'Wonderful site': Restoration proposed in bid to save historic grotto

The grotto in Wanstead Park

The grotto in Wanstead Park, which was destroyed by fire in 1884. - Credit: Friends of Wanstead Parklands

A "fabulous" ruined grotto built more than 250 years ago in Wanstead Park could be set for restoration.

The structure, constructed in around 1762, was destroyed by fire in 1884.

It is now managed by the City of London Corporation, which has submitted a planning application to Redbridge Council to seek permission to consolidate and stabilise the Grade II listed building's landing stages.

The grotto, which sits on the edge of the park's ornamental lake, is on Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register, meaning it is considered to be "at risk".

"The proposals contained in this application are driven by a desire to preserve and enhance the heritage asset, which is both prominent and notable within Wanstead Park," a heritage statement on behalf of the corporation said.


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"The visual impact of the completed proposals will be minimal to the casual observer, without impacting the grotto’s existing architectural character and style or that of its setting.

"The application proposals are also intended to facilitate further improvements and repairs to the structure, with the ultimate aim of securing the grotto’s sustainable future and removal from the Heritage at Risk Register."

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The statement described the building as a "challenging" site subject to vandalism, but added that few grottoes of its time and scale survive intact.

Another supporting document said the corporation is exploring a "phased approach" to restoration work at the grotto.

It added that the planning application was the "first and most urgent" project to stabilise the landing at its base.

This, it said, had partially collapsed after gradually eroding over a number of years.

If approved, it said the works would start as soon as next month.

The repairs would be done in conjunction with the Heritage of London Trust, a charity which supports communities across the capital to save historic buildings and monuments.

The trust's director Dr Nicola Stacey told the Recorder the charity is "thrilled" at the prospect of the grotto being restored and accessible to the public after more than 100 years.

She said: "It’s a wonderful and evocative site, full of interest and stories.

"There are just a tiny handful left of these fabulous grottoes around the country.

"Our project is the restoration of the landing stage – where the boats once moored up from the lake – which has been deteriorating week by week and wouldn’t last another winter.

"We’re involved in discussion about the restoration of the façade next and I’m confident there’s really good momentum to get this done in a sensible, practical way.”

This comes after Heritage of London Trust put up a  £10,000 grant towards the grotto's restoration.

The park was once home to stately home Wanstead House and the grotto was built by the second Earl of Tylney, the heritage statement said.

According to Historic England, grottoes reached their heyday in the 18th century and were aimed at appealing to the visitor's imagination.

They were structures without "functional intention", according to website Wanstead Wildlife.

The heritage statement said the home was demolished in 1825 after the Duke of Wellington's nephew William Wellesley Pole, husband of Catherine Tylney Long who inherited the park, ran up large debts which the couple could not repay.

The park was eventually sold to the Corporation of London in 1882 and became a public park.

After the 1884 fire, the grotto has remained a ruin but works have taken place at times in recent years, it added.

The application also has the backing of The Friends of Wanstead Parklands, a charity which bids to preserve the park and raise awareness of its history and ecology.

The group's chair John Sharpe said it is in ongoing discussions with the corporation about the project and "collaborate with their strategic aims".

Members of the public can comment on the proposal until September 10.

The listed building consent application will be assessed by planning officers with a decision expected by October 11.

The City of London Corporation was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.

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