New £30m RHS Garden To Bring 1m Tourists

Jonathan Schofield loves the idea of re-invigorating a classic Victorian garden

Written by  Jonathan Schofield | Follow @jonathschofield | Tuesday, 22 December 2015 07:57

THIS IS a plan to boost tourism that only the most sour of Greater Mancunians could disagree with. We are to have in three years a place of beauty in Salford in which to linger and wonder.

This project seems a cast-iron winner. The three letters RHS are international shorthand for horticultural excellence

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has unveiled plans to create a £30m 156 acre RHS Garden in the heart of the North West by bringing back to life the lost historic grounds at Worsley New Hall in Salford. The site forms part of the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate and adjoins the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley, Salford. 

RHS Garden Bridgewater (taking its name from the Duke) is planned to open in 2019 as part of the RHS’ wider ten year investment programme to achieve its vision 'to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place'. The name will not be RHS Worsley as that might confuse people with the RHS's head office at Wisley.  

Walled Garden todayWalled garden today
Terrace and lake todayTerrace and lake today

The idea is to attract up to one million visitors a year within a decade from the opening in 2019. The delights will include the restoration of a ten acre walled kitchen garden, one of the largest in the UK, plus the restoration of a spectacular terrace. There will also be a new Learning Centre for schools. 

The initiative is the collaboration between the owners of the historic estate, Peel Land and Property, Salford City Council and the RHS. Salford City Council will invest £3 million per year of capital funds over the next three years (£9 million in total) to secure the 999 year lease with £5 million ‘in-kind’ budgeted to support work with the RHS to get local people and community groups involved. 

A further £5 million from the Highways Capital Programme will go towards delivery of highway infrastructure works including new road improvements which will also benefit the wider city. This will be phased over five years starting in 2016/17, with other highways funding being sought locally, regionally and nationally. 

What is certain is that this project seems a cast-iron winner. The three letters RHS are international shorthand for horticultural excellence. Previous Salford City Council cash of £300,000 for the pioneering but doomed 'green' initiative, the Biospheric Project, shows that risks don't always pay off. There should be no such risk with RHS Bridgewater - although traffic congestion despite the £5m infrastructure investment looks set to be an issue in an already rammed part of the M60 motorway. 

Aerial view whenAerial view when decline had set in during the 2oth century

RHS Garden Bridgewater will join the RHS’ current portfolio of gardens at Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Hyde Hall in Essex and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire.

RHS Director General, Sue Biggs, says: “We always thought it would take us a long time to find the ideal site for our fifth garden, but with its beautiful landscapes, good public transport links and outstanding location, Worsley New Hall was an opportunity we couldn’t miss."

Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart said: “Without our support for the garden it will not happen. For every single pound  we invest in this we will see several pounds come back into our city. This is capital investment – not money which can be spent on front line services.” 

Councillors backed the proposal which will underpin the delivery of the garden alongside RHS’ investment of £25 million over the next decade. 

Worsley New Hall was built in the 1840s and designed by Edward Blore (1787-1879) who is perhaps most famous for giving the nation the main facade of Buckingham Palace on the Mall. The building was trendily Gothic in counterpoint to so many of the nation's Palladian and Classical country palaces. It was demolished in 1949 by which time it was ruin, the upkeep having proved beyond subsequent owners to the Egerton family - the Dukes of Bridgewater.

Worsley New HallWorsley New Hall 

The gardens were the work of the prolific and much sought after William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881). The Gardener’s Chronicle described the New Hall and its grounds in 1846:

‘This magnificent residence lies about eight miles west of Manchester. The mansion is beautifully situated on a rising knoll, the gentle acclivity of which the approach imparts to a great degree of dignity. In the east may be seen the wild and lofty blue hills of Derbyshire, whilst the fertile county of Cheshire lies within view on the south. The celebrated Chat Moss lies in this direction formerly covered with impenetrable swamps, but now bearing the impress of civilization. Skirting the declivity of the park may be seen the famous Bridgewater Canal winding along the vale, which is beautifully skirted by rich meadows and woods, the whole forming a picture full of interest.’

The gardens became famous for the large walled garden and the terrace above the lake - before everything fell into disrepair after World War I. It's these elements the RHS will concentrate on restoring. The designer will be Tom Stuart-Smith who has designed eight gold medal-winning gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show, with three being awarded best in show status. 

If, as predicted, the revitalised gardens do attract over one million guests per year then it will become easily the most popular tourist attraction within Greater Manchester. Whichever way you look at this idea there seems to be no downside except maybe one. Let's hope an adequate public transport system can be developed to bring people to the site from across the towns and cities of Greater Manchester.

Terrace as it lookedThe terrace as it looked