Old Park has ornamental gardens within wooded grounds, with a lake and a path to the shore. The sheltered site, which occupies about 6.5 hectares, has a number of sub-tropical plant species.
Old Park is situated within the area known as Undercliff to the east of Mirables and west of Woolverton Manor. The wooded grounds around the house include an ornamental lake, and there is a path to the beach at Binnel Point.
The following features were observed on a site visit by members of the Isle of Wight Gardens Trust in 1995:
Restored portion of rill to north of house.
Walled gardens (in 1995 in use as an aviary).
Gate piers at the entrance to the Old Park estate on Old Park Road.
Stone bridge between the eastern lake and the site of the western lake.
Rockwork - a natural outcrop in the grounds to the south-east.
Random rubble stone perimeter wall surrounding the grounds to the west and south.
Two adjacent rustic stone archways, one piercing the perimeter wall, the other leading west to a former circular shrubbery walk.
Stone ashlar gate piers at the south-east corner of the grounds.
Tollgate Cottage (Listed Grade II) erected by Sir John Cheape on Undercliff Drive.
An octagonal rustic stone bath house to survives to the north of the house, roofless but with an entrance arch and 7 arched windows. The interior is brick lined with dressed stone dado and shelf. The upper walls are plastered. A tile lined pool, now infilled, was set into floor. This building is shown on the Ordnance Survey (OS) 6" map of 1909.
The outline of the northernmost mill pond survives, now empty but with a stream flowing through. The mill dam, which was constructed of stone rubble and soil, has been breached at the base, allowing the water to pass through. RRemnants of astone and brick building can be seen to the west of the stream on the beach. This is probably the ruined mill shown on the OS of 1866.
Remnants of the breakwater shown on the OS 1909 6" map of 1909.
A ha-ha consisting of a section of wall with a ditch to the east is visible from SZ 52660 75884 to SZ 52671 75858. South of this section the feature appears to have been lost to natural slumping and cliff erosion. North of the visible section the ditch of the ha-ha has been backfilled (Isle of Wight Sites and Monuments Record (Historic Environment Record) 3426).
The following historical detail, including references, was supplied by the Isle of Wight Gardens Trust:
Place names associated with the area of Old Park in the medieval period include "The Warren" and "Green Park".
A charter of free warren was granted to John de Insula in 1309 (Whitehead 1911).
The Worsley family of Appuldurcombe later owned the estate, possibly from the 16th century, and Old Park may be so called to distinguish it from another property on the Appuldurcombe estate known as "Park".
The middle part of the Undercliff is shown as "S. Lawrence Park" on John Speed's map of 1611. The first recorded mention of the name of "Old Park" is in 1628 (pers.comm Robin Thornton 1994).
The history of the house and grounds is covered in detail by Phillippa Lambert (2001), whose report includes a full analysis of past and present features, based on map and documentary evidence. The following account is mainly based on Lambert.
Old Park was sold by the 1st Baron Yarborough to Thomas Haddon in about 1820. Haddon transformed the house from a simple farm into a marina villa and laid out the ornamental grounds, including two linked lakes, an ornamental dairy, a seawater bathing pool/house and a mill on the foreshore. He also built the walled gardens for use as a vineyard.
Sir John Cheape purchased the house in 1862. He added an east wing and a new entrance to the house, drained the lake to the north of the house and constructed the lower road.
In 1881 Old Park was bought by William Spindler (a German industrialist) who intended to build a coastal resort to rival Ventnor. He started to build an esplanade to link up with Ventnor but this was never completed because of opposition from the Yarborough family (pers.comm.Robin Thornton 1994). Spindler added a staircase to the house and modernised the heating and water supply system. A massive planting scheme was undertaken, involving over one million trees and shrubs with numerous shelter belts. Sub-tropical planting was undertaken in the pleasure grounds. A greenhouse and orchid house was constructed in the walled garden. Drainage work was carried out on the estate and the remaining lake was remodelled. Following the death of Mrs Spindler the estate was advertised for sale but remained unsold until 1948.
In the early 20th century Ventnor Urban council purchased the walled gardens for use as market gardens and in the Second World War they were used as piggeries.
In 1948 Old Park was purchased by Mr William Thornton, who also bought back the walled gardens in 1953. From 1948 to 1962 Old Park was developed as a hotel by William Thornton. From 1962 to 1999 the Old Park Hotel was owned and run by Mr and Mrs Robin Thornton.
Between 1972 and 1999 a tropical bird park was maintained in the walled gardens as a tourist attraction.
In 1999 the Old Park Hotel was sold to new owners. The hotel (Listed Grade II) incorporates part of the original vernacular farmhouse, encased by later additions including the picturesque gothic west wing added by Thomas Haddon and the ‘Elizabethan' east wing with Dutch gables built by Sir John Cheape. A modern hotel extension has been built to the south east with a linking passage to the main building.
In 2002 planning permission was given for a new development within and adjacent to the walled gardens. This involved the restoration of the walled gardens as private gardens, the construction of a new house on the site of the former ticket office to the tropical bird park and restoration of the lake. The planned development took place, the new property being called ‘Haddon House'.
Planning permission was also given for the construction of a new house on the stone cellar and base walls of Spindler's orchid house, retaining much of the underground structure.
Before the planned developments took place Isle of Wight Gardens Trust members carried out a survey of the walled gardens, orchid house and other structures.
The Ordnance Survey (OS) 1866 25" map shows a main drive from the north-east which approached the house over a bridge between two lakes. A wooded shelter belt surrounded the grounds, with more scattered trees allowing a sea view to the south of the house. A drive or path followed the perimeter of the grounds on the outer side of the boundary. There was a curving path to the shelter belt to the west and south of the house and formal tree planting on the lawn. The walled gardens are shown to the east of the house. A path ran from the western edge of the grounds to the shore beside the mill ruins.
The OS 1898 25" map shows the lower approach road, a new drive to north west of house and the loss of the western lake.
The OS 1909 25" map shows rectangular windbreaks planted either side of Undercliff Drive, and a serpentine rill within the grounds to the south west of the house, fed by a spring and stream to north of the house. A "South Avenue" is shown to the south of the gardens and a "Breakwater" is shown on the beach.