Bletchingley school pupils helping restore once famous Victorian gardens

Work towards restoring what remains of some once-famous gardens at Bletchingley has taken a step forwards.

Conservation workers have been busy in the grounds of the village's Hawthorns School, at Pendell Court, felling trees and clearing foliage along the edge of the school lake.

The clearance is part of ongoing conservation work which takes place in the school grounds, and in which the pupils have a hand too.

With regular timetabled conservation lessons, under the guidance of James Driver, head of conservation at the Hawthorns, the children have been involved in the development of the pupils’ garden, the construction and planting of a thriving school orchard, and even an after-school bee-keeping club.

A trail created in the woods was opened to the public in 2011 as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

But the most important work carried out recently has been to discover and restore a little of what remains of the once famous gardens which surrounded the original stately home of Pendell Court.

In 1883, William Robinson, the most influential of all Victorian garden writers, picked out Pendell Court as a perfect example of how the owners of large, modern, country houses could combine the natural beauty of the English landscape with informal planting of both exotic and native plants, to create majestic gardens and grounds.

From 1876 to 1891, Pendell Court belonged to Sir George Macleay. Having made a fortune in Australia, he was able to spend much of his time travelling the world in search of rare plants. He was fortunate in that his first head gardener, Charles Green, had previously been in charge of two of the most famous gardens in South-east England – William Borrer’s in Henfield, West Sussex, and William Saunders’ in Reigate. Since 2007, pupils have been using traditional skills and hand tools to create a Garden Trail that will give visitors a taste of what it would have been like to walk through the grounds at the end of the 19th century.

The recent felling of the eight large alder trees and other smaller trees, was the first step in the restoration of the school lake, which was a key feature of Macleay’s garden.

The result of the work is a much more open landscape, with more light entering the school classrooms, and an impressive view over the fields beyond.

The hope is that the area will now flourish as a wildlife habitat, and open up new opportunities for outdoor learning at the school.

John Baart, a governor at The Hawthorns, said: “We already envisage conservation work, pond dipping, canoeing and raft building appearing on the school activity list once the lake is restored.”

Talking about the school's conservation lessons, Finn Trevor, a Year 5 pupil, said: “It’s fun because you get to use real tools, and when you’re coppicing the hazel, you get to chop down trees.”

Fellow Year 5 pupil Darcy Reynolds said: “I like conservation because I love working outdoors and being able to help nature.”

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