Heritage site saved as South West’s newest free attraction
A 14th century deer park wall on the Dartington Hall estate that was in danger of being lost forever is to be removed from Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk’ register after repair and conservation works.
Until recently the 66 acre deer park, which is a nationally significant Scheduled Ancient Monument, had been in a very unstable condition at risk of collapse. Historic England had defined the wall to be at risk of being lost to future generations.
The news came from Dartington Hall Trust Chair, Greg Parston, at the opening ceremony (27 July) of the recently conserved Dartington Deer Park, which is now not just a heritage site but a new free visitor attraction and educational resource, set to bring medieval history and conservation alive for generations to come. People turned up in their hundreds to attend the launch event – which included medieval craft, games, guided tours, wildlife walks, and talks from stonemasons, archaeologists and building conservation specialists. And actors from the Natural Theatre Company performed sketches featuring real life medieval Dartington characters including the Champernownes, who commissioned the original Deer Park wall in 1738.
Rhodri Samuel, CEO, The Dartington Hall Trust, says: ‘Our heritage and architectural legacy at Dartington is very precious to us. Over the years and indeed centuries in this case, this legacy has been threatened by the effect of time and, sadly, this north eastern corner of our estate had become hidden and all but forgotten except by a few dog walkers. So the news that our Dartington Deer Park is no longer ‘at risk’ is extremely heartening after a year of hard work by conservation specialists, volunteers and people from all walks of life in our community. And even more exciting has been the sounds of hundreds of young people engaged in learning outdoors over the last year as this heritage site, visitor attraction and educational resource has sprung to life.’
John Ette, Heritage at Risk Principal for Historic England in the South West, says: ‘We are delighted that this important part of Devon’s history has been saved and made accessible for future generations to enjoy.’
Stephen Boyce, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West Committee, says: ‘Dartington’s deer park has a fascinating history, offering a glimpse into the medieval way of life and home to a wide array of wildlife. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we were delighted to award £622,600 to conserve the park’s historic features and open up its hidden heritage for even more people to enjoy. The wall is now set to stand strong at the heart of the park as it begins an exciting new chapter as a heritage destination for people of all ages – a fantastic achievement made possible by National Lottery players.’
Peter Renshaw, Chair of Trustees, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, says: ‘In March 2016 Viridor Credits Board of Trustees received the request to fund the repair and conservation of the C18th Deer Park Wall. The wall was, at that time, in desperate need of repair, and indeed on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register. The project was to conserve and protect a significant piece of Devon’s cultural heritage, increase public engagement with an ancient monument and historic landscape of national importance, and develop a heritage interpretation which would benefit the local community and visitors to the area.
‘Viridor Credits felt that that this was a comprehensively designed and well-thought out project, demonstrating the nationally significant historical importance of the site and the works required to save this at-risk structure; whilst also incorporating the provision community engagement, not just during the works, but for the future. The Board of Trustees were therefore pleased to award the funding of £120,000.00 towards the security of this historical feature.’
Families made the most of the free activities at the launch event. Jules, 7, said: ‘We found some birds and two butterflies and there’s things on the wall which are facts’.
His mum Belinda said: ‘It was a really lovely day. It feels very special to be in woods and to have that sense of quiet and space. And looking at the stalls and how people were just generally milling about made it all seem really relaxed and welcoming. The children were all absolutely fascinated with the different things they saw and experienced.’
Luca, 7, said: ‘I found out that deer can jump pretty far. There were like high walls that they can jump in but not out of. I enjoyed making the antlers with your hands, it was really fun.’
Her mum Nia said: ‘It was great, a really nice mixture of things with the craft activities and the games and the questions sheet. The kids had good fun trying to find out about things. My younger daughter loved the people who were dressed up in costumes as medieval characters. The kids were in awe of them and a bit scared, hiding behind us, but wanting to know ‘where are they?’
Thanks to major grant funding from Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, Higher Level Stewardship, The Pilgrim Trust and the generosity of individual donors, The Dartington Hall Trust was able to take action to save this part of Devon’s cultural heritage. In February 2016 it appointed a team of skilled stonemasons and conservators from Sally Strachey Historic Conservation, with guidance from historic building conservation specialists Philip Hughes Associates, to repair and conserve the 1.5km Deer Park Wall originally built in 1738.
The Trust has opened up this little known area of its estate to the public with new accessible trails – with a choice of a 1 mile for all terrain mobility scooters, wheelchairs and buggies, or a 2.25 mile trail for all terrain scooters and buggies. An imaginative new interpretation scheme, created with the help of trainees at the prisoner resettlement estate-based charity LandWorks, reveals the park’s hidden heritage and wildlife using information boards and sculptures.
Local school children who took part in an exciting outdoor educational programme of hands on learning from December 2016, have also left a lasting legacy in the Dartington Deer Park. The wicker deer, wattles and glove puppets – which are available in educational backpacks for children visiting the area – are the result of a programme of ‘learning by doing’ led by learning and participation officer Lizzie Mee. Students from St Margaret’s Academy, Dartington Primary School, King Edward VI Community College, Park School, South Devon Steiner, Harbertonford Primary School, St John’s Primary School, and Oldway Primary School learnt how people lived and worked in medieval times, trying out archaeology, historic and contemporary building and manufacturing processes.
The Trust trained 13 volunteers to lead weekly guided tours for the public to share the Dartington Deer Park’s 700 year story. The free tours explore the social, military and agricultural origins of the medieval deer hunt on this spot and include a chance to spot the resident fallow deer and biodiversity flourishing in the wood, river and meadows of this unspoilt habitat. Families are invited to collect a children’s backpack and bug magnifier from our Visitor Centre to get the most out of the Dartington Deer Park which is free to visit and open from dawn to dusk.