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Chair’s Welcome

I am delighted as Chair of the Friends to welcome you to our website. Bushy Park and Home Park are two wonderful large green oases in the south west corner of London. Feeling wild, they are natural places with ancient histories, fascinating heritage and superb wildlife. Both are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) containing rare species. These are places to be enjoyed and conserved. Which is why the Friends exist, campaigning, supporting and protecting the parks, and enhancing visitors’ enjoyment with information, advice and guidance.

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The Restoration of the Water Gardens Finials

On Monday 27th February 2012 the finials on the top of the walls of the Water Gardens were finally in position. The Friends of Bushy and Home had commissioned a local craftsman to recreate the finials based on the evidence of some original paintings and etchings. It marks another stage in the restoration of these beautiful 18th century Water Gardens.

When the Friends of Bushy and Home Parks was founded in 1990, there was already a booklet called “A Description of the Course of the Upper Lodge Ponds” suggesting a possible Water Gardens of some sort within the grounds used by the Admiralty Research Laboratory. It was written by Peter Foster in 1968, and he was contacted by the Friends who were interested in what might be beneath the undergrowth. There was clearly a water feature, but whatever it was, it was ill-defined.

It was known that Upper Lodge was lived in by the 1st Earl of Halifax and he developed the house and the gardens in the early 18th century.

In 1994 Kathy White, then the Chair of The Friends wrote a report on her findings after visiting the site. A year later the Ministry of Defence relinquished the site back to its owners, the Crown Estates and it was following this that the Friends were able to seriously consider how the Water Gardens might be restored.

Research into the origin of them using maps and plans identified from the Public Records Office and other documents were used to write another publicity leaflet “A Hidden Heritage” to arouse the public interest and awareness of the Water Gardens. On the front cover there was a 1729 engraving of the Water Gardens Cascade by Stephen Switzer.

Sir Roy Strong had received a copy of the report. He and other organisations were beginning to show an interest. The Prince of Wales requested to be kept informed.

In 1996 Mavis Batey OBE, who was President of the Garden History Society discussed the report with her members; one of them, Jane Crawley recognised the engraving on the cover as being identical to a painting by Jacob Bogdani which she had seen in a recent exhibition. The picture is called “A Pair of Peafowl in an Ornamental Park by a Pond”. In the background there is a structure that looks exactly like the front cover of the Friends report “A Hidden Heritage”.

It was clear now that there was an important feature buried in the undergrowth. The Friends were keen to increase the publicity and approached the National Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to produce a plan for the restoration. In May 1987 the Friends set up a charity The Water Gardens Trust, and just weeks later received a grant from the HLF.

Archaeologist, Christopher Currie, water engineers and Land Use Consultants were all commissioned to work on the restoration plan. They worked quickly to complete it by October of that year.

The Trust was granted planning permission for the restoration, initial archaeology and water trials which would lead to the eventual opening of the gardens to the public for the first time in over three hundred years.

Sir Roy Strong, who had supported the restoration plans from the start, had received a promotional document from Kathy White. At the time, he was researching the Royal Collection catalogue and also recognised the Switzer drawing from the front of the document as being the same as one of the Royal Collection paintings “Figures in a Garden”. At the time the painting was in a dusty attic in Hampton Court Palace. The restored painting now hangs on public view in the palace.

After the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded The Royal Parks Agency funding for the restoration projects for the whole of Bushy Park including the Water Gardens, an exhibition on the history and restoration of The Water Gardens organised by the Friends in conjunction with the Royal Parks was held at the Twickenham Museum, attracting almost five thousand people. One of the visitors was H.R.H. Princess Alexandra who later was to officially open the partially restored Water Gardens in October 2009.

Some months later Kathy White gave a talk to the Friends of Bushy and Home Parks and suggested that one of the annual projects should be to replace the finials on the top of the walls. During 2010 through the generosity of the members of the Friends enough money was collected. The only evidence for what they may have looked like is from engravings and paintings made around the time of the original installation. The originals would have been made of copper, but in this day and age two factors stopped us from using the same material, firstly the cost would have been beyond our means and secondly, the serious danger of metal theft affected the decision. They are actually made of mild steel, galvanised and treated with acid to create the effect of age.

The Friends, together with The Royal Parks, agreed that we should reconstruct them as closely as possible using those pictures. Planning issues again had to be addressed and Gary Gray, a local Architectural and Decorative Metalworker agreed to make them. They are now complete and on show for the first time to the public from Tuesday 28th February.

The addition of the finials has really brought the gardens to life. They look magnificent but there is still more to do in the Water Gardens. According to the pictures and recent archaeological evidence metal reeds adorned the bottom of the walls. Maybe a future annual appeal will help to fully and completely restore the Water Gardens, but for now the finials are there for us all to enjoy.

The gardens are open Tuesdays to Sundays. It is the most important eighteenth century Water Gardens in the country and the Friends will continue to help to fully realise our early dreams of a complete restoration.

Pieter Morpurgo

Walks & Talks

Forthcoming event

Friday, 29th Nov 8:00 pm

John Previte will talk about the history of the Bargeway from Kingston Bridge to Hampton Court Bridge

Latest report

On Saturday 8 June 2019 from 11am to 3pm members of the Friends of Bushy and Home Parks will be at the SHAEF memorial (near SHAEF Gate) and at Teddington Gate to help you envisage the scene 75 years ago when General Dwight D Eisenhower and his staff in Bushy Park were planning the campaign to liberate occupied Europe.

Full report...