The Parks and Gardens UK project is the culmination of some 30 years' work to gather and publish information about historic parks, gardens and designed green spaces in the UK.
Its immediate predecessor was the UK Database of Historic Parks and Gardens (UKPG). This project began in 1993, but its forerunners date back to the 1970s, and are intertwined with the pioneering work to record historic gardens that led to the establishment of the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
The beginnings of a national survey
Garden History Society (GHS) member Peter Goodchild first proposed the idea of a national survey and inventory of historic parks and gardens in 1973. A working group led by GHS Honorary Secretary Mavis Batey listed some 300 sites of special historic interest in each county in England and Wales.
At about the same time, the ICOMOS UK Historic Gardens Committee organised a similar initiative, co-ordinated by Peter Goodchild. The results were published in 1977 as A preliminary and interim list of gardens and parks of outstanding historic interest.
In the mid-1970s, Mavis Batey approached the Department of the Environment with the idea of compiling a national inventory. There was no money available, but the Department agreed to a voluntary pilot project by the GHS in partnership with the Historic Buildings Council (HBC).
County lists are prepared
Jennifer Jenkins, Chairman of the HBC, set up an unofficial Gardens Sub-Committee in 1977 to advise on matters relating to historic parks and gardens in England and Wales. Its work included the preparation of county lists of places of special interest in a national context. The committee did not have any official resources to assist its work, but received considerable voluntary help from Derek Sherborn, chief lister at the HBC.
This work continued over the next six years, involving many dedicated GHS volunteers, independent experts and some local authorities. Avon, Buckinghamshire and East Sussex were among the first areas to produce information on historic gardens locally. By 1983, initial lists had been prepared for 21 counties.
The Centre for the Conservation of Historic Parks and Gardens
Meanwhile, Peter Goodchild had become a Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies (IoASS), part of the University of York, where in 1982 he set up the Centre for the Conservation of Historic Parks and Gardens (CCHPG), funded by the Countryside Commission.
The CCHPG provided a focus for the National Survey and Inventory of Historic Parks and Gardens, and a home for the survey work carried out by the GHS and others.
National registers for England, Scotland and Wales
The National Heritage Act 1983 brought into being the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission (HBMC) - more commonly known as English Heritage - which first opened its doors in April 1984.The Act enabled English Heritage to set up a register of historic gardens of national importance, which was initiated in 1983 by Jennifer Jenkins, based on the work done by volunteers under the guidance of the HBC Gardens Sub-Committee. The CCHPG was commissioned to establish a format and organise the material for the first batch of registers.
The English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England was published between 1984 and 1988, initially featuring 1085 gardens.
The Scottish Development Department and the Countryside Commission for Scotland followed with an Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in 1986, and Wales began to issue the Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales in parts from 1994 onwards.
The UK-wide survey continues
Work on the CCHPG National Survey and Inventory continued. Its remit was broader than that of the English and Welsh Registers and the Scottish Inventory as it covered historic parks and gardens of local and regional importance - as well as those of national significance - across the UK.
The CCHPG continued to prepare further batches of county registers for English Heritage until the work was taken over directly by Christopher Thacker, who was appointed English Heritage's first Inspector of Historic Gardens.
The methodology, standard forms and guidance for recording gardens developed since 1978 by Peter Goodchild had established many of the underpinning principles for the early work by the GHS and work on the registers. In this way the principles used by English Heritage, the CCHPG, the UKPG - and now Parks & Gardens UK - have evolved together.
After 1984, various agencies continued to record historic parks and gardens, including the GHS and several local authorities. County gardens trusts (CGTs) began to appear in the 1980s. The first was Sussex in 1980, followed by Hampshire in 1984 and Avon in 1986.
The Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT), formed in 1991, now represents 37 trusts, many of which have contributed information to the CCHPG's Survey and Inventory.
A UK-wide database
As work on the Survey and Inventory progressed, the idea of a database to provide a single point for the collection and sharing of historic garden research gained momentum. As well as aiding planning and conservation, such a resource would enable exploration and analysis of gardens across geographical boundaries.
The first attempt to computerise the Inventory, using the program Dbase III, failed due to a lack of funding. Then in 1993 Dr. Judith Roberts, Research Fellow in Landscapes and Gardens at the IoASS began to develop a database using Microsoft Access.
This became the UK Database of Historic Parks and Gardens, which gained financial backing from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. In 1995 David Jacques, previously Inspector of Parks and Gardens at English Heritage, became the director of UKPG at York.
Initially the project concentrated on assembling the information already available. County councils and CGTs continued to play a key role in producing regional surveys to extend the coverage offered by the lists from national bodies. The database and data entry procedures were carefully designed to ensure that information was consistent.
In September 1998, the major fields of the database were published on the Internet, making UKPG the first online record of its kind in the world.
The web site quickly drew many visitors, and three years later the site was revised to allow remote data entry. Most of the Welsh Register was installed this way. Eventually, the UKPG database included some 3,300 sites in England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland.
Heritage Lottery Fund backing
Between 1998 and 2000 various options were explored for secure funding to expand the UKPG database and web site. At that time the partners were the GHS, the AGT and the Archaeology Department, University of York.
In June 2001, the three partners, at the suggestion of English Heritage, submitted a bid for a development grant to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), as the first part of a two-stage process which, if successful, would lead to the final project.
In July 2002 the HLF awarded the partnership £30,400 towards a total cost of £40,600. The balance was met by a grant of £4,000 from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, together with volunteer time. The contract was signed in February 2003 for a period of six months.
In August 2003 the second stage of the bid was submitted to HLF, but in December 2003 the GHS withdrew as a partner in the project. The HLF requested that further work be undertaken under the Stage 1 Development Grant, to be completed by August 2004.
The revised Stage 2 bid to the HLF made by the Parks and Gardens Data Partnership (established between the AGT and University of York) was accepted in December 2004. Following negotiations the contract was signed in June 2005, and the Parks & Gardens UK project got under way in September 2005.