last Comprehensive Spending Review and the consequent swingeing cuts of up to 35% in the finances and staffing of local authorities, English Heritage, and Royal Parks.

In this article I summarise the present state of these fourteen sites. Five of the fourteen are cemeteries - see next page. The remaining nine sites include those shown on this page.

The EH Register tells part of the story, but there are also other significant sites at risk, and I want to flag up three of them not mentioned by EH - see separate page.

What You Can Do to Help

The EH HAR identifies only a selection of the sites and monuments at risk, and many sites identified in the LPGT Inventory are also in need of at least a little TLC. Anyone wanting to help should consider joining one of the many friends groups that support these sites. Most of the major sites at risk have a friends group, and you can find details from a web search. LPGT members have a wide range of skills and experience that can complement the work of existing groups or help establish new groups.

Local authority planning and conservation officers are under particular pressure at the moment because of cuts, so any constructive comments will be appreciated. Information on the history and significance of a site, suggestions for sources of funding, and suggestions for appropriate alternative or additional uses are all potentially valuable. If there is not already in existence a conservation management statement or plan for a threatened site, members should urge the preparation of such documents, and where appropriate contribute to them.

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Clapham Orangery

The Clapham Orangery, Worsopp Drive, SW4 (LB Lambeth) was built in 1793 to the designs of Dr William Burgh of York (Buildings of England, London 2: South p. 387) and was formerly part of a miniature landscape estate with a lake belonging to the Thornton family, whose two houses - later a convent - were replaced by the Notre Dame Estate, 'depressing LCC blocks of pre-war type, built after 1945.' (ibid.)

Clapham Orangery (photo: English Heritage)
Photo: English Heritage

The shell of the Orangery, listed at grade II since 1955, stands empty and fenced off. Proposals are being developed for community use for the building, which requires not only sensitive repair and conversion but also the provision of a decent landscape setting that would enhance the bleak blocks of flats adjacent.

Gunnersbury Park

Gunnersbury Park

Gunnersbury Park has featured many times in the pages of London Landscapes, and it is good to be able to say that the grounds and gardens are generally looking better now than they have for many years, on which the current maintenance team should be congratulated.

The buildings - of which there are many in the park - continue, however, to decay. The park is registered at grade II* and contains elements dating from the mid-C17, when the original Palladian villa was built by John Webb, Inigo Jones's assistant and son-in-law. That villa was demolished after the death in 1786 of Princess Amelia, aunt of King George Ill, and replaced by the two present early-Cl9 mansions, but the raised terrace and some of the garden wails survive from Webb's time, and there are significant C18 and C19 buildings and garden features remaining in what has been a public park since 1925.

Any number of reports, proposals, plans and statements have been prepared over the past twenty years and several small-scale schemes have been carried out with the help of National Lottery grants and other funding, but the shared ownership of the site (sited entirely in LB Hounslow though probably used much more by LB Ealing residents, and equally funded by both boroughs) seems to be an obstacle to any substantial progress. Rather on the principle of the lady and gentleman who live in the weather house, when one local authority looks out with a smile the other pops back in with a frown.

As an historic estate, Gunnersbury Park is not of the same importance as Chiswick House and Grounds, but as a public park it arguably offers much more - not least because it is much bigger and more robust and can accommodate ball games, children and dogs much more successfully. Real - and rightly much-lauded - progress has been made at Chiswick only since the formation of a dedicated trust persuaded the Heritage Lottery Fund to give generous grant aid to support a thorough-going restoration of the grounds based on a scholarly and consistent vision and a solid business plan. Trusts have but one aim - the well-being of the amenity held in trust - whereas local authorities by their very nature have a wide range of demands made upon their resources. There is not much good news about, but the HLF does still have a lot of money to put into what it sees as good schemes, but schemes must be realistic in their aims and sustainable in the longer term.

The formation of a trust is not in itself the solution to the problems of Gunnersbury Park - a trust is only as good as its membership and support - but a trust can and should present a consistent case and speak with a single voice in a way that, to date at least, Hounslow and Ealing have failed to do.

The English Heritage HAR Register contains a general entry for Gunnersbury Park as a grade-II* registered historic landscape at risk, and nine entries for structures within the park:

Of those buildings, the Large Mansion and East Stables are listed at grade II*, the rest at grade II. The Large Mansion houses the Museum and Local History Collection and comprises on the ground floor a suite of fine rooms and the remarkable Victorian kitchens and service rooms, which are used very successfully as part of the borough education service. The building's condition is rated as fair, but it is shabby and deteriorating and in need of a major overhaul. The condition of the Small Mansion is rated as poor, and only the ground-floor rooms are in (occasional) education use. The condition of the other structures is rated from fair through poor to very bad.

The two stable blocks are in dire condition, as are the Model Farm dressing rooms, which are unlisted buildings dating from the mid C19 which were the victim of an arson attack about eight years ago. The Potomac Tower or Gothic Boathouse is perhaps marginally sounder, but the East Lodge consists now of little more than the remnants of the south and west walls.

Any proposals for putting the whole estate back together in good condition must, in my view, contain a significant commercial element. A proposal floated two years ago to sell a small part of the edge of the park for housing to provide funding was vetoed by Ealing Council and is thus unlikely to be supported in the future, but a scheme that released one of the two mansions for a commercial concern - perhaps offices, perhaps corporate hospitality - while concentrating the museum and education roles in the other, could start to generate an income for the estate. A feasibility study on the best future of the museum has been recently completed, and it is understood that the two councils are working towards submitting a bid for grant aid from the HLF.

Lamorbey Park

Rose Bruford College
Rose Bruford College seen across the fishing lake of Lamorbey Park

Lamorbey Park in LB Bexley (grade II in EH Register) is a case of a park suffering from both divided ownership and divided use, comprising as it now does a public park, golf course, and the sites of three schools.

The main house, now the core of Rose Bruford College, dates from 1744, but was altered in the late Cl8 and again in the early Cl9 by John Shaw, who gave it its present Jacobean character.

The formerly extensive parkland is now largely inaccessible to the general public because of the golf course and the schools, but the pleasure gardens and pinetum created in the early Cl9 around the old house survive to some extent and form part of an attractive public park on the south side of the more westerly of the two lakes. Fishing is permitted in some parts of the lakes; elsewhere the banks are generally more overgrown than would have been the case in the Cl8 and Cl9 and provide cover for wildfowl.

Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park

The long-term future of Crystal Palace Park in LB Bromley (grade II*) is still unresolved following a public inquiry and the granting of planning permission for the scheme prepared by Latz and Partner.

The greater park is owned by LB Bromley - although it also serves the residents of the neighbouring boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth, and Croydon and is of metropolitan and regional importance in terms of its size, facilities and historic significance.

The National Sports Centre, originally built by the London County Council between 1956 and 1964, and now owned by the London Development Agency (which has spent over 17m on refurbishing the site, and which will be abolished from March 2012) is an important sports facility and one that will be used by the Brazilian Olympic team for training in 2012, but it is an over-large cuckoo in the nest of Crystal Palace Park. The swimming pool, which is not quite big enough for Olympic events, is now a grade-II* listed building; but, for all its structural and spatial interest and innovation, it sits unhappily in the historic park, the upper and lower parts of which are disjoined rather than connected by the axial concrete walkway overlooked by the giant portrait bust of a frowning Sir Joseph Paxton.

If Paxton is sorrowing over what has happened to his masterpiece over the last 75 years, the four sphinxes, by contrast and by convention, look enigmatic, and not greatly discomposed by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace in 1936. In fact, they have some reasons to look quietly pleased: the ghastly scheme for a multi-screen cinema and car park on the Palace site thankfully was never built, and the terraces (while partly fenced for safety's sake), are grassed and neatly mown and still enjoy (despite the NSC) spectacular views to the south east and the Kent and Surrey hills.

Much of the rest of the park is in top-notch condition; the prehistoric animals, roaming among the veteran oak trees and reflected in the tidal lake, are wonderful and wonderfully surreal; the new planting around them is colourful and attractive and the replacement fences around the lakes are unobtrusive. The maze has been replanted (though, sadly, closed for hedge trimming on my last visit), and even the concert stage of Corten rusting steel, which I had previously much disliked despite its 1998 RIBA and Civic Trust awards, looks like a considered addition to the landscape rather than, as previously when the surrounding pool and planting were neglected, a mistake.

Crystal Palace Park will presumably remain on the HAR register until the greater planning issues have been resolved, but don't let that stop you going there. I was very pleasantly surprised on my last visit to see what progress has been made in raising the general standard of maintenance - thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Bromley Council, and the London Development Agency.

Avery Hill Park

Avery Hill Park is an attractive large public park, managed by LB Greenwich, which has at its core a campus of Greenwich University and the remarkable Winter Garden (listed grade II), owned by the University. The Winter Garden was built in 1889 as part of the enormous and opulent mansion designed by TW Cutler for Col. JT North, who had made his fortune from guano.

Avery Hill
The Winter Garden at Avery Hill (1888-91 by TW Cutler), now part of Greenwich University

The hundred-foot-square glass-roofed building is at present scaffolded and under repair, but the flanking conservatory (matched by a fernery on the other side) is open to the public and contains the marble statue (1882 by L Ansiglioni) of Galatea, 'she who is milk white', a sea nymph beloved of Acis, the spirit of the Acis River in Sicily, who was slain by the jealous Cyclops Polyphemus.

Trent Park

Trent Park

Trent Park at Cockfosters (LB Enfield, Grade II) was formerly part of Enfield Chase, the subject of an LPGT study day in April this year, and the well-wooded site is now partly the campus of Middlesex University and partly a country park.

Ambitious proposals to extend the University, at present comprising mainly rather undistinguished buildings extending from the C18 and C19 mansion rebuilt in 1926-31 for Sir Philip Sassoon, were abandoned following objections from the Greater London Authority. The conservation management plan for the park prepared in conjunction with those proposals has not been implemented.

Sassoon added a number of statues including lead figures from Wrest Park and Stowe (the latter which it is intended to return to Stowe and replace at Trent Park with copies) and two obelisks and a column from Wrest. The important visual connection between the mansion and the lakes has been largely lost through badly sited modern buildings and uncontrolled tree growth along the banks.

Trent Park was the subject of an LPGT study day about ten years ago. Middlesex University is to dispose of its campus at Cat Hill, also at Cockfosters, so presumably the plans to expand at Trent Park will be dusted off again.

Caesar's Camp

Caesar's Camp on Wimbledon Common must surely be the most historic site for a golf course in London. The fairways overlie the banks and ditches of an Iron Age hill fort. Golf and tennis helped save parts of Wimbledon Park, where dinghies now sail on Lancelot Brown's lake.

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park (LB Redbridge, grade II*) was the subject of an LPGT study day and published proceedings The Gardens of Wanstead in 1999.

Following the inclusion of the park in the Heritage at Risk register, the principal owner, the City of London, has commissioned a conservation statement from Chris Blandford Associates to add to the growing pile of studies of an estate that at its peak in the eighteenth century rivalled the greatest gardens in the country and many of the princely estates on the continent. The conservation statement (minus appendices) and the executive summary may be viewed on the City of London website. They set out the history and problems of the site, not least of which latter is the divided ownership.

The major part of the park belongs to the City of London (Epping Forest Charitable Trust), while the Octagon Basin, former stables, and the site of the great house, demolished in 1823, and of its formal parterre gardens, designed by Humphry Repton, belong to Wanstead Sports Ground Ltd and are part of the golf course.

The CBA Conservation Statement includes among the challenges of the site and condition of the historic landscape:

The overall vision for the future is 'to conserve and enhance what is most important about the site... (to be) achieved by: understanding through research and surveying the history of the site; conserving and enhancing the key remaining features of the late 17th- to early 19th-century historic landscape, without seeking to recreate its heyday; making the historic landscape easier to understand and appreciate, while at the same time maintaining the site's natural beauty and nature conservation values; improving the site's accessibility; encouraging more people to visit and enjoy the site (avoiding overdevelopment); offering greater opportunities for locals to Set involved; and, above all, ensuring that there is a sustainable future for the site and its values, and that the management and maintenance required to support this are put in place.'

The Conservation Statement then goes on to set out priorities, costs, and options, including a range of options for the Boathouse Grotto on a scale from consolidating the remains and making them accessible through to a full restoration based on archaeological investigation and documentation including paintings and photographs before the fire of 1884.