1885-86 – Worth Park, Crawley, West Sussex

People and Places Discussed and Pictured in Chapter 15 of:

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Joseph Mayer Montefiore, a wealthy London banker and philanthropist, purchased Worth Park Manor, near Crawley, c1850.   The house was destroyed by fire in 1853, and he built a larger mansion in its place.   On his death in 1880, the estate was inherited by his widow and their son, Sir Francis Abraham Montefiore, who continued to invest a great deal of money in extending the grounds.

He engaged James Pulham and Son to create a small rock garden and a number of more formal features, including a series of small formal gardens, an ornamental pond, artificial lake, a ‘Camellia Corridor’, tennis courts, balustraded terraces and a large number of garden ornaments.

The Mansion and estate were broken up and sold in 1915, and were purchased in 1920 by a girls’ boarding school, Milton Mount College.   This closed in 1960, and Crawley Council purchased the house and grounds in 1963.   The house was eventually demolished in 1968, and replaced by the present Milton Mount Council flats.   The gardens remained comparatively intact, and have recently been restored with the help of a Heritage Lottery Grant.   There is also a memorial plaque to the work done by James Pulham and Son.

Restoration Update for December 2016

The several varied examples of the Pulhams’ work at Worth Park are discussed comprehensively in Chapter 15 of Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy.   It was an early and very significant example of their more formal garden creations, which included large balustraded and ornamented terraces, fountains and compartmented gardens.   There was also a small Pulhamite rock garden and a quite unique ‘Camellia Walk’ – or ‘Camellia Corridor’, as it was called in the old days.

Worth Park became the home of Milton Mount College in 1920, but they moved in 1960, and the site was taken over by Crawley Borough Council.   The mansion was demolished in 1968, and replaced by a block of flats.   Although the gardens were well maintained, the structural features gradually deteriorated, but a ‘Friends’ group was formed in 2006, and they worked with Crawley Borough Council from 2007 to try and secure Lottery funding to help with their restoration.

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Fig 1  –  The new entrance to Worth Park Gardens, looking through the Camellia Corridor into the Fountain Garden   (Photo by Pam Graham)

Their first bid was unsuccessful, but a revised second application to HLF’s Parks for People’ Programme was made and granted in 2011.   The actual restoration project started late in 2012, and was completed this year, 2016.   Fig 1 shows the new entrance to the gardens, through the Camellia Corridor, with the Fountain Garden visible beyond

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Fig 2  – The large Pulham fountain at Worth Park

One of the main features in the gardens was a large round fountain in front of the Mansion, and the restoration of this was completed in 2015.   The official ‘re-opening ceremony’ took place in July of that year, and was attended by more than two thousand people, some of whom can be seen enjoying themselves in Fig 2.

Shortly after this, Worth Park was awarded a Silver Gilt in the South East in Bloom awards, and was a contributor to the Gold Award being given to Crawley in the South East in Bloom in the Small City / Large Town category.   More people joined Worth Park Friends, and they ‘adopted’ the ‘Camellia Walk’ feature – or ‘Camellia Corridor’, as it was called in the old days – in the Autumn of 2015.

As mentioned above, the Camellia Corridor is a unique feature that originally consisted of an enclosed glass-fronted, covered wooden corridor that shelters a large lawn area – or ‘Dutch Garden’ that sweeps down to the balustrades of the Pulham terrace.   This is the base for three circular parterres that increase in size, and are surrounded and partitioned by pathways.   The smallest circular arrangement is the Sundial Garden, nearest the house, which takes its name from the Pulhams’ ‘Worth Park Sundial’ that used to be its centerpiece.   The original sundial was sold, and has now been replaced by a replica, show in Fig 3

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Fig 3  –  The Sundial Garden – part of the Dutch Garden at Worth Park – with the specially replicated Sundial on the right.   (Photos by David Allen)

The middle circular arrangement has no sculptural centerpiece, but allows for colourful planting in eight sectors radiating from the inner circular path, and the final arrangement is known as ‘The Fountain Garden’.   The upper basin of the centre fountain has been used as a planter in recent decades, but is currently empty, and the lower basin is planted.   The outer circular parterre has an inner edging pattern consisting of alternating small and large circles, with the latter touching the edging of the outer circumference.

When I first visited Worth Park in 2003, the Camellia Corridor had long since lost its roof and glass front, but at least I could see what it used to be like.   Sadly, it became the victim of a serious fire in the following year, and the available restoration funds only allowed for the small, central Entrance section of the roof to be replaced.

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Fig 4 – The Horsham District Archaeology Group working on a Dig in the Fountain Garden at Worth Park in 2013   (Photo by Vicky Lillywhite)

The Fountain Garden – or ‘First Garden’, as it was sometimes called – can be seen in Fig 5, and this was something of a puzzle during the early stages of the restoration in 2013.   The Horsham District Archaeology Group did a ‘Dig’ to try and identify some unusual brick features that were discovered beneath each of the quadrants – the Group is seen at work in Fig 4.   The actual purpose of these was never positively established, but it was felt that the deep pockets would have been filled with manure – obtained from the nearby stables – to improve the heavy clay soil, and allow the subsequent heat produced to circulate through the lattice structure, and provide ideal conditions for planting.   Sadly, funding was insufficient to fully restore the fountain to its original operational condition, so its vase has been retained, and the garden has been replanted, as can be seen in Fig 5.

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Fig 5 – The restored ‘Fountain Garden’ at Worth Park – the fountain is no longer operative – with the Entrance Section of the Camellia Corridor in the back left.   (Photo by Harry Clark)

 One of the most impressive features of the restoration – to my mind – was the re-creation and replication of so much of the ornamentation and balustrading around the gardens.   This was a special pattern of balustrading produced by James Pulham and Son especially for Worth Park, and the considerable amount that was damaged over the years has now been restored to its former glory, as can be seen from Fig 6.

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Fig 6  –  Balustrading and vases around the Croquet Lawn   (Photo by David Allen)

There were apparently twelve ‘lily planters’ in the large fountain, although the present whereabouts of all but a few – if they survived – are not known.   One has been recovered and restored, however, and now stands as a centerpiece in a newly-created ‘Star Garden’, near to a number of vases placed at intervals on plinths along the restored balustrade”.   These are presumed to be by Pulham, although the design is not shown in their ‘Catalogue of Garden Ornament’.   Both of these ornaments are shown in Fig 7.

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Fig 7  –  A lily planter and a close-up of one of a number of vases placed at intervals on plinths along the restored balustrade.- see also Fig 6.   (Photos by Harry Clark)

The small Pulhamite ‘cliff’ sited to the North East of the old Mansion forecourt needed some very specialised care and attention that was put in the capable hands of Alan Bishop & Associates, who have been responsible for the restoration of many other Pulham rockwork sites around the country over the years.   Fig 8 shows the Worth Park rockery following his work, whilst Fig 9 shows the Pulhamite island in the lake – also restored by him.

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Fig 8  –  The restored rockery at Worth Park   (Photo by Harry Clark)

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Fig 9  –  The Pulhamite island in the lake at Worth Park   (Photo by Harry Clark)

 Just opposite the new entrance to the gardens is the old Stable Block, now called Ridley’s Court.   It is a red-brick building with stone dressings, and is now Grade II listed.   One side of the old stables have now been renovated to incorporate a cloakroom, a fully-equipped lecture room, a kitchen and meeting room, two exhibition rooms and the Head Gardener’s Office.

 

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 Fig 10  –  The old Stable Block at Worth Park – now known as Ridley’s Court   (Photo by Harry Clark)

Worth Park Friends hold monthly lectures here, and, in 2016, have organised group outings by coach to other notable gardens – plus, of course, a weekly gardening group, under the supervision of the Head Gardener, to keep on top of the weeding!

Crawley Borough Council appointed a part time Participation Officer in 2012. who has overseen major Seasonal events – monthly walks, school educational visits, and weekly activities for children in the school holidays, and, more recently, an ongoing Costume Project.

In July 2016, Worth Park and Ridley’s Court were given the ‘Highly Commended’ accolade in the Public and Community Award by the Sussex Heritage Trust, and were awarded Silver Gilt medal again in ‘S and S E Britain in Bloom’.   And – as if that were not enough – the Pulham Gardens at Worth Park have just won the prestigious Landscape Institute Awards in the category for ‘Heritage and Conservation’!

To mark the end of the HLF funding programme there was an unveiling of a Timeline Totem Tree Sculpture at the side of Ridley’s Court.   This is an impressive piece of public art that represents the history and heritage of Wirth Park, and was carved from a storm-damaged tree by West Sussex chainsaw sculptor Simon Groves in just seven days.

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Fig 11  –  Official Opening of the Timeline Totem Tree Sculpture at Worth Park, with Councillor Chris Mullins, the Mayor of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Raj Sharma, and chainsaw sculptor, Simon Groves.   (Photo provided by Ingrid Payne)

The different elements carved into the tree represent various parts of the park’s history.   The stag highlights the area as part of Worth Forest – an ancient woodland and medieval deer park dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.   The park became home to the Montefiore family from the early 1800s, and is represented by the family crest.   Owls and books represent the private girls’ school, Milton Mount College, who resided at Worth Park from 1920 to 1960, and the seven-metre high totem is completed by the park’s resident flaura and fauna.   Fig 11 shows the unveiling ceremony – which took part on 10th November 2016 – attended by Councillor Chris Mullins, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing at Crawley Borough Council, and the Mayor of Crawley, Councillor Raj Sharma, with Simon Groves.   Councillor Mullins said:

 “Worth Park has been transformed over the last few years, and this new sculpture is a great addition.   The craftsmanship and level of detail in the sculpture is astonishing, and it provides visitors with a brief history of our beautiful park.”

Early next year, a small group of Jersey Cows carved out of oak will be installed just beyond the Ha Ha.   Well done indeed to everybody concerned with everything involved in this marvellous project, and what an example it sets for other groups of ‘Friends of Pulham Sites’!

Alan Bishop has already been credited for his work on the restoration of the Pulhamite features in Worth Park, but he was only one of the many professional restorers involved, and it is only fair that others should be mentioned.   Allen Scott Landscape Archtects were the architects responsible for organising the project, and Blakedown Landscapes was the main Landscape and Planning Contractors.   The main fountain was restored by The Fountain Company, and Prelude Stone were the replacement company for the terracotta and stonework restoration, after the original firm went out of business.   The timber-covered Camellia Walk was restored by Green Oak Company Ltd.

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 An additional ‘Chapter’ was published each month over a period of five years on this website under the tag of ‘Where? / Site of the Month’, and these can now be accessed alphabetically under the comprehensive ‘Where? / Gazetteer’ tag, so don’t miss those.   Click on the link to see the complete list of Pulham sites described and illustrated by Claude Hitching.

Another link that you might like to refer to takes you to the ‘Press and Media / Book Reviews’ tag, where you can read all the reviews of ‘Rock Landscapes‘ written by professional critics in the National and Garden Press.

To check out the names of the People and Places featured and illustrated in any of the other Chapters, click the CONTENTS link to return to the main CONTENTS Page.   Click here to go direct to the ‘Book Shop’.   Happy Reading to all our followers

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A full description of the work done by James Pulham and Son at Worth Park – together with a number of pictures – can be found in Chapter 15 of Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy – the critically-acclaimed and lavishly illustrated definitive story of the lives and work of James Pulham and Son.   Written by Claude Hitching, with featured photography by Jenny Lilly.   Published by Garden Art Press.

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