National Botanic Garden of Wales secures £3.6m HLF grant for waterpark restoration

The National Botanic Garden of Wales has secured a £3.6 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant to restore the garden's Samuel Lapidge-designed waterparks and turn it into "an exciting and powerful new visitor attraction".

A painting of the garden it its heydey. Image: National Botanic Garden of Wales
A painting of the garden it its heydey. Image: National Botanic Garden of Wales

Announced today, the grant will enable the garden to launch the construction of a £7.2 million project to restore the landscape.

The original owners of the estate where the garden now stands, the Middleton family, began to lay out formal gardens from the late 16th century using wealth gained from procuring spices, herbs and other goods as founders of the East India Company in the early 1600s.

However it was the next owner, Sir William Paxton, then MP for Carmarthen, who really put the garden on the map. In 1789 he engaged Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown protégé Samuel Lapidge to design the landscape and gardens to include an innovative water park with water flowing around the estate linked by a network of dams, sluices, bridges and cascades. 

Director of The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Huw Francis said: "Since we opened in 2000, we have always wanted to celebrate not only our horticulture but also our heritage.

"The main house was destroyed decades ago through fire but the impressive grounds have left plenty of traces in the form of drained or silted lakes and overgrown paths. This funding will mean we no longer have to imagine what the estate might have looked like - we can now recreate it for our modern day visitors to experience first-hand. It will be spectacular."

Francis added that the restoration work will happen alongside a programme of activities and events. The news coincides with Visit Wales campaigns ‘Year of Legends’ and ‘Year of the Sea’, but also the BBC TV series Taboo in which the East India Company has a key role amid a dramatic and compelling cocktail of conspiracy, betrayal and bloodshed. The garden’s heritage and history is inextricably linked to the company, from its first flourishings to its decline at the end of the 19th century, giving it plenty of opportunities to engage visitors in its story.

Head of development, Rob Thomas, who is responsible for successfully piloting the funding bid, said: "The Middleton family was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the East India Company, creating  a wealthy Welsh dynasty with a home in the heart of Carmarthenshire. With the decline in the Middleton fortunes, the estate was acquired in the 1780s by Sir William Paxton, a Scot returning from his East India Company service as one of the wealthiest men in Britain.

"He set to work, creating the blueprint for the landscape here today, employing the finest minds of the day to design the mansion, gardens and necklace of lakes that surrounded his hilltop home. 

"He would have been acutely aware of the Middleton history that he was buying into. This truly was the heyday of the estate and the garden today can not only claim that it has been a site of formal growing for more than 400 years, but can also point to the fact that it had its very genesis in plants for health and the profits to be made from them and was sustained by the development and growth of the British Empire.

"It is an incredible story of pirates, plague and plants for health, and plots a period of 250 years of international trade from the times of barter and exchange to the establishment of international lines of credit and investment banking; the forging of the blueprint for our current capitalist system; and, in the hands of Sir William Paxton, the formation of modern investment banking."

The Welsh Government has welcomed the announcement. Economy secretary Ken Skates said combining the Botanic Garden’s horticulture expertise with its own history will make an exciting and powerful new visitor attraction for Wales.


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