Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens set for restoration

Council awards masterplan contract for repair of Hemel Hempstead's Jellicoe-designed gardens.

One of Britain's most famous postwar gardens is celebrating its 50th year with major restoration plans.

The Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead, designed by landscape luminary Geoffrey Jellicoe, are being restored by landscape architect HTA. The serpent-shaped waterway with weirs and footbridges is currently rundown and overgrown.

Dacorum Borough Council, which chose HTA to masterplan the restoration scheme, said the work would form part of a regeneration of the town centre. The comprehensive repair and restoration project will also include a new green space for informal recreation.

"The water gardens are one of the UK's most significant 20th century landscapes and although in a poor state are one of Jellicoe's few remaining intact designs," said an HTA spokesman. "The gardens were an integral part of his masterplan for the new town."

Costs and a possible bid for Heritage Lottery Fund money were being firmed up but it "could be a large or a very large project", he added.

The appointment of HTA follows the practice's completion of modernist landscapes at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, as well as the award-winning restoration of Town Centre Gardens in Stevenage.

The news follows a campaign launched by the Garden History Society to improve the gardens (HW, 2 March). Chairman and landscape architect Dominic Cole said the job could cost around £3m or £4m.

Annabel Downs, former chair of the Society of Garden Designers, said: "The water gardens' design is a real jewel, an exceptionally good example both of Jellicoe's work and of public-space design. Jellicoe manipulates the river to provide delight.

"Like a lot of 20th century landscapes, this site has become overlooked and poorly maintained. It is because of this neglect that the site is now vulnerable."

Historic recognition

The Water Gardens were inspired by a Paul Klee painting and completed in 1962. They are included on the English Heritage Register of Parks & Gardens of Special Historic Interest at grade II, and two years ago they were registered as one of several very important post-war urban landscapes associated with the new town movement.

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