Mill Wood 18th Century Pleasure Garden Purchase and Restoration Campaign
Halswell Estate, Goathurst, Quantock Hills
The Halswell Park Trust (HPT), with the help of the Somerset Gardens Trust (SGT) and the Somerset Building Preservation Trust (SBPT) is leading a campaign to purchase and restore part of the Halswell Park Estate, an English Heritage listed Park and Garden of national, and perhaps international importance.
The origins of Halswell House go back to the 11th century, the main part of which is Grade I listed, comprising an 18th century frontage to an earlier Tudor dwelling. The parkland was created by Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte between 1745 and 1785 and was designed as a setting for the house. It included a number of very fine ornamental ponds, cascades and bridges. Two of these buildings were restored by the SBPT in the 1980s and 90s: the Temple of Harmony, now managed by the HPT; and Robin Hoods Hut, now owned by the Landmark Trust.
The Temple of Harmony (Grade II*), based upon the design of the 1st century Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, was designed to be the centre piece of Mill Wood, an approximately 20 acre pleasure garden to the west of, but detached from, Halswell House. Mill Wood contains a stream with a natural spring, five lakes, cascades, bridges and other ornamental structures, two of which are Grade II listed and on the English Heritage 'at risk' register. The landscape was originally created within an ancient woodland, planted with sweet chestnuts enhanced with daffodils and other plant species.
During the middle of the 20th century the Halswell Estate was sold and split into various private ownerships. Some 750 ancient Mill Wood trees were felled for timber and the lakes and structures fell into disrepair. In 2009 English Heritage wrote to the then owners of site identifying it as one of the more 'at risk' parks and gardens in the area. Without the funds to carry out essential repairs, the site was placed on the open market and quickly sold. The new owners undertook an energetic clearance project but in 2012, having been unable to secure planning permission for an alternative use, the site was offered to the HPT on a first refusal basis.
In late 2012 the HPT submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a holistic project to include purchase of the land and restoration of the lakes, woodland and listed structures with the intention of providing public access, enhanced natural habitats, community, educational and arts activities. In March 2013 the HPT received an initial rejection from the HLF, but were encouraged to re-submit their application with changes.
It is anticipated that a second application will be submitted later this year. In the meantime, a fundraising and awareness campaign has been launched to try and secure the purchase of the site as soon as possible and to investigate long term viable uses of the site which will ensure its long-term future.