This Surrey garden restoration project is layered in significance and symbolism. The site in Horsell Common, close to the UK’s first purpose-built mosque, is a memorial to 27 Muslim soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Britain in the two world wars.
The garden is a rarity, recognising the part played by Muslim servicemen and forming a distinctive feature of our built heritage. In modern-day Britain, however, the garden has a fresh relevance. Its restoration gives renewed recognition to the Muslim servicemen and serves as a reminder of a shared heritage between Britain and Islam as well as a catalyst for tolerance and cohesion.
The garden acknowledges the servicemen in its architecture, designed by architect TH Winney during World War One. It has ornate listed perimeter red brick walls, incorporating minarets and a domed archway entrance, known as a "chattri", reflecting the Mughal style of the nearby Shah Jahan Mosque.
Initially the garden served as a burial ground for 19 Muslim servicemen, with a further eight World War Two soldiers later buried there. All remains were exhumed in 1969 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and ownership of the site passed to the Horsell Common Preservation Society, owner of the surrounding common land. The local group worked with Woking Borough Council over two decades to secure the funding to carry out this project, the key players in that process being society trustee Elizabeth Cuttle and the council’s senior policy officer Dr Zafar Iqbal.
When landscape architect the Terra Firma Consultancy first became involved, the funding was still being pieced together. "The funding was the biggest challenge to the project and that was in the hands of the organisers. As the funding increased, the budget crept up," recalls Lionel Fanshawe, managing director and principal landscape architect with the practice.
"Early on we took water out of the project, because of the fairly limited budget, but we were then able to reinstate it later. In the end we were able to realise the project pretty much as we would have wanted. We had a good client and were able to tender to top contractors."
The burial ground’s original planting design featured traditional yew trees with pink and white heathers fronting each gravestone, facing towards Mecca. For the restoration, the landscape practice considered key research into Islamic gardens in the UK and specifically Europe’s largest Muslim burial ground, the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Ilford, which marries the English garden of remembrance and Koranic references. Terra Firma’s design has a formal geometry, with water running through its centre.
"The design was deliberately kept simple," says Fanshawe. "It doesn’t use super-expensive materials but it is all designed in detail, right down to the last pavement joint."
- Some 27 Himalayan birch trees, the number representing the servicemen buried at the site. Over time, the trees will provide the garden with a green canopy.
- A central water feature incorporating a memorial stone bearing the servicemen’s names. The feature is made of Portland stone combined with Indian granite. The uplit stone is set on a raised platform in a reflective pool, with a rill leading to the central pool.
- Strips of pink and white heather, orientated towards Mecca.
- Two Indian sandstone ceremonial prayer mats.
- Benches for quiet contemplation.
- Indian sandstone paving.
- Evergreen and deciduous planting at the outer boundaries.
The garden was formally reopened in a ceremony performed by HRH the Earl of Wessex last November. This special project brought awareness and recognition of the part played by Muslim servicemen during recent commemorations marking the World War One centenary, resulting in national media attention including a BBC1 television documentary called Britain’s Muslim Soldiers.
At a local level, the project has engaged with the community — notably the Islamic community. Local people helped to restore the garden. Fanshawe explains: "It was always in the nature of the project to engage the community but, in terms of getting physically involved, people couldn’t do the heavy work, so we suggested they help with planting. We had soldiers helping with planting the big trees and schoolchildren planting the heathers." The Muslim community was represented across the board.
The garden’s restoration also has national significance. "It has layers of symbolism, is a place of reflection and peace, and conveys a strong message in its positive example of Islam in a Christian country," Fanshawe points out.
It was important to consider maintenance at the outset. "We alerted the council to the maintenance cost implications of water features and lawns in advance," says Fanshawe. "This garden will be low-maintenance but will need professional care." Indian sandstone is often perceived as a budget material but has worked well, he adds. "We did quite a lot of research to find the right one, with the help of a stone specialist, Julian Pomery [of Pomery Natural Stone]."
Fanshawe says good preparation, including a full package of design drawings, and his practice’s continuing involvement contributed to a smooth-running project. "We were involved from conception to overseeing the first year’s maintenance," he adds. "It was so important to be on site. Every time we went to site there was a question. The project has gone right because it has been done in the right way."
|Site owner||Horsell Common Preservation Society|
|Project supporters and funders||Armed Forces Covenant Grant Scheme, Department for Communities & Local Government, Historic England, Shah Jahan Mosque, Sultanate of the Government of Oman, Surrey County Council, Woking Borough Council|
|Designers||Terra Firma Consultancy (garden), Radley House Partnership (wall and structures)|
|Water feature||Fountains Direct|
|Brickwork repairs||Universal Stone|
This case study is from Horticulture Week’s Landscape4Places campaign hub. The Landscape4Places campaign seeks to highlight the contribution of quality landscaping to great place-making. For further details about the campaign, go to www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/landscape-for-places