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Austen’s local pleasure gardens among six parks sharing £13.8m lottery funding

Heritage Lottery Fund head says ‘health and wellbeing benefits of local green spaces were well known in Jane Austen’s time and remain true today’.

Sydney Gardens
Sydney Gardens

Pleasure gardens loved by Jane Austen are to be revitalised for the 21st century as six parks across the country share £13.8 million of lottery funding.

Sydney Gardens in Bath are one of the UK’s only surviving Georgian pleasure gardens, designed in the late 18th century for entertainment and wellbeing.

In the novelist’s day they provided a labyrinth – or maze – to explore, the opportunity to socialise with minimal supervision and even find a potential partner.

The Labyrinth in Sydney Gardens
The Labyrinth in Sydney Gardens (Bath in Time/PA)

The gardens became Austen’s local park, and just before she moved within sight of them in 1801, she wrote: “It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens! We might go to the Labyrinth every day!”.

The Grade II registered park has fallen  into decline but  £2.74 million of funding awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund will help restore the gardens, the organisations said.

A new cafe, play areas, facilities and community spaces will be created for visitors alongside work to restore features such as the Minerva’s Temple and the Grade II listed canal footbridge.

National Lottery park funding
The Temple of Minerva in Sydney Gardens (Bath in Time/PA)

There will be areas of garden with wild flower planting, parts of the park currently closed to the public will be reopened, four tennis courts refurbished and a new labyrinth-in-grass included for modern day Jane Austens.

The gardens are one of six parks receiving National Lottery funding.

South Cliff Gardens in South Bay, Scarborough, a spa town and England’s first seaside resort, is getting £4.66 million to reverse the decline of the park which is on the Heritage at Risk register.

The Spa Entrance in South Cliff Gardens
The Spa Entrance in South Cliff Gardens (Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

Features such as the Italian Steps designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the clock tower, railings, fencing and footpaths will be restored, while planting and habitats for wildlife will be boosted and a new family hub area created.

Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, home to the ruins of Waytemore Castle which dates back to at least the 1080s, is receiving £1.94 million.

Money will go to protect the ruins and allow for public access, disused buildings will be turned into community spaces, a cafe and toilets. The River Stort will be rejuvenated to create valuable wildlife habitat.

Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford
Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford (Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

Archaeological digs and tree planting are also planned.

Ellington Park in Ramsgate, Kent, will receive £1.64 million to restore features such as the dilapidated Victorian bandstand, benches, lamps, gates and the rockery, and planting and improvements will be made to the wildlife garden and miniature railway.

New facilities including a cafe and playground will be created at the site, which has a rich history stretching back to the 13th century and has long been central to the local community.

Ellington Park in Ramsgate
Ellington Park in Ramsgate (Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

Fairhaven Lake and Gardens on the Fylde coast of Lancashire is one of the UK’s first recreation marine lakes, built in the 19th century and hitting its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when crowds watched boat races and took part in leisure activities.

Nearly £1.48 million in funding will help the park remain open seven days a week all year round, and the lake’s landscape and water quality will be improved to protect fish and the large population of threatened glass eels.

The cafe and a once much-loved Japanese water garden infilled in the 1980s will be restored and the pagoda and boathouse transformed into community spaces.

Granny’s Bay at Fairhaven Lake and Gardens
Granny’s Bay at Fairhaven Lake and Gardens (Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

Stevens Park, in Quarry Bank, Dudley has, over time, been used as a hunting ground, grazing land, woodland for charcoal production, and was covered in quarries and collieries before being donated to the borough in the 1920s.

The park will receive almost £1.4 million to improve access and security to the Grade II listed peace gardens, improve the bandstand, gates, entrances and wildlife habitat and refurbish the Victorian farmhouse and coach house.

It will host the Emily Jordan Foundation, which supports people with learning disabilities, providing skills and training sessions in areas such as bike maintenance and horticulture.

The bandstand in Stevens Park
The bandstand in Stevens Park (Heritage Lottery Fund/PA)

Heritage Lottery Fund’s chief executive Ros Kerslake said: “The health and wellbeing benefits of local green spaces were well known in Jane Austen’s time and remain true today.

“They are home to some of the country’s most cherished heritage and provide fantastic opportunities for enterprise and community activities.

“Over £950 million of National Lottery money has been invested in regenerating public parks and urban green spaces so far and they remain a priority into the future.”

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