1903 – Rivington, Lever Park, Lancashire

Pulham’s Rivington Ravine… and more!

Written and Contributed by John Harris – Harris Consulting

Despite the perturbing restrictions over the last year there is very good news at Rivington where conservation volunteers and Groundwork Lancashire have made remarkable progress up on the hostile slopes of Rivington Pike. Here the once largely lost and overgrown extensive gardens of Lord Leverhulme have been cleared of invasive vegetation and subsequently observably revealed. The gardens along with several fascinating buildings can now be easily accessed and enjoyed.

Heritage Lottery Funding has enabled much of the infrastructure and buildings to be tastefully repaired; former kitchen gardens and other areas have also seen new plantings. However, the limits of funding didn’t extend to the Ravine, possibly the Pulhams’ largest single rockwork project and certainly their most logistically challenging adventure, where around one hundred workers were employed!

But fortunately the great interest in these operations has attracted some additional monies to clear the Ravine of dense vegetation. One hundred years of zero management had resulted in merely limited glimpses of many of the rock features; these were built in both natural local sandstone and fabricated cantilevers of Pulhamite render over reinforced concrete.

The effect of the clearance enlightens us to the notable technical skills and artistry of the Pulhams. From the lower gentle scenery and trickling water to the more spectacular rock outcrops and gushing cascades, it isn’t easy for the uninformed to realise that this dramatic rock-scenery was man-made; such was the Pulhams’ meticulous attention to nature and geology. The steep trek from the lower placid flowing brook to its upper source is a delight, with ambience continually shifting.

The Ravine was the last of Lord Leverhulme’s garden projects at Rivington and followed the construction of the Japanese garden. Thomas Mawson was the architect employed to build the majority of the garden estate, but Mawson advised Leverhulme to employ Pulham and Son to construct the Ravine and also to have input into the rockwork associated with the Japanese area. Here the pool had an engineered arrangement to partially empty it into the Ravine, creating even more drama, especially when Leverhulme had visitors.

The clearance work in this area has been exceptionally enlightening and it now appears that Pulham and Son carried out for more work at Rivington than was originally thought. The high cascade into the Japanese pool and a nearby area of ‘scree’ look to be typical Pulham construction. Other areas of rock and water scenery appear to be a teamwork exercise by Pulham and Mawson; this is an exciting revelation.

The Rivington Terraced Gardens Trust are hopeful that more funding can be sourced to enable the damaged sections of Ravine to be sensitively repaired and the original planting intentions reinstated. While there is presently much to admire, some areas are still restricted due to safety concerns. Nevertheless, visitors to the Ravine will be rewarded by the sheer scale and complexities of this site. At Rivington the many trademarks of the Pulhams are especially conspicuous and show scrupulous fabrication: high cascades, cataract series, still pools, picturesque fernery, a detached stack, outcrops, overhangs, dropping wells, cavernous recesses, bridges, dramatic cantilevers… and all free to access!

John Harris – Apr ’21