Re-Discovering Walmer's Lost Pleasure Grounds
In a £2.3m project at Walmer Castle, English Heritage is taking action to revive and reunite gardens begun by William Pitt the Younger, assisted by his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope.
The wild flower meadow known as the Paddock and the planted former chalk quarry called the Glen were once part of a delightful 19th-century garden landscape that nature, over time, partially reclaimed such that both were inaccessible.
Read on to find out what we've done to recover these lost features, re-unite them into the pleasure grounds, and re-present them for future generations to enjoy.
Background to the Project
Begun in 1802 by William Pitt , the landscaping we’re seeking to preserve was completed by Lord Liverpool after 1806, then used, enjoyed and adapted by successive Lords Warden – notably the Broadwalk introduced by the 2nd Earl Granville in the late 1860s and the ‘keyhole’ view created by the 7th Earl Beauchamp during his tenure as Lord Warden (1913-34).
The Glen had been overgrown and difficult to access for around a hundred years, and was at a critical point in its decline. In the woodland perimeter walk, holly and yew trees dominated, blocking light and suppressing the ground flora below. No space was available to re-establish upper canopy trees lost in the gales of 1987 and 1990. In the Paddock meadow, open areas became filled in by the encroachment of self-set trees, pushing out the grassland flora and fauna. A lack of wayfinding clues, poor path surfaces, and restricted access made it increasingly difficult for visitors to enjoy this distinct area of the site.
Were we to have let this continue, an important element of William Pitt's legacy and the final part of Walmer Castle’s evolution from a coastal fort to a stately home would be undetectable, and the story of the pleasure grounds disconnected from the story of the castle. Clearly, urgent intervention was needed, and thanks to the support we received, it has been possible to halt the deterioration and revive this wonderful historic landscape.Discover the history of Walmer's Gardens
In addition to the rejuvenation of the historic pleasure grounds, the project has allowed us an excellent opportunity to make improvements to our visitor facilities. Over the course of the project we've addressed the following:
- Paths throughout the woodland have been restored according to historic plans
- We've helped the historic grounds reclaim their natural flora and fauna in a mix of habitats
- We've managed the meadow to support the vulnerable and distinct flora and fauna associated with chalk grassland
- We have worked to re-present the Glen, inspired by the evergreen plantings mentioned in letters written by Lady Hester Stanhope
- We've restored the ‘keyhole’ view created by the 7th Earl Beauchamp and recorded photographically in the 1920s.
- The gardeners’ compound has been re-developed to provide improved facilities for the care and maintenance of the garden
- We've created a new Glasshouse Café, allowing visitors to enjoy refreshments in the beautiful setting of the Kitchen Garden
- We've installed new tactile interpretation panels, and introduced a free family trail leaflet, updated multimedia guide, volunteer led tours and activities along with new toilet facilities
- We've worked with our community in outreach and on-site activities, as well as offering additional job roles and volunteering opportunities
- We've created a hub for community and educational activity through a new purpose-built learning room
May 2018The Project Begins
Work officially begins on the project with a groundbreaking ceremony held at Walmer by Walker Construction.
Construction work begins on the new learning room, replacing old pre-fabricated buildings that made up the gardeners compound.
Supports which will hold up the visitor staircase allowing access to the glen are now installed.
A crane moves large containers and materials around the old gardener's compound area.
With the adjacent prefabricated toilet block now removed, work gets underway on the Glasshouse cafe.
Foundations and walls of the new learning centre are now complete.
The visitor staircase allowing access to the Glen is installed.
Clearing work begins on the Glen, and pathways are set down. The area begins to take shape.
Clearing in the Glen turns up a number of unusual artefacts.
Pathways in the Glen are nearing completion.
The installation of the new natural play trail, with equipment designed by Studio Hardie, gets underway in the woodland and Glen.
April 2019The Glasshouse Cafe Opens
The new glasshouse cafe is now open, for the first time allowing visitors to enjoy snacks and refreshments in the beautiful setting of the Kitchen Garden.
Easter 2019New Interpretation is Installed
The improved visitor facilities and garden interpretation are now available for visitors to enjoy. New tactile displays tell the story of Walmer's gardens as never before.
The Project nears completion
We are now moving into the final stages of the project, and are excited to be nearing the completion of our efforts to rediscover Walmer's lost pleasure grounds. The Glen is now accessible for the first time in over 100 years, and children can now also enjoy freshly build natural play equipment throughout the grounds. The final phase of the project will see the completion of the Learning Centre, the first new building at Walmer for 145 years.Read our News Story
Join presenter Charles Rowe on the English Heritage Podcast, as he meets senior properties historian Paul Pattison and head gardener Mark Brent. In this episode, discover the story of the castle and its gardens, and find out what you can expect to see at the newly rediscovered Walmer Castle.
Working with our Community
A key aspect of this project is the value we hope it will bring to those living in the local area, which is why community engagement has been made a key element of the project’s objectives. Support provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund has allowed us to open up new opportunities for local people to get involved in the gardens. We are working with a diverse range of community groups, including young people, schools, families and people with disabilities and mental health difficulties, to ensure our offer is as inclusive and empowering as possible.
As the project progresses, we will implement a number of additional community outreach and on-site activities, from horticultural and creative workshops, to gardening activities, flower shows and garden tours. We intend for Walmer to become a hub of community and educational activity with learning and volunteering opportunities at its heart.
If you would like to take part in this project, visit our volunteering page and find out what opportunities are available at Walmer today. You can also browse our jobs page to find out about upcoming employment opportunities in the gardens.Find out More
We would like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their generous support of this project
Explore Walmer's Gardens
Queen Mother's Garden
Enjoy the Queen Mother's Garden, gifted to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her 95th birthday.
See one of the glories of Walmer; the magnificent Broadwalk.
The Kitchen Garden
Explore the fruit trees, vegetable beds and glasshouses of Walmer's Kitchen Garden.
Seasonal Garden Highlights
From spring sowing to autumn pumpkins, discover the best of Walmer's growing season.