The council’s Technical Officers Landscape Liaison Group, of which Bil was chair, began in June 1970 to draft a preservation scheme for Hestercombe.
Former art student Libby Stubbings was employed for 18 months to draw up plans for restoring the borders. She sourced original photographs and interviewed former members of gardening staff.
Roy Cheek, a senior lecturer in horticulture at Somerset College of Agriculture and Horticulture at Cannington (commonly known simply as ‘Cannington') was a member of the group, and recalls that there was great enthusiasm for the project, although no money was available as yet.
‘It started in a small way with different people doing what they could in the various departments,' he recalls. ‘I was going to Hestercombe every Wednesday afternoon, and gradually, border by border, listing all the plants that were there and trying to identify those that were original.'
Bil continued to canvass for a restoration of the gardens until by 1972 the political climate was favourable. The chief fire officer, Leslie Johnson, who had taken over from Len Bullion in the same year, was asked by the Fire and Civil Protection Committee in March 1972 to have the maintenance of the gardens at Hestercombe examined.
A detailed assessment of the levels and types of work in the gardens was carried out by the council's management services unit, and Ray Hitchcock chief administrative officer to the fire brigade, prepared figures for the committee, recommending that an additional gardener be employed.
The pergola in 1972/3
Steps from the Orangery to
the Dutch Garden in 1973
Staircase to the Grey Walk
Alongside this, the county architect's department agreed to explore the restoration issues.
Bil engaged a team from the Somerset College of Art (staff members Tom Murrow, David Farrant and Ros Carter, and student Libby Stubbings), to draw up a presentation. A report on the condition of the gardens, with proposals for repair of the surfaces and structures, and suggestions for the reinstatement of the Jekyll planting, was supported by a set of black-and-white photographs showing the present state of the gardens.
The presentation was put before the Fire and Civil Protection Committee in April 1973 by Leslie Johnson and county architect Bernard Adams. The committee agreed a programme of restoration to be phased over the next five years.
The minutes of the meeting of 6 April 1973 state that ‘the County Council have a special responsibility to preserve this unique part of our heritage and we therefore propose to take practical measures without delay to arrest the decline and gradually restore the gardens to their former glory'.
A sum of £1,800 from the fire brigade maintenance fund was agreed to begin the work. This was to cover the cost of employing a second gardener and some additional part-time labour, together with £150 for a new, light-weight lawn mower and £750 for the first year's planting.
The Crown Estate Commissioners as landlords agreed to play their part in repairing the stonework, paths, pillars and other structures, while Cannington offered to propagate plants.