Engraving of Marble Hill House in 1749, seen from across the River Thames

Marble Hill Revived

Marble Hill is a much-loved space for both locals and Londoners, young and old, to relax and play. However, since the 1980s it’s seen little investment. Opening times for the historic house are limited, while the park’s original character has been lost. Across Marble Hill, the facilities need upgrading.

Now, with the award of a grant of over £4m by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund from the Parks for People Programme, English Heritage plans to do justice to both house and park through a series of £6m improvements. Find out more below.

Marble Hill House

Our plans for Marble Hill

Key elements of our plans include:

  • conserving the exterior of Marble Hill House to preserve it for future generations
  • installing new interpretation in the house to tell the property’s fascinating stories
  • making admission to the house free, and opening it to the public five days a week for seven months of the year
  • restoring the lost 18th-century garden in places while in others, opening up and replanting overgrown areas to create new spaces
  • creating an extra 17.5 full-time equivalent jobs
  • giving the sports facilities a much-needed upgrade by improving the quality of the pitches, refurbishing the changing rooms, and adding a separate changing area for women for the first time
  • a new play area for children, café and local events programme.

After consulting local residents, we’ve submitted a planning application to the London Borough of Richmond for the physical changes we want to make.  

 

HLF Parks for People logo

Your response to our ideas

We’ve had a very positive response from most people to our proposals for Marble Hill, but we’re aware of some concerns. Here are our responses to some of the questions that have been asked.

General questions

Will you turn Marble Hill Park into a ‘theme park’?

Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to restore the most historically significant area of what is one of the great lost gardens of London. Fortunately many of the park’s original features are not destroyed but overgrown.

The area we’re aiming to restore – which lies directly between the house and the river – is only 13% of Marble Hill Park. Working from a survey of the grounds made in about 1752, and informed by our archaeological excavations, we plan to revive the 18th-century design in this area, planting many trees, and restoring a Ninepin Bowling Alley (which will be more like skittles than a modern bowling alley), flower gardens, terraces and winding paths.

The character of the rest of the park will remain relatively unchanged. Our garden restoration will also open up about 2½ acres (1 hectare) of currently inaccessible woodland.

Why not leave Marble Hill Park as it is?

The significance of Marble Hill’s 18th-century house, collection and landscape is supported by its national designations. Currently, however, awareness of this historic significance is limited because of the restricted opening times of the house and the degradation of the 18th-century pleasure ground.

The sports areas are worn and compacted and in need of intensive maintenance to improve playing conditions, while the sports changing provision is inadequate. The tree stock across the park is in decline. In 2016/17 Marble Hill cost English Heritage £280,000 to run after factoring in all the income generated.

The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund gives us a unique opportunity to revitalise Marble Hill and invest in its long-term future. Leaving it as it is is not an option, as what we’re doing now is not sustainable for English Heritage as a charity.

If we do nothing, the park would almost certainly experience net tree loss due to an ageing and declining tree stock, whereas our tree strategy would prevent this by providing for succession planting. The Marble Hill Revived project will also deliver significant improvements to the sports changing facilities, enabling us not only to upgrade them overall but, for the first time,  to provide separate men’s and women’s changing facilities.

We aim to bring the story of England to life through our properties and the collections they hold, and in doing so, to inspire and excite as many people as possible, to build partnerships and involve local people in the running of our properties, and to conserve and preserve our properties for the benefit of future generations.

Marble Hill Revived will do all these things, and will also reduce the cost of running the property by more than 50% (a reduction of about £150,000). All this will be delivered with over £4 million of HLF funding to which English Heritage would not otherwise have had access.

The landscape and wildlife

Will you have to remove existing trees?

In accordance with best practice guidance for woodland management, some tree clearance will be necessary. The tree works strategy has been informed by extensive arboricultural and ecological surveys, to ensure that we are not removing trees of high quality and value or causing harm to existing habitats. The tree works and proposed replanting take the first step at reversing the lack of cyclical maintenance in the park which has meant that these areas have lost their character and biodiversity value. We have prepared a long-term management and maintenance plan to ensure that proper woodland management practices are adopted for the benefit of future generations.

We will be removing 13 specimen trees from across the park, a decrease from the 31 proposed earlier. Across the park, we will also be removing a further 347 trees which are either dead, in a poor or declining state, or preventing younger, healthier trees from developing. Many of the trees we are removing are young, self-sown trees, poor quality trees and scrub. Their removal will reverse the decline in the tree stock, increase biodiversity and better present this important historic garden with greater diversity and access for park users.

As part of the project we will plant 401 new trees. We are also protecting those that are ecologically or historically important. Overall, this will help to rebalance the age profile of our tree stock, providing trees that can be enjoyed for generations to come.

We have been asked in our planning application to define all the scrubland and woody vegetation we will be removing. Our initial planning documents identified the specimen trees we proposed to remove across the site, and identified areas where ‘scrub’ Category C trees (see below) would be retained, coppiced or removed to reduce overcrowding and enable new tree planting and better tree growth. The planning department asked us to provide more detailed information and we have therefore undertaken further surveys in accordance with British Standard BS5837:2012, which categorises trees as follows:

  • Category A: Tree of high quality with an estimated remaining life expectancy of at least 40 years
  • Category B: Tree of moderate quality with an estimated remaining life expectancy of at least 20 years
  • Category C: Tree of low quality with an estimated remaining life expectancy of at least 10 years, or
    young tree with a stem diameter below 150mm
  • Category U: Tree in such a condition that it cannot realistically be retained as a living tree in the context of the current land use for longer than 10 years.

This exercise has revealed that we will be removing fewer specimen trees than originally planned. All the trees proposed for removal in the woodland areas near the house are in Categories C or U, and 62.6% of these trees have a stem diameter of 150mm or less. Of the eight large trees proposed for removal, with a stem diameter greater than 350mm, four are Category U and four (holly, yew and sycamore) are Category C.

How will you protect wildlife?

Our ecological and bat surveys have identified a variety of habitats and species that need to be conserved and protected, and our final proposals reflect these findings. We will ensure that all necessary Natural England licences are obtained to carry out works that may affect legally protected wildlife.

We are working closely with our consultant ecologist to minimise impact on bats, mammals and birds throughout this process. Habitats will be enhanced to improve biodiversity, and new habitats to support existing and potential species will be created through the re-introduction of the field and ground cover layers with a variety of flowering and fruiting species, providing important foraging opportunities for insects and wildlife.

The latest bat survey has concluded that the proposed works to the woodland quarters will be of benefit to bats because they will open up the woodland structure, which is currently too congested for bats to navigate while foraging.

Will the extra trees disrupt sport?

New tree planting will only take place in areas that aren’t currently used for sport. Most will be planted in the area between the house and the river. We are not proposing any change to the number of sports pitches currently provided.

Who will look after all these new areas and features?

As well as new site staff, we will also being employing a head gardener/volunteer manager and trainee to manage the horticultural needs of the site, and a team of volunteers who will care for it. We would love as many people as possible to be involved with this.

Traffic management

Will this project see a big increase in traffic?

For the most part, we’re hoping to inspire local residents – who already visit the park – to enjoy the house and the new facilities. Given that, and Marble Hill’s excellent public transport links, we don’t expect a major increase in traffic once we’ve opened the house and new café. On average, we expect an extra 40 cars per day.

We’re confident that any traffic increase can be easily accommodated in the existing car park – something our traffic survey has confirmed. We are working closely with the local planning authority to introduce measures which will make the Marble Hill car park more attractive to use than nearby on-street parking.

Are you proposing a coach park?

We’re not proposing a coach park but a single coach pick-up/drop-off bay, primarily for school groups rather than coach tours.

Café and events programme

Will the new café be an eyesore and a source of more noise and smells?

Our new café will sit within the courtyard behind the Coach House and will have minimal visual impact on the park and house. It’s a café, not a restaurant, and the menu will reflect this. The opening hours will be very similar to what they are now – the café will only open during the day and will close at 5pm.

It costs English Heritage £280,000 a year to run Marble Hill. The money we raise from the café will help offset that cost, meaning we can spend more money caring for Marble Hill itself. 

Do you plan to install a marquee for weddings?

We would like to erect a temporary marquee for weddings. It would be to the side of the house, in an area currently not open to the public and well screened behind greenery. At the moment, we host about six weddings a year at Marble Hill. Our aim is to increase this to a maximum of 12 a year. However, the current planning application does not include these proposals, so we will not be able to offer marquee weddings at Marble Hill without submitting a separate planning application specifically for this purpose.

Do you plan to hold more large-scale events?

The ‘events’ referred to in our planning application are small events for 50–100 people. Our proposals for Marble Hill don’t depend on the income from any large-scale events to make them viable. The restoration of the historic garden will make it harder rather than easier to host large-scale events, and we would only give serious consideration to such events if they would cause minimal disruption to local residents.

We commit to delivering no more than two large-scale events per annum over the next five years. In reality, there will almost certainly be fewer than this.

Dog-walking and play area

Do you want to make Marble Hill Park dog-free?

That is not part of the current planning application, but we would like to create a dog-free area between the house and the river. Most of the park (87%) would remain unchanged and open to dogs.

We’re aware that there is support for a dog-free area – from families with young children in particular – but also some opposition. We want to understand everyone’s concerns and find the best solution. If most local residents feel that a dog-free area would not be in the best interests of Marble Hill park users, we will not create one.

Why are you planning a new children’s play area?

At our consultation events parents told us they want us to put in play equipment, and that they would like it to be near the café. Play equipment will be designed for children up to nine years old, and will help to engage wider audiences with the historic landscape.

The play area will still provide a safe, dog-free area for young children to crawl, run, get messy, etc, with provision for parents and carers to sit and relax.

Background to the project

Henrietta Howard in about 1724, by Charles Jervas

This portrait of Henrietta Howard by Charles Jervas was painted in about 1724, when work on Marble Hill House was just beginning

Henrietta Howard and Marble Hill

Henrietta Howard (1689–1767) is best known for being the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later King George II – but that is only a part of her life story. Orphaned at the age of 12, she was married aged 16 to a drunk and a gambler, and from quite a young age was partially deaf, but she overcame these circumstances to become one of the most liked ladies of the royal court.

It was during her 20 years at court that she began to build Marble Hill House at Twickenham as a retreat from court life. Here at Marble Hill, Henrietta built friendships and networks to become central to the ‘Twickenham set’, including Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay and Horace Walpole, and triumphed over adversity to marry again, happily, later in life.

Our new interpretation will re-animate the house with tales of the vibrant cast of characters around Henrietta, from family members to visitors to pet dogs.

Read more about Henrietta Howard
The survey of Marble Hill made in about 1752

We will base our restoration of the garden on this survey of Marble Hill made in about 1752. © Norfolk Record Office, MC184/10/1 (rights reserved)

the Historic Landscape

Henrietta Howard’s garden is a rare surviving example of an early 18th-century villa landscape. It was designed to provide an appropriately ‘ancient’ setting for the villa itself, which was in the classically inspired Palladian style. Key figures in the history of designed landscapes, including Charles Bridgeman and the poet Alexander Pope, played a part in the garden’s creation.

Marble Hill became a public park in 1902, after a campaign to protect the land from development and save the famous view from Richmond Hill – the only English landscape view protected by Act of Parliament. Today it’s a much-loved and lively local amenity, used for sports as well as a tranquil retreat from city life.

Currently, though, the park reflects neither the landscape’s 18th-century origins, nor Henrietta’s story. English Heritage plans to restore elements of her lost garden, which lay directly between the house and the river. Key features, based on a detailed plan made in about 1752, will be recreated for the first time, including a ninepin bowling alley, flower gardens, terraces and serpentine paths.  

Read more about the historic landscape

More about Marble Hill

  • Design for ‘a House in Twittenham’ by Colen Campbell, published in 1725

    History of Marble Hill

    Read a full history of this English Palladian villa and its gardens beside the Thames, from its origins in the 1720s as a retreat from court life for Henrietta Howard to the present day.

  • Henrietta Howard, 9th Countess of Suffolk

    Henrietta Howard

    Read more about the life of Henrietta Howard, and how she overcame personal adversity to become an extraordinary figure in Georgian court society.

  • The survey of Marble Hill made in about 1752.  © Norfolk Record Office, MC184/10/1 (rights reserved)

    Henrietta Howard’s garden at Marble Hill

    Find out what makes the garden between the house and the river at Marble Hill so significant, what we know about it, and how English Heritage plans to restore it.

  • A View from Richmond Hill by Antonio Joli, c.1750  © By kind permission of the Richmond Borough Art Collection, Orleans House Gallery

    The View from Richmond Hill

    See how artists have depicted the panoramic view from Richmond Hill over the centuries and find out how Marble Hill was saved thanks to a campaign to preserve this view.

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