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East Anglia Gardens

VISTAS OF TREES AND WATER

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Work of Capability Brown
It is an imposing grey facade which looks down through parkland to the curving road below: beautifully proportioned but severe. This 300 foot front of Heveningham Hall, with its central ornamented columns is a model of eighteenth century classical style which must have gratified the designer, James Wyatt, with its elegance. But in tile middle of the genial Suffolk countryside its abrupt appearance is somewhat forbidding.

To reach Heveningham Hall, you go first to Halesworth, bearing left at the Church for Walpole. From there the signposts clearly indicate Heveningham and the Hall, with its parkland sloping down to the lake, is on the left-hand side before you reach the village. Having passed the front of the house,turn left through the white gates and you will find yourself in the drive.

Like all other great East Anglian mansions Heveningham Hall has a long history. The original house on the site, which was completely burnt out, is said to have been supported by six live oak trees. In the present Hall there was also a fire, in 1949; five of the bedrooms were gutted and the dining room considerably damaged but they have since all been restored by Italian workmen, and the interior of the house, in which the Wyatt designs were faithfully copied, is now as beautiful as ever.

On the grand scale

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Heveningham Hall is set in three hundred acres of undulating parkland. It was designed, on the grand scale, and so were the gardens, all seventeen acres of them, laid out by Capability Brown. Any keen amateur gardener will realise what a vast amount of work is entailed in keeping such an area in order.

The pleasure gardens which rely for their charm on vistas of trees and water and curving paths are not so difficult, though the grass must still be cut periodically, It is the formal gardens and the kitchen garden where constant detailed work is required that prove a problem; the present head gardener is doing wonders In getting the gardens back into order, but it is a tremendous task and one which can only be accomplished gradually.

Entering the kitchen gardens the peach houses are on the wall to the right. The fruit was looking beautiful when I saw it, each one a soft, downy red, and protected by nets underneath from falling to the ground. Apricots and nectarins are also being grown under glass, and the whole of these enclosed gardens are lined with fruit trees, both on the walls and bordering the paths. All such large gardens are now used partially to produce market produce, and one vegetable being tried out commercially is the globe artichoke.

Early Chrysanthemums
A quarter of a mile of sweet peas were grown to cut for market, and seed from the later flowers is being kept for next season. One of the head gardener's specialities are the early chrysanthemums, quite a large area is given up to their cultivation, and when I saw them they were looking sturdy and strong. They are well supported by wires running down between each row, and a crossways mesh of string, the whole being so arranged that it can be raised up from either end as the plant grows. By next week end the following varieties should be out in bloom--Hope Valley, Peach Blossoms, John Cooper (a good incurved bronze); and Florence Horwood amongst others.

Separating two of the kitchen gardens is a curving, ribbon wall covered with roses. It is believed to be the longest in the county and building it must have been a formidable task. A long archway of roses continues down the centre of the further garden towards a distant door in the wall, making an attractive walk for a summer evening. Returning to mundane affairs the paths in these kitchen gardens reveal a great contrast between those which have been sprayed with weed killer and those which are still awaiting treatment - a speaking advertisement for the substance used.

Giant Cactus
Apart from the peach house there are several other greenhouses here that are worth looking at, two are used for tomatoes, another for cucumbers and yet another houses a collection of carnations, geraniums and cacti - one of the latter is growing so tall that it threatens to go through the glass. But the most interesting thing about these houses is the beautiful paving which must make the task of cleaning them so much easier.

The landscape garden is reached by going through the door at the end of the rose arch and turning to the left. Here the vista has been carefully arranged by Capability Brown so that looking out from the Orangery the eye is led on from the dark towering cedars near by to the reservoir, and then on to a sunlit field where you can just descry a small temple in a copse on the farther side.

Strange though it seems the reservoir just mentioned, appears to be at the highest point of the grounds, and one wonders how it gets its water supply. Mr. Brown must have been a useful engineer, for he piped the water from a culvert on the far side of the field, some two or three hundred yards away, by tile drains in which there can only be a drop of eighteen inches. The reservoir acts as a supply for the whole garden.

The Orangery
James Wyatt's Orangery is one of the most delightful garden buildings that I have ever seen. It is small and dignified, yet very light and cheerful within. A patio with four pillars protects the entrance, red and black tiles, blue walls, a glass roof and long windows combine to make the Orangery bright and warm, even on a chilly day. Previously heated it is now left cold, but a number of semi-tropical plants, including Fejoa sellowiana and some acacias, still grow on inside quite happily.

From the back of the Orangery, the path winds through the trees to the outer wall of the kitchen garden, and following this walk one comes to a gateway leading into the garden directly behind the house. Enclosed on either side by evergreens, a finely cut grass sward slopes down to the Hall. In the centre of the lawn shallow steps descend in short flights, edged with soldier-straight, clipped yews. Reaching a supporting wall the stairs divide gracefully to the lower lawn, and on either side rambler roses make a colourful contrast against the grey-white stone.

This part of the garden really enriches Heveningham Hall- it is sufficiently formal not to clash, and yet somehow it succeeds in softening that uncompromising outline into harmony with its surroundings. Such a knitting together of the two arts is to my mind far more enjoyable than either a garden or a beautiful building enjoyed in isolation.

Heveningham Hall is open by courtesy of the Hon. Andrew Vanneck, in aid of the National Garden's Scheme on Sunday. September 2nd.
VALARIE FIELDING


1977
East Anglian Times 24.2.77
Story: David Green


A handful of staff and a ghost are now the only residents of Heveningham Hall, one of the country’s finest mansions which has played host to Royalty and many other leading figures in its 2000 year history.

The ghost haunts the first floor of the magnificent house and the small staff is led by Mr. John Sheppard, who has cared for the building’s artistic treasures for the past 11 years.

Royal coaches no longer pull up outside the Hall’s imposing Palladian-style front. But thousands of visitors now stream into the neo-classical entrance hall each year.

Heveningham Hall, an example of the very best of 18th century architecture, was bought by the government in 1970 when the family, which had lived there for two centuries could no longer afford to maintain its regal beauty.

Government
Mr Sheppard first came to Heveningham Hall in1966 at the invitation of the owners, the Vanneck family, before the opening of the house to the public the following year. He was kept as curator by the Environment Department.

“The Government has carried out extensive work, including the complete restoration of the South Front with all its stucco work, ” said Mr Sheppard. “ It was in a very bad state of repair, although much of the building, including the interior, has been extremely well preserved.”

The house was built in 1777 and 1780 and was designed by Sir Robert Taylor. James Wyatt, who took over from Taylor as architect, designed the interior and the elegant orangery in the gardens.

The Heveningham Estate was bought in 1752 by Sir Joshua Van Neck a member of a wealthy Dutch family (later known as Vanneck) and in making the purchase he took into account the estate’s proximity to Dunwich, a notorious “rotten borough” in those days, returning its own Member of Parliament.

Sir Joshua never became MP but his son, Sir Gerard, did take the Dunwich seat.

When Sir Joshua died in 1777, his son commissioned the creation of a mansion from the existing Queen Anne-style house.

With the exception of the dining room, which was badly damaged by fire in 1949, all the rooms on which Wyatt and the Italian artist Biangio Rebecca lavished their artistry and skill are intact.

And what was left of the original furniture was purchased when the Government bought the property. Some of the other furniture and paintings are on loan from individuals and the Victoria and Albert and Ipswich Museums.

Among the prized possessions of Heveningham are the print room- one of only a handful in the country- and the Etruscan Room, which is decorated in the style fashionable after the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii.

Valley
For many people, mention of Heveningham Hall conjures up the beautiful scene from the Halesworth – Laxfield road of the house standing high above a peaceful lake with sheep grazing on the intervening meadows.

The original plan was for the lake to stretch a mile down the valley to the village of Walpole, using water from the River Blyth. But this was eventually abandoned.

The Heveningham estate now covers only 500 acres, but it once comprised 25,000acres and encircled Leiston Abbey, about 15 miles away.

The grounds were designed by the famous Capability Brown and an attempt is now being made, using plans prepared by Dame Sylvia Crowe, to return them to their former glory.

Shooting
The days of the lavish social life of Heveningham Hall are long gone. With them too, went the large domestic staff. But the old kitchens, cellars and stables can still be seen.

Near the stable yard stands a unique game larder where the fruits of the day’s shooting parties would be stored.

Edward VII was a frequent member of the shooting parties organised on the estate.

Last year, 23,000 people visited the house, a little below average.

Mr Sheppard said, “I am afraid we suffered as a result of the long hot summer. People tended to stay on the beach rather than walk around an old mansion.”


1979
East Anglian Times 3.7.1979


Time slipped nearly two centuries for 200 children at Heveningham Hall, near Halesworth yesterday.

Enacting history, the children adopted the clothes and roles of servants at the hall in the summer of 1790.

No chore was left undone. Young servants worked in the kitchens and gardens, lit fires,cleaned the rooms,looked after the stables, fished the lake and helped the gamekeeper.

The show has been staged by Suffolk County Council's drama advisory service at Lowestoft and by the time it finishes on Friday about 1,500 Suffolk schoolchildren will have taken, part.

Leading light, Mr. Patrick Redsell, said the venture was unique. Though similar "looks-back -into-the past" had been arranged the youngsters had always been spectators and not participants.

Heveningham Hall, a large 18th Century house, was owned by the Vanneck family, whose roles are taken this week by the Theatre in Education team from Ipswich.

Jackie Lewis, drama teacher at Leiston High School, is group leader in charge of the dairy kitchen, which makes items such as butter and cheese.

She said the children had entered the spirit of the occasion, but found it difficult working with the old wooden equipment which took a long time to clear.

The youngsters had mixed feelings about servant life in 1979 but all seemed to enjoy a day away from the 20th Century classroom.

The project is being run for nine to 13s and the children come from a wide area embracing Ipswich, Wickham Market, Leiston, Halesworth, Beccles, Bungay and Lowestoft.

Children in period dress in the grounds of Heveningham Hall

The drama advisory service also gave each youngster a copy of an imaginary newspaper, "The Huntingfield Times."


1980
East Anglian Daily Times 9.2.1980


Heveningham Hall, near Halesworth, which has cost taxpayers £500,000 since it was bought by the Government ten years ago, is to be sold.

The decision was announced in the Commons yesterday.

Replying to a Parliamentary question from Eye MP Mr.John Gummer, Environment Secretary Mr. Michael Heseltine said the Government had decided to look for a “suitable owner”.

It plans to sell the hall - one of the country's finest Georgian mansions - and 500-acre estate but has agreed to keep the Thomas Wyatt designed furniture.

It was hoped that public access to the house would be guaranteed and that the furniture could remain there.

Mr. Heseltine said it had always been the intention that Government ownership should be temporary and extend only to carrying out necessary repairs and finding a suitable new owner.

He added that the hall had cost the National Land Fund some half a million pounds since it was bought it in 1970.

Environment
Department officials have been instructed to discuss the sale with estate agents Strutt and Parker.

A Department spokesman said yesterday that no price had yet been suggested. It had still to be decided when and where to advertise it.

Heveningham would remain open to the public until a new owner was found.

The National Trust, which is responsible for opening the hall and its grounds to the public, has said that it sees no reason why this should not continue under private ownership.

But the chairman of Suffolk Preservation Society, Mr. Desmond Pakenham, said last night that his Society was worried that the contents might be removed.

The Wyatt furniture had been designed for particular rooms and much of its artistic value would be lost if it was taken from the hall, he added.

Upkeep
The house was built between 1777 and 1780 and designed by Sir Robert Taylor and Wyatt. Its grounds were laid out by Capability Brown.

The Government only bought the hall because the Vanneck family, which lived there for two centuries, could no longer afford its upkeep.


1980
East Anglian Times 16.4.80


Rumours that the Government was planning to rid itself of an embarrassing encumbrance in the shape of Heveningham Hall were confirmed by Mr Michael Heseltine, the Secretary of State for the Environment, on February 8.

Yet more than two months later the hall, between Halesworth and Framlingham, is still not on the market.

Mr Nigel Cotton, of estate agents Strutt and Parker, says that his firm had now been formally instructed to put the hall on the market and that he would be looking at the property soon with the idea of making out the sale details.
The hall will not be up for sale until sometime in June, perhaps.

Those who have been involved in buying and selling houses will not be surprised that it takes so long to arrange to put a building like Heveningham Hall on the market. Yet there is something about the Government’s handling of the sale which leaves one wondering at its real intentions.

Unanswered
For instance, last July the chairman of the Suffolk Preserveration Society, Mr Desmond Pakenham, wrote to Mr Heseltine pointing out that his society was very concerned at the possibility that the hall might be sold, and that it regarded the mansion and its associated buildings as a very important part of the country’s architectural heritage. He received neither reply nor acknowledgement.

A further one-sided correspondence followed, then in October the matter was taken up for the society by Eye MP Mr John Gummer. At last the Environment Department was provoked into providing an answer. ”It appears we can find no trace of this correspondence.” Mr.Gummer was told.

“I can assure the Suffolk Preservation Society that we will take whatever steps we consider necessary to ensure the Hall, its essential Wyatt furniture and the estate are preserved,” said Parliamentary Under–Secretary Mr Hector Monro in a letter which Mr Gummer passed on to SPS director Mr John Popham.

Noted
Even on December 12, more than a week after the Government’s intention to sell Heveningham had been mentioned during a debate on the National Heritage Bill, Mr Monroe was writing to the SPS chairman, “I appreciate your society’s concern about securing the continued preservation of the important building and I have noted what you have to say.

Nothing there about the decision to offer the hall on the open market- a decision which had clearly already been made.

This rather muddled approach seems typical of the Government’s handling of the Heveningham Hall problem ever since it bought the estate from the Vanneck family ten years ago.

“Heveningham Hall was acquired by one of my predecssors in 1970, using monies from the National Land Fund, in order to secure its preservation and that of its contents and estate ,” said Mr Heseltine in answer to a Parliamentary question from Mr Gummer in February.

Temporary
It has always been intended, however, that Government ownership of this property should be temporary and should extend only to carrying out necessary repairs and finding a suitable new owner.

“Unfortunately,” the Environment Secretary added, “attempts to dispose of the property since 1970 have failed.”

One cannot help wondering, then, why it is assumed that the present attempt is likely to produce a buyer who will not only take over the maintenance of the building but will agree to the Wyatt furniture being retained in its original setting and will continue to open the house to the public.

Mr Heseltine has stated that the cost to the Land Fund of acquiring the estate and subsequent maintenance has been in the region of half a million pounds. Others have estimated that a similar sum is now needed to put the hall and the incomparable orangery designed by James Wyatt into a good state of repair.

Of course grants are obtainable, but whoever buys the hall is going to need a private fortune as well. For grants do not usually extend to the full sum needed.

It is the problem of ensuring the satisfactory preservation both of the hall itself, designed by Sir Robert Taylor with interior decorations by James Wyatt, and the orangery, that concerns the Suffolk Preservation Society. Mr Pakenham told me that there were many questions which need to be asked, and the answers are simply not forthcoming.

The importance of this great mansion - "the only one in Suffolk really worth seeing," according to Francois de la Rochefoucauld, who visited it in 1784 when it was still new and incomplete - is not to be doubted.

It is important not just as another stately home, but because the interior decorations and the furnishings are still just as they were designed by Wyatt in 1778 -experts have come to the conclusion that much of the paintwork is still the original.

Decorations
The Government has announced that any buyer will have to agree to keep the furniture, ownership of which is being retained by the Department of the Environment, in its proper setting, but Mr.Pakenham is worried that an unsympathetic restoration of the interior could ruin the decorations.

Fan vaulting is painted to give a three-dimensional effect, with shading which disguises the flatness of the reality. Redecoration by an ordinary gang of housepainters could ruin this for ever.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment told me that the Department was very concerned about the decorations, but he was unable to say just how the preservation of the interior might be achieved. "Obviously the conditions are something to be negotiated with whoever decides to buy it," he said.

And just who might be expected to purchase this magnificent but none-too comfortable home? "There have been other houses where a private owner has been able to do a great deal for the property," the spokesman pointed out.

Was he, perhaps, thinking of Longleat with its lions and Beaulieu with its ancient motor-cars?


1980
East Anglian Times 18.4.80


Management of a stately home and its estate is not the kind of task that most of us would find a simple one. It can be decidedly difficult when forward planning is impossible.

"In 1969 the national Trust accepted the Department of the Environment's invitation to act as agent at Heveningham for what was then thought to be a two year period". Says National Trust information officer Mr Nigel Sale. "The trust did this because it is convinced that the hall, its remaining furniture and the land round the house are of very high quality and worthy of preservation for the nation."

More than ten years later the day-to-day management of the house and estate is still in the hands of the National Trust, but one feels that this has been a not altogether happy liaison between a Government department and a non-governmental public body. Contrary to popular belief, the National Trust is dependent on subscriptions, donations and bequests and is not financed from our taxes.

Typical of the frustration felt by staff of the National Trust is the failure of their tree planting scheme for the park. Aware that the trees planted by "Capability Brown" in the second half of the 18th century had passed maturity, they initiated a scheme based on a landscape appraisal by Dame Sylvia Crowe, but had to give up when the Department of the Environment refused to make the necessary cash available.

Objecting
Now the Forestry Commission, which is looking after the woodlands outside the park itself, is proposing to plant poplars - a species specifically criticised by Dame Sylvia Crowe because of their visual effect on the landscape - in the estate woodlands. Suffolk Coastal District Council is sufficiently disturbed by the proposal to have entered a holding objection so that the matter can be investigated.

The national Trust has succeeded in persuading the Department of the Environment to proceed with repairs to the orangery, a building which is considered by architectural historians to be as important as the hall itself, but the Department will not say how much is being spent on the work.

Total cost of its restoration was estimated at £20,000 a few years ago, and at today's rates the cost would be much higher.

However, the Suffolk Preservation Society believes that only a comparatively small amount of money has been allocated and that this relates to the current financial year only.

"What I want to know is who is going to repair the orangery if the property is sold?", says SPS director Mr John Popham. "Will the rest of the money for its restoration be made available if the house is sold? It is a marvellous building, make no mistake about that."

When Eye MP Mr John Gummer took up the point with Mr Michael Heseltine he was told that "I have noted the society's concern that the orangery should be fully restored, possibly as a condition of sale, and that the important 18th Century interiors should be preserved in their original form."

That might sound fine, but Mr Heseltine went on to say that he could not give details of any covenants the Government might wish to impose on a new owner, and added "I would not wish to limit the range of prospective buyers by laying down in advance of negotiations stringent and inflexible conditions.

Perhaps the Environment Secretary does not wish to frighten off any millionaire philantropist who expresses interest in taking over the hall and park. Certainly he is in no position to tell prospective buyers the cost of restoration.

When I spoke to Nigel Sale he told me that the National Trust knew that a considerable amount of work needed to be done, but he refused to be pressed into giving an opinion on the likely cost. A full survey needed to be carried out to
determine exactly what restoration was needed he said.

And the Department of the Environment has, I understand, refused to find the money for such a survey.

Mr Sale is something of a diplomat and did not enter into a discussion
on the possibility of finding a buyer for Heveningham, "It is not for the National Trust to comment on the question of principle involved in the Secretary of State's decision to try to find a buyer for Heveningham, as it repeatedly emphasised that the National Trust advocates tax and other arrangements that will make it possible for private owners to continue to accept responsibility for the preservation in the national interest of the bulk of land, buildings and works of art" he said.

"If suitable conditions can be made binding it is possible that a private owner could do for Heveningham what other private owners already do for other great houses. The purchaser would have to care for the property to a sufficient standard, guarantee public access and make permanent arrangements for the future so that it is not again at risk after the lifetime of the purchaser."

Safety net
A Department of the Environment spokesman made much the same comment about "other private houses where a private owner has been able to do a great deal for the property." But he was unable to name any case in which a private owner had done anything for a house which had been acquired from the Government. Perhaps he was thinking of Longleat and Woburn Abbey.

"The National Trust feels that it should hold itself in reserve as a safety net and would be delighted to accept an offer of the whole property for permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation if it was accompanied by an adequate endowment," Mr Sale added. "In addition to endowment, the National Trust would also have to be given a capital sum to cover the cost of full repair and restoration and the development of further facilities for visitors and staff.

Was there underlying that remark a suggestion that National Trust staff were dissatisfied with the arrangements existing up to now? No diplomat would answer such a question, yet it is by no means difficult to read between the lines.

Insecure
There is a strong suggestion put forward in various quarters that the Department of the Environment has not done all it could to look after the mansion, the stable block, the orangery and other premises during the ten years it has been in Government hands. And this has fed fears of the Suffolk Preservation Society that the future of Heveningham Hall is by no means secure.

"Our concern is that whoever has the building maintains it satisfactorily." Says the SPS director. " That is one fear." Says Mr Popham. "And if they fail to sell it, what are they going to do then?"


1981
Evening Standard 11.11.1981


A wealthy Arab has bought one of Britain's stateliest of stately homes - Heveningham Hall, near Halesworth.

For a cool £726.000 he has become the owner of the magnificent 18th century, former State-owned property, set in over 450 acres of rolling farmland and woodland.

Completion of the deal was announced today - and ends almost two years of speculation about the future of the 24-bedroom, seven bathroom hall.

The new owner is wealthy Arab, bachelor Abdul Alghazzi, who lives in London's Park Lane, and is expected to use the fine Georgian house as a country home. He is also thought to be keen to use the hall's impressive stable block to keep racehorses.

And he has already said that he will open the hall to the public on at least 30 days a year, and intends to spend even more cash on continuing restoration and landscaping work.

Mr. Al-Ghazzi who is believed to be in his 30's is involved with a golf development company, based at Golf House, in London, where his personal assistant told the Star, he was away and not available for comment.

The hall was put on the market early last year, by the Department of Environment, which has owned it since 1970.

The State stepped in when the property passed out of ownership of the Vanneck family, owners since it was built in the 1770s.

The Grade One listed buildings includes seven richly decorated reception rooms, furnished and designed by James Wyatt.

The gardens and lake surrounding the property were the work of famous landscape gardener Capability Brown.

The sale has been handled on behalf of the Department of Environment by Ipswich estate agents Strutt and Parker, who announced the deal in a statement.

Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine has already said that the proceeds of the sale will be made available to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

1982
E.A.D.T. 3.3.82 Time takes toll on 18th Century summer house

Architectural treasure to be totally restored

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TWO icy winters in succession have harmed one of Suffolk's lesser-known treasures - The Temple, a Georgian garden building at Heveningham.
Yesterday, after driving along a snow-drifted farm road, Miss Rosemary Bowden-Smith pointed to large cracks that have appeared in the walls of this exquisite 18th Century summer house.

"Fortunately, English Heritage have taken a particular interest in The Temple and they are paying for its restoration next summer," she said.
Paint samples show that, although the small building has been much repaired and suffered extensive weather damage over the past two centuries, it was originally white and stone-coloured. That is how it will reappear later this year.

Designer
When Heveningham Hall and park were sold recently, the purchase did not include The Temple or woodland next to it; both now belong to a trust that wants to preserve it in the form intended by its designer. He could have been James Wyatt, Capability Brown or some unknown architect. "Who he was doesn't really matter," said Miss Bowden-Smith. "We can enjoy The Temple for what is - a delightful creation of elegance in a beautiful setting."
Buildings such as this were built mainly for enjoyment. Many have little definite purpose except as sheltered seats from which people could view the parkland at leisure, picnic places or as eye-catchers enlivening the landscape.

Landscaped
The Temple fills this last function extremely well - a tantalising glimpse of the building can be gained from the Orangery.

Once at The Temple the spectator would have wonderful view of the landscaped park.

"Even though much of it has been turned to farmland today, one can picture the undulating green parkland," she writes in a booklet devoted to The Temple.

It is the first in a series of publications on Georgian garden buildings.

The second is already being prepared and will describe the teahouse at Great Saxham Hall, near Bury St. Edmunds.

Garden buildings being considered for future publications include Gothic follies, ornamental bridges, aviaries and fountains.

Sponsor
"I would like to hear from anyone willing to allow garden buildings, whatever their state of preservation, to be surveyed and researched," Miss Bowden Smith said.

Help is also being sought to sponsor some aspects of this project.


1997
E.A.D.T. 2. 7. 1997

Landscape Legend's Dream comes True by Richard Rackham

When landscape gardener Capability Brown first set eyes on the land around Heveningham Hall he knew at once what he wanted to do.
He wanted to create a "valley of water" which would be in front of the hall, giving the impression of a sweeping river vista for the wealthy owners.

In 1782 he began work on the drawings but a year later he died and, so it seemed, had his parkland vision for Heveningham.

Now, more than 200 years later, hall owners John and Lois Hunt have drawn up a multi million pound scheme to make Brown's dream come true.

Using Brown's original drawings and ultra modem laser surveys, a huge team is now at work.

So vast is the undertaking that earthmoving equipment used on the Channel Tunnel has been brought in to dig out 100,000 cubic metres of silt from a neglected take.

The estate project has been described as the largest of its kind currently being tackled in Europe.

Environmental designer Kim Wilkie, in charge of the renovation masterplan, said: "This is unique, we are not aware of anything being done on a larger scale at this moment.

"It has been a wonderful opportunity to work on a project where the client has been prepared to draw up a plan of action before digging anything up - 18 months were spent before a single shovel of earth was moved."

Mr Wilkie said he was unable to reveal the total project cost, but confirmed that all funding for the work was being privately funded by the Hunt family, with no Government aid, apart from a small grant of a couple of hundred pounds for tree planting.

Since last November, an army of mechanical diggers has been shifting tonnes of black silt from the basin of a small lake and surrounding area of wet land in front of Heveningham Hall, as preparations begin to extend it along the valley towards the nearby village of Walpole, in accordance with Brown's original plans.

"The brilliant thing about Capability Brown was that he was a genius at being about to assess the natural landscape.

"He was able to understand by looking at it how to sympathetically enhance it," said Mr Wilkie.

When lake construction is completed, the existing body of water will have been extended to 20 acres.

The shape of the lake will follow the curve of the valley and give the impression of a wide flowing river.

There had been recent local concern about a water extraction application from a nearby natural river, and that it would be drained to fill the new lake.
Rob Orford, of Miles Group based in Bury St Edmunds, is responsible for the engineering work, and said that these worries were misplaced.

"It is true we have an extraction application going through at the moment,but the water will not be removed from the river to top up the lake - it will just flow through it.

"At the moment there are large mounds of silt which have been removed from existing lake.

"In parts it was very shallow. When we have finished it will be six feet deep
maximum."

Water has already begun to fill the lake again from natural underground sources. The silt currently has a lot of air in it, that will eventually disappear, leaving it only 20% of the original bulk," said Mr Orford.

"It will then be layered on to follow the existing contours of the landscape so when it is grass seeded there will be no noticeable difference."

The designers hope that green will start to cover black this autumn when grass seeding begins.

Finishing touches will include building a 40-yard-long stone bridge across the lake and constructing a temple folly as a focus point on the edge of estate woodland - both additions were in Brown's unfinished original landscaping scheme.

Renovation work is due to continue for as long as the current residents occupy the hall. Woodland management, includes planting 500 trees and moving part of an alder carr island in the lake to set-up a new wildlife area, a scheme believed by the designers to be a first in England.

Mr Orford expects his diggers and plant machinery to still be at the Heveningham estate in 12 months.

In that time the bare bones of the project will have been established but the completion will not be approached until around 2016.

Mr Wilkie said problems began for the estate after the First World War when maintaining the GradeI listed property and grounds became very difficult.

"The greatest designers in Britain came together and planned this house and estate, what we are doing is bringing their plan back to health - this is a jewel in Suffolk's history."


???? EADT

FAMILY RETREAT:
Heveningham Hall, near Halesworth, has been home to the Hunt family since 1994


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Low profile businessman is popular
Businessman Jonathan Hunt and his wife Lois bought Heveningham Hall and its 469-acre estate in 1994.

The magnificent Georgian mansion near Halesworth had been put up for sale by receivers Cork Gully with an asking price of £4.5million.

Mr Hunt has been determined to keep a low profile but allowed a statement to be released by a public relations company when he first bought the hall and grounds.

The statement said the Hunts had bought the hall after a three-year search for a country house suitable as a private family home for them and their four children.

"As Mrs Hunt's family come from Suffolk, Heveningham was particularly appropriate".

"Appreciating and respecting the importance of what is widely regarded as one of Britain's finest Georgian mansions, it is their intention to fully, and sympathetically, conserve and restore the house and Capability Brown-designed park and gardens," said the statement.

In the years that followed the purchase the Hunt family have certainly kept to their word and have carried out extensive restoration and conservation projects involving both the hall and grounds.

A major project was carried out in 1997 to create Capability Brown's vision of a "valley of water" in front of the hall giving the impression of a sweeping river vista.

The landscape designer's vision of 1782 was brought to life more than 200 years later when the Hunts funded a multi-million project that involved digging out 100,000 cubic metres of silt from a neglected lake.

Using Capability Brown's original drawings - and vast earth moving equipment that had previously worked on the Channel Tunnel - the lakes are now an impressive feature of the grounds.

The work to fully restore the park and grounds is continuing and as recently as last month Mr and Mrs Hunt received planning approval from Suffolk Coastal District Council to restore the small gate lodges at the original entrance to the estate on Sibton Road, Walpole.

Although Mr and Mrs Hunt have been determined that the hall and grounds remain a private family home they have become extremely popular with local residents.

They allow the grounds to be used to help raise funds for the five neighbouring parish churches and other local good causes.

An annual fireworks display is held in the grounds and there is also the Heveningham Country Fair that this year takes place on Sunday, July 10.