Uncovering Wanstead Park

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With Wanstead Park on the English Heritage At Risk Register and with many of the park's key features overgrown by shrubs and bushes, Laura Lawson, Projects Officer for the City of London, explains the plans being developed to restore and revitalise the park.

Wanstead Park was originally designed as part of the grand estate attached to Wanstead House, home of the Tylney family. The landscaping included a system of lakes, constructed around the house, and extensive tree planting. The house was completed in 1720 as a magnificent mansion, said to rival Hampton Court.

Unfortunately, to clear bankruptcy debts, the contents were auctioned off in 1822 and the house itself was sold in 1823 for demolition. The purchaser was obliged to clear everything, down to the foundations. The site now lies under Wanstead Golf Club, adjacent to the public park. In 1881, the City of London purchased part of the lands of Wanstead Park and opened them to the public in 1882.

Wanstead Park is a Grade II* landscape on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. In 2009, the park was added to the English Heritage At Risk Register due to concerns that the landscape was in a poor condition and at risk of further decline. It is understood that one of English Heritage's main concerns lies in the segregation of the park, as the ownership is divided between the City of London (the main public park and outer park areas, such as Bushwood and the west of Wanstead Flats), Wanstead Sports Ground Ltd (the golf course, tennis courts and cricket club) and the Church. This has resulted in very different styles of management of the listed park, appropriate to each owner's requirements but lacking in integration and sympathy to the original layout.

The public park has been neglected over the years and structures such as the Grade II Listed Grotto are themselves at risk. In addition to this, there is a lack of specific site management and poor quality infrastructure which, if you are able to access the park, detracts from the overall visitor experience to this amazing, large park in east London.

The City of London are taking the park's at risk status very seriously and have taken the lead in developing a plan to rectify the problems. Through competitive appointment, Chris Blandford Associates were tasked, in November last year, with producing a Conservation Statement for the park by the end of March. A Conservation Statement is a high level statement of the site's heritage significance. It is hoped that, on completion of the statement, a funding bid can be put together to gain financial support to complete the next stage, a Conservation Management Plan.

The Conservation Statement will have a particular focus on the landscape history, ecology, associated buildings and hydrology of the park along with what can be done to integrate the sports facilities. It will consider connectivity and links to the wider Green Infrastructure Network helping to encourage access and passage for humans and wildlife alike.

Some initial work was completed in the first week of January to clear the Grotto, carefully removing ivy and bramble by hand and allowing experts to get close to the structure to see just what state the ruin is in. Involvement days were organised to meet the clearance deadline. Larger, more established trees were taken out by qualified Epping Forest arborists but the majority of the hard work came from volunteers, including Epping Forest office staff, local community group members and members of the public. It was a cold, wet couple of days but everyone who participated in the clearance work left smiling.

The timetable is very tight, but allows the City of London to hit the necessary funding application deadlines. This is a very strong reason to complete the Conservation Statement stage by the end of March. An initial household survey of local residents has been completed, with around 2,500 leaflets distributed by local volunteers. Feedback has also been received from the children and teachers of Wanstead High School.

The Project Team also attended an evening meeting organised by the Wanstead Parklands Community Project last month. This gave the group and members of the public the opportunity to raise issues early and give their input.

The draft statement will be consulted on formally this month. This public consultation will include

an exhibition at the Temple, feedback forms, guided walks, and a 'drop-in' event during the second week.

Wanstead Park has a fascinating history and the remaining landscape features within it help to tell its story. However, many of the key aspects are shrouded by the overgrown shrubs and bushes. Through working with landowners, local authorities and local residents, we hope to encourage more people to visit and enjoy the park.

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Public Consultation Dates

Exhibition: Daily from Monday 14 to Monday 28 February, 10am to 5pm (to 2pm on Wednesday 23 February) at The Temple, Wanstead Park. Project Team surgery between 12 noon and 2pm (Monday to Friday only).

'Drop-in' evening session: Wednesday 23 February, 3pm to 9pm at Wanstead Golf Club.

Event weekend: Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 February at the Temple, Wanstead Park. Including guided walks and educational sessions. Call 020 8532 1010 for more details.


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