J&L Gibbons was the landscape architect for the project
The recently transformed Walpole Park in Ealing, west London, is now officially open to the public.
The redevelopment of Walpole Park is part of the major restoration of Sir John Soane’s historic country home Pitzhanger Manor, a Grade I listed structure which stands on the northeast side of the public park. Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery is being developed separately as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Heritage Grants programme, with the recent award of a £4.42m grant towards the £10.5m project cost.
Pitzhanger Manor and the grounds which now constitute the 12-hectare park were bought by Sir John Soane in 1800, for the sum of £4,500, to redevelop as his country residence. In 1900 the land was sold to Ealing Urban District Council (UDC) and opened to the public with the buildings converted into a public library.
Today, Walpole Park is one of Ealing’s premier parks and is the site of the annual Ealing Summer Festival.
Appointed in 2009 by Ealing Council, a team led by architects Jestico + Whiles, and including conservation expert Julian Harrap Architects LLP and landscape architect J&L Gibbons working with Sarah Couch Historic Landscapes, has transformed Walpole Park, reinstating Soane’s designs for Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery 'within their original Regency landscape setting'.
The redevelopment was funded through a £2.4m grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of its Parks for People programme, with additional funding provided by Ealing Council and The Veolia Environmental Trust.
The park facilities include a new playground designed to be more sympathetic to the heritage setting and the new Rickyard learning and education centre, designed by Jestico + Whiles.
Two large water bodies within the park have been redesigned and Soane’s Rustic Bridge on the Serpentine Lake has undergone delicate masonry repairs. The shrubbery walk and a walled kitchen garden have also been renovated, enhancing elements of the original eighteenth-century landscape.
Jestico + Whiles’ director, Heinz Richardson says that the transformation of Walpole Park is the first step towards reinstating Soane’s original designs for Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, and ensuring its future as a world-class heritage site: 'Our team of experts has worked closely on enhancing the surrounding landscape setting in order to provide the perfect backdrop to Soane’s masterpiece and an inviting outdoor space for use by the local community.'
Soane appears to have had an active involvement in the design and use of the gardens and park. John Haverfield of Kew, with whom he worked frequently, advised on the laying out of the grounds and the resulting landscape was 'a miniature landscape park suited to a Regency country villa, with lawns, shrubberies, exotic trees, flower garden, kitchen garden, a serpentine lake with rustic bridge and arbour above, an ornamental shrubbery walk and a great number of classical fragments, all set within a small park'.
Pitzhanger Manor and its gardens were conceived as a country idyll, an architectural showcase for Soane, who hoped to inspire his sons and cultured visitors in the pursuit of architecture; this was to be achieved by studying the house as well as the artificial Roman ruins, built north of the manor house. Designed as an advertisement for his own idiosyncratic architectural style with its classical detail, radical colour schemes and inventive use of space and light, he also intended that it would become a suitable residence for his elder son when he became an architect.
The restoration of Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery 'will reinstate Soane’s architectural vision, reveal the Manor’s rich history, make the building more accessible and upgrade the gallery, as well as improve visitor facilities to create a world-class heritage site reconnected with its landscape setting'.