of the North West - Rivington's gardens|
One of the hidden
gems of the North West are the Chinese gardens of Rivington.
High up in
the West Pennine Moors, they are also one of the most inaccessible places in the
Created by the industrialist Lord Leverhulme, these gardens are
But, throughout this winter, teams of foresters have been
waging a battle with nature.
Simon O'Brien investigates the history of
the estate and looks at plans for the future.
History of the gardens
William Lever was one of the world's most extraordinary men - a tycoon, a
multimillionaire, a social reformer and philanthropist, a relentless art collector
and a man who believed in the benefits of fresh air.
He built a global
business empire based on sales of soap - and laid the foundations for history's
first multinational corporation - Unilever.
In the process he amassed a
fortune, gained a peerage and acquired one of the greatest art collections the
world has ever known.
He bought 200 acres of moorland between Chorley and
Bolton and created his country estate.
Terraces were blasted into the
hillside, and ornamental ponds and waterfalls replaced the moss.
and fifty thousand plants were set around his Italian and Japanese gardens, complete
with Pagodas and tea houses.
As an army of 40 gardeners kept the vegetation
under control, Lever described Rivington "as my idea of heaven".
built a small palace out of wood modestly calling it 'The Bungalow'.
the grounds, the great and the good came to be entertained.
In just 15 years of explosive expansion,
Lever drove his company from a tiny operation in Warrington to be the world's
largest soap manufacturer.
He now had four houses - his main home in Wirral,
one in London, one in Scotland and the summer retreat in Rivington.
his idyllic estate at Rivington was about to be rudely interrupted by a suffragette
called Edith Rigby.
wonderland - today the gardens are overgrown|
Edith was the
wife of a Preston doctor but beneath her elegant social life, there lay a crusading
reformer who despised her wealthy trappings.
Above all, she was a Suffragette
who wanted women to have the right to vote.
Mrs Rigby was a militant, who
mounted guerilla raids against the establishment.
She threw a bomb into
Liverpool Cotton Exchange, and in June 1913 she burned down Lord Leverhulme's
Leverhulme - who was dining elsewhere that night with
the King and Queen - was devastated.
He never understood why he'd been
singled out - he said that he was in favour of votes for women.
he had a new bungalow built - this time made of stone.
That too was demolished
in 1947, and all that remains are some neatly laid floor tiles.
In the 80
years since Lever's death, the gardens have been left to nature.
was left as a huge, desolate site, but now there are plans to restore it.
this year, a bid will be made for heritage lottery funding to pay for improvements,
which could take years to complete.
Blight in the bushes
there's a more pressing problem facing the estate - the 70 acres of rhododendron
are virtually all infected with Ramorum Blight - a fungus also known as Sudden
work will be complex|
The Government agency DEFRA has told
United Utilities, which presently owns the land, to kill the lot because it could
destroy native oak forests.
The only way to kill off the blight is to burn
it - and in every fire, a little bit of history is going up in smoke.
restoration work is so complex, that consultations are taking place with a number
of groups - from horticulturists, designers and historians.
One thing is
for sure - this is a battle against time and nature that is not going to be an
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