Regency garden restoration gets go ahead
The National Botanic Garden of Wales has been given the green light to proceed with ambitious plans for the restoration of the historic Regency landscape in which it is situated.
Although it is the world’s youngest botanic garden, it actually occupies a site of planting that goes back 400 years in the grounds of the once great Middleton Hall -an estate that saw its heyday in the early 1800s when, as designed by Capability Brown’s professional heir, Samuel Lapidge, it became one of the finest landscape and water parks in Britain.
Then it boasted the artificially engineered lakes, falls and cascades characteristic of the Picturesque style, but thereafter, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, it suffered the indignity of ruin and neglect culminating in the destruction of the house by fire and the draining of the ornamental lakes.
Although the landscape itself has barely survived, it lives a vivid afterlife in watercolours by the artist Horner whose album depicts the garden’s outstanding features, the sequence in which they were to be enjoyed and their desired effect. The restoration project is intended bring these watercolour vistas to life for the contemporary visitor.
And just as this once great garden will be revealed to us, so will the figures who helped create it. With a history of pirates, plague and plants, these include the Middleton family who grew wealthy as prime movers in the creation of the East India Company.
The Garden’s Head of Development Rob Thomas describes how the Middletons “their fortunes gained through the vastly profitable business of plants for health, at a time when pepper and cloves were prized commodities and nutmeg and mace worth more than their weight in gold” created the original estate and sold it when their fortunes declined to Sir Wiliam Paxton another East India Company stalwart and then one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He it was who “created the blueprint for the landscape here today”.
The £6.7 milllion development project has been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding of over £300,000 to develop its plans for the Regency restoration project. The project now enters a two-year development phase with hoped-for completion of the project in time for the Garden’s twentieth anniversary in 2020.
Images: Thomas Horner Monograph – Illustrations of the Scenery of Middleton Hall, the Seat of Sir William Paxton (1815)