The Friends of Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire have contacted the Gardens Trust about their fears for the future of Elvaston. The gardens at Elvaston, of topiary and rockwork, are registered Grade II* on the Register of Park and Gardens of Special Historic Interest, so they are of considerable national importance.
Elvaston house and gardens as we see them today were developed in the 19th century by the 4th Earl of Harrington, Charles Stanhope. This followed his controversial marriage to Covent Garden actress Maria Foote, and they used chivalric forms to create a backdrop to their love affair. It is said that Capability Brown turned down work on the gardens and wider park, so William Barron was hired and carried out the task with a team of 90 gardeners.
After decline in the 20th century, the estate was purchased in 1970 by Derbyshire County and Derby Borough Councils and opened as the first country park in England.
For twenty years The Friends of Elvaston have campaigned for the estate’s restoration and a sustainable, inclusive future, in the face of a lack of investment. This has unfortunately often been at odds with proposals from Derbyshire County Council, which has mooted golf and hotel resort developments amongst other things. Currently the Friends are particularly concerned about the most recent masterplan proposals. These include creating housing on the estate, and building a new road and car parks through the landscape, whilst disposing of the current car park and its small caravan site on a 25-year lease.
The Gardens Trust’s Conservation Officer, Margie Hoffnung, observes: “the estate is becoming increasingly run down, with the local council’s revenue raising plans at variance with that of the friends’ group. The GT would be concerned about a new access road through the Grade II* Registered Park and Garden to service the development plans of the local authority.”
The recent proposals drew 10,500 signatures to a public petition opposing them and campaigners have the backing of a number of local and national groups, as well as Elvaston Parish Council. Meanwhile, the Elvaston Castle and Gardens Trust formed by the Council to restore the Park apparently has little public support because its Chairman and Committee back the Council’s road plans.
Graham Mansey, Chairman of the Friends of Elvaston Castle, says: “Derbyshire County Council has, over the years, allowed Elvaston Castle, a nationally and internationally important site to fall into an unimaginable state of disrepair, despite claiming to have spent £33 million since it opened as a Country Park in 1970, and now it threatens to inflict very serious damage. The Friends of Elvaston are very frustrated that the Council has repeatedly failed to gain Heritage Lottery funding (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund) but money has now gone in large quantities to endless surveys, estimates, conservation reports, feasibility studies and public consultations with loaded questions which have yielded no beneficial end results.”
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Top left: Elvaston’s renowned Victorian topiary gardens, Photo courtesy Chris Seddon