An Update from Marble Hill – Rachel Morrison

Since my last Craghoppers post, Marble Hill has gone through a significant change in its landscape, in the conservation and restoration in the house. We have also delivered a significant number of events and it has been a delight to be a part of these wearing my English Heritage Craghoppers uniform.

The Marble Hill Revived project, which I am helping to deliver as ‘Audience Development Manager, is an amazing opportunity to open up Marble Hill House more often, revive the landscape, and – from the play area to the sports pitches – improve the facilities across the park.

Under the watchful eye of Kate Slack, our amazing Head gardener, and our horticultural apprentice, Jack Morris, it has been a delight to see the landscape transformed into abundant wild flower meadows with arbours around the oval lawn, a nine pin bowling green and new play area for children. In March we opened the Coach House Cafe which has been a real success, with a new team and a new catering manager Daniel Horgan and our super Head Chef, Ade. The collaboration between the Kitchen garden volunteers to grow delicious produce that is then transformed into a range of tasty offerings by Ade at the cafe has been wonderful to witness. In May we opened the new Children’s play area next to the cafe which houses trampolines in the ground and wooden climbing apparatus, so you can have a cup of tea whilst watching your little ones and enjoying the sixty-six acres of glorious grounds.

At the heart of the grounds, nestled on the banks of the River Thames, stands Marble Hill House- a beautiful, newly repainted Georgian Villa in the Palladian style. It was the most wonderful day when the scaffolding came down and the house beamed with its newly painted walls, brand new windows, watertight roof and re-gilded weather vane. The Marble Hill revived project has ensured we can safeguard the house’s future. Here you can see a picture of me in my uniform on scaffolding the day before it all came down!  A host of ten volunteers, and two City & Guilds conservation placements have enabled the first two floors to be thoroughly cleaned so we can receive the collection back ready for the opening of the house in, Spring for free access five days a week.

Worker on the roof

What has been the most wonderful joy of this project is the lives it has touched. The Marble Hill Revived project has been able to help change lives. The project was created with five apprenticeship posts, one in horticulture, two in childcare and two for the cafe. We are delighted to now have five amazing young people in post who are waving the English Heritage flag wearing their Craghoppers uniforms and starting their new careers thanks to this fantastic project. The project was created not only to invest in apprentices, but also two interns and also two PHD student placements thus far. In addition we have taken on the most amazing kick-starter called Antony Lee as my assistant which is the government’s scheme to get people off universal credit and into paid roles (one of thirteen in the first cohort at English Heritage up and down the country).

We have been able to deliver some life changing projects as part of the Marble Hill Revived Project and these have been inspired by Henrietta Howard, Marble Hill’s creator. Henrietta, born in 1689 to a titled family, lost her parents at a young age, entering an unhappy marriage with Charles Howard, the youngest son of the 5th Earl of Suffolk in 1706. Her husband’s drinking, gambling and whoring debts led her to raise funds to travel with Charles to the Hanoverian court, in the hope of currying favour with the dynasty which would inherit the throne of Great Britain on Queen Anne’s death. Her plan was a success.

This difficult part of Henrietta’s life is pivotal to her story, and it is in this respect that we have been delighted to share her story. With local charity Dose of nature, we have worked with women who have been victims of domestic abuse, providing workshops to share experiences and coping methods, and have talked, walked and created poetry and land art using Henrietta as an inspiration. Henrietta forged change and through this work we have been delighted to see our women gain confidence, find togetherness and find security in Marble Hill.

We recently hosted our third Resonance Project, as part of our National Lottery Heritage Grant, which explored themes of craftsmanship, sustainability and slavery through the mahogany staircase in Marble Hill House. Dr Carol Ann Dixon from the University of Sheffield and Hugh Wedderburn, Secretary for the Master Carvers Association, provided workshops for young people in the borough from Achieving for Children’s Project X, a charity working with youth offenders. Participants learned carving techniques and crafted motifs inspired by the staircase. They also planted cherry trees in the gardens dedicated to all the enslaved Africans whose unfree labour was used in the harvesting of mahogany featured at Marble Hill.

I was very proud to wear my uniform as we gave young people a different experience, challenging their beliefs that heritage sites ‘were not for them’. Instead these trees will always be a testament of their connection to Marble Hill.  Marble Hill is now their heritage and their heritage is Marble Hill and their legacy is reflected in the two trees that will be there as a constant reminder of their workshops at Marble Hill, as they visit and tend the trees in years to come.

The revived project has seen a focus on upgrading sporting facilities, including cricket nets and pitches, tennis courts, football pitches and rugby pitches. Coupled with the new lift that is being put into Marble Hill we have been delighted to hold the first of two accessible sports days at Marble Hill- a football tournament for 650 people including over 200 girls and women, and an accessible session. We have welcomed groups from Mencap, Speak Out Hounslow, RUILS and dance groups that have included people with neurological difficulties and MS sufferers.

This summer we have been hosting our Arts in the Park series every Sunday at 2pm, welcoming jazz, renaissance and tango performances, with Bollywood next week and then Shakespeare to finish off August’s performances. Other events include historic landscape tours, meadow dipping, butterfly counts and forest bathing. Through these events we have been able to address the inextricable link of nature with mental health from setting up a volunteer led community walking group to working with LGBTQ teenagers on site planting hedgerow. Using our heritage site to help our community as we emerge from the pandemic is something I feel most pleased about.

I am honoured to be a part of the work that we are doing to support our community, invest in the future of Marble Hill and ensure the park and house are accessible for all, and I wear my Craghoppers English Heritage uniform with pride.


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