No this is not about Marble Hill House featuring in ITV’s current adaptation of Vanity Fair. And nor is it about, as Michael Palin’s Thackeray would have us believe, “A world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having” because such a thing could never apply to Twickenham, could it? No! What we can tell you is that English Heritage have now submitted a new planning application for Marble Hill House and Park under its Marble Hill Revived project. The new application contains modifications to the previous plan which, we are told, reflect public feedback given during further consultation over the spring and summer of this year.
Avid readers (as well as indifferent ones) will recall that the previous plan caused a bit of consternation in some quarters despite the project coming with a slab of budget to give the park and house an overdue injection of cash. Central to those objections was English Heritage’s plan to clear out the copses either side of the rear of the house and recreate an 18th century garden in the space down to the river featuring more formal planting of trees, walkways and gardens. Was it a case of going forward, back to the past for the house originally built in the 1720s for Henrietta Howard, mistress to George II? Some thought so. For others “tree felling” caused mucho grande concern and while we’re at it won’t someone think of the poor bats!
Other concerns focused on the creation of a much larger café facility and a general fear that a much-loved local park would become home to more corporate and private events which restricted access both in terms of time and space (if that’s not all getting a bit too Star Trekky). Annual visitor numbers being bandied around meant Marble Hill would have given Hampton Court Palace a run for its money but these big numbers already included the many locals who already enjoy the park, free of charge for sport, dog-walking or just for getting out into the fresh air. Perhaps part of it was just that some people just like the park the way it is.
English Heritage say the revised proposals will still mark an important step in conserving the house and grounds and presenting them to the public in a better way. The House itself will be open to the public free of charge, five days a week for seven months of the year. The sports pitches and changing facilities will be improved and a new children’s play area created. The café will be modernised but will keep its current size. As for the park and gardens, the plan remains to “restore the structure of the lost 18th century garden and, open up and replant overgrown areas to create new spaces and habitats, improving biodiversity”. This last point still sounds quite similar (more like ‘very similar’) to the previous plan which also drew criticism for trying to re-create a garden that may never have actually existed in the first place. The main revision in this new application is that the changes to the grounds will take place at a slower pace and place a much greater emphasis on biodiversity.
Sounds like a reasonable approach to us, especially if authenticity and free public access are central to the work. We can all take a proper look once the full plans are online.
The new plans have been supported by local groups including the Marble Hill Society and Marble Hill Playcentres. English Heritage hope that the revised application will gain popular support and they will be running an open session at Marble Hill on Saturday 15 September from 11.00am-2.00pm. It will give people an opportunity to tour the house and gardens and find out more about the Marble Hill Revived project and plans.