AGT/LPGT Study Day

In Arethusa's Realm

The Story of Water in Bushy Park

The Lower Pool and Cascade in Bushy Park's newly-restored Water Gardens (Hazelle Jackson)
The Lower Pool and Cascade in Bushy Park's newly-restored Water Gardens
(Hazelle Jackson)

Trust members enjoyed a joint AGT/LPGT Study Day about the water features of Bushy Park on 1st October 2009. During the day the restored Water Gardens were formally opened by HRH Princess Alexandra.

Greg McErlean, Director of Projects at the Royal Parks, began the day with an introduction to the history of the water sources in the park.

Next Kathy White, writer and authority on Bushy Park, talked about the history of the Water Gardens and the long campaign to restore them. The original Water Gardens were built by Charles Montagu, the 1st Earl of Halifax, when he took over as Ranger of the Park early in 1709. The Earl had been ambassador to the court of Hanover and it is believed he was inspired by the royal gardens there - although the unusual three-lobed pool was copied from a pool built a few years earlier at Boughton House, Northamptonshire by his uncle John Montagu.

Three Water Sources

Halifax exploited three different water sources in the park to create his baroque water gardens, which extended across the full width of the Upper or Olde Park. He straightened the course of the Longford River from its entry into the park, routing it into the newly formed octagonal basin and over a cascade into the lower pool before returning to the river for its onward journey to Hampton Court Palace. Imitation grottoes were built as alcoves on each side of the cascade with seasonal backdrops painted on canvas inside them.

The Earl did not live long to enjoy his gardens. After his death in 1715 the gardens declined and were robbed out for later developments in the park. The present Upper Lodge overlooking the water gardens was built around 1840, replacing the Earl's original house of 1709. Part of the Crown Estate, it was a 'grace and favour' home until the early 20th century and later a home for boys from the East End of London. In WW2 it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry as a barracks for the Allies and in 1959 the house and site were taken over by the Admiralty as a research station during the Cold War era. Later this became the National Physical Laboratory.

Mr and Mrs Campbell have recently taken the lease of the Lodge and will restore the surrounding gardens with occasional public access. The old stable block has been converted to private housing.

In the early 1990s the Friends of the Park became aware how much of the original water gardens remained beneath the Admiralty's research stations and began to explore options for their restoration. In 1994 the Admiralty released its lease back to the Crown Estate, who began tidying up the site. In 1995, the garden historian Jane Crawley had identified the Water Gardens in the background to 'A Pair of Peafowl in a Park by an Ornamental Pond', a painting by Jacob Bogdani (1660-1724) and in 1999, Sir Roy Strong recognised the Water Gardens in the more detailed painting, 'Cascade at Bushy Park' (1715), in the Royal Collection. Other contemporary illustrations and accounts surfaced including John Rocque's 'Bushy Park map of Upper Lodge' (1711) and an etching by Bernard Lens.

Water Gardens Trust

In 1997, the Friends formed The Bushy Park Water Gardens Trust to restore the gardens and open them to the public. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Trust carried out extensive historical and archaeological work and, in partnership with The Crown Estate and The Royal Parks, developed a restoration plan. Planning permission for restoration and public access was granted. In 2001 The Royal Parks took the lead on the project.

Next Todd Longstaffe Gowan talked about the 'Hydraulic Wonders of Bushy Park'. He highlighted the complementary relationship of Hampton Court Palace and Bushy Park throughout their history, including their shared water sources. In Bushy Park the water feeds the 17th-century Diana Fountain, currently being restored and due to reopen at the end of 2009. This was originally in Somerset House. It was moved to the Hampton Court Palace Privy Garden by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century and moved again to Bushy Park in the early 18th century.

Eric Watts of Martin Ashley Architects gave his audience a lively talk on the detailed work involved in restoring the fountain: it is being dismantled, cleaned, repaired and reassembled. The bronze nymphs are being restored and the figure of Diana/Arethusa will be gilded. A new filtration system is being installed and the pipework unblocked, so that so that the nymphs' nipples can spout water and avoid trickling over the statue.

In 2006 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded The Royal Parks £4.5 million for work in Bushy Park, including restoration of part of the Water Gardens. Other funds were raised by friends and benefactors.

Richard Flenley of Land Use Consultants then took delegates through the birth and rebirth of the Water Garden. Restoration work started in January 2008 and the plan had four elements: Historical Research, Archaeology, Geography and Funding and Constraints. Archaeological research often went hand-in-hand with restoration, which made it an interesting and challenging project.

The ponds had silted up since the Admiralty cut off access to the river in 1953 and the project team needed to find out the footprints of the ponds, the dimensions of the alcoves next to the cascade, the volume and flow rate over the cascade and how water was returned to the river.

1.5 Metres of Silt

During de-silting 1.5 metres of silt was removed and two full steps of the cascade revealed. As always in such projects, various elements of the original structure were found in the ponds.

Originally the brickwork around the cascade was clad with a mixture of glass, tufa, coral and other decorative materials but this was removed in the 1950s and taken to skip with only 10% being left at the bottom of the wall. It is hoped to use this as a guide to further restoration when more funds are available.

On 15 September 2008 water flowed over the cascade for the first time in the restoration. From October 2008 to August 2009 the seeding and formal landscaping of the site was carried out. The cost of restoring the water gardens has been £780,000.

After a question-and-answer session led by LPGT Chair Chris Sumner and a buffet lunch, it was time to set off to explore the gardens on a sunny autumn afternoon in the capable hands of _guides Greg McErlean of the Royal Parks and Ray Brodie, Bushy Park Manager.