The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has received a grant of £98,900 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to turn historic Potting Sheds into an exhibition space at RHS Garden Bridgewater. The development is the latest in the creation of the RHS’s fifth garden, which will open in 2020.
The Sheds are one of the original features in the grounds of Worsley New Hall, which was created in the 1840s by the first Earl of Ellesmere. Together with the Stables, Bothy and the Weston Walled Garden, they form one of the largest complete Victorian Gardens in the UK. Thanks to National Lottery players, they will be restored and turned into a dynamic gallery space to reveal the garden’s rich and fascinating history.
The 154-acre site of RHS Garden Bridgewater has a history stretching from the earliest times to the present day. Fossils of giant club mosses, precursors of trees, were found on the site in the 1920’s, casting light on the land around 300 million years ago when it was covered in bogs and swamps. A Roman Road also ran through it, and in 1957 the garrotted head of an Anglo-Saxon man, dating from the 2nd century AD, was found buried in a peat bog.
In its heyday, Worsley New Hall was a notable residence of its era and the magnificent gardens, landscaped over a 50-year period, were equally impressive. Queen Victoria visited twice, in 1851 and 1857, and the hall became a British Red Cross hospital during the First World War. After this time the hall and the gardens fell into decline, and in the Second World War parts of the hall were requisitioned by the War Office.
During the early 20th century the hall fell into disrepair. Weakened by dry rot and following a fire in 1943, this once-grand building was finally demolished by a scrap merchant, who had bought it for just £2,500. In subsequent years parts of the grounds have been used as a garden centre, a Scout camp and a rifle range.
As well as the Potting Sheds’ restoration and fit out, the grant will cover an oral history project and volunteer-led site tours. The oral history project will capture individuals’ memories of the site to help share its rich heritage from a personal perspective.
Richard Green, Head of Site at RHS Garden Bridgewater, said: “It is perfect that we can use the original Potting Sheds to share the exciting history of our garden, which spans millions of years but is also enshrined in living memory. From skating on the frozen lake to scout escapades and beyond, we know there are a wealth of stories out there that will bring the garden to life and inspire new generations to create their own memories into the future. We are so grateful to National Lottery players and The National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting this project.”
Research continues into the Potting Sheds’ original use. It is thought that each shed would have been used for a specific purpose, such as growing mushrooms and storing wheelbarrows. They were constructed from handmade red bricks, laid in Flemish bond and feature a single pitched, slate roof. Once restored, they will be used to stage exhibitions, events and activities to bring the garden’s story to life.
The 154-acre RHS Garden Bridgewater is currently Europe’s largest gardening project. A Wellbeing Garden, Kitchen Garden, Paradise Garden, Learning Garden and community teaching allotments are also being created within the original Walled Garden, now called the Weston Walled Garden.