Plans to spend money on Marble Hill House and Park continue to cause consternation among some locals. Nothing says ‘consternation’ quite like an online petition and so, guess what, now there is one opposing English Heritage’s ‘Marble Hill House Revived’ project.
The preservers of this green and pleasant land have a grand plan to spend £6m on the house and park with most of that coming from lottery funding. You’ve probably seen the signs up in the park about it. The house was built in the 1720s as a Thames-side retreat for George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard. We’d probably call it an ‘upmarket love nest’ these days. The scheme will restore the part of the park between the house and the river based on a map of the gardens as they were in 1752. This will involve removing trees in the copse areas on either side of the house to recreate an area of winding paths, new trees and flower gardens. It will also re-create an 18th century bowling alley.
In English Heritage’s view the House and Park have been neglected over recent years and some investment and green-fingered TLC is long overdue. Increasing the attractiveness of Marble Hill to visitors, and also raising commercial revenues, plays an important part too. Other aspects of the plan include upgrading the sports facilities and changing rooms, putting in a new play area, expanding the cafe and opening it up to more events.
In total 360 trees will be removed as part of the work. English Heritage state that 347 of these are “either dead, in a poor or declining state, or preventing younger, healthier trees from developing”. The organisation goes on to point out that many of these are young, self-sown trees and scrub and also that the project will see 401 new trees planted. The idea is to recreate some aspects of the past, create a better experience for the present and help preserve Marble Hill for the future.
But not everyone is happy. Opponents have expressed concern over the removal of the 360 trees and an established wildlife habitat and also about potential limitations to access and the impact of the rise in visitor numbers on the park and the local area. There’s a petition raising these and other points. We’ve also seen online comments saying English Heritage’s plans are effectively turning the site into a kind of 18th century theme park.
The petition also references a projected increase in visitor number to “1 million per annum”. Sounds a tad ambitious. According to online data, that number would make Marble Hill House ten times more attractive than Ham House and even more popular than Hampton Court Palace. Unlikely! That would make it almost on a par with the world famous Gloriana boat! Just imagine that!
English Heritage do say they want to increase visitor numbers but their proposals talk of relatively modest rise in the number of events held. But more sports, more cafe visitors, school trips to the house, the possibility of dog free areas and a more formal, business focused take on recreating the past is sure to upset those who like it just as it is.
The view from here at twickerati HQ is that although a fine local park, Marble Hill House itself does seem under-used and somewhat overlooked. Spending some cash on renovations and to increase its attractiveness is no bad thing but any plans should not impinge on the free public access that so many locals currently enjoy. As to whether English Heritage is going the right way about improving / destroying the house and grounds (delete as appropriate) only you know the answer to that one.