Lottery fund boost for National Botanic Garden of Wales

The first stage of a £6.7 million plan to restore historic Regency landscape at the National Botanic Garden of Wales has been given the green light.
What will be the biggest project in the Garden’s history aims to uncover the origins of Middleton Hall – the 568-acre estate that the Garden now occupies – and to tell the story of more than 250 years of East India Company influence that shaped the landscape of this part of Wales.
It was announced today (September 1st, 2014) that the Garden has received initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with a pledge of more than £300,000 to develop its plans for the Regency Restoration project.
The scheme includes major archaeological work which will reveal the secrets of the estate from the time of Shakespeare and before, and see the restoration of the later Regency landscape that was one of the finest water parks in Britain.
When completed, the Garden will once more feature the necklace of seven lakes, cascades, falls and weirs created more than 200 years ago and again boast the Regency planting scheme that formed the heart of its parkland.

The Director of the National Botanic Garden, Dr Rosie Plummer said: “This is fantastic news and we are very grateful to the HLF for signalling this start to a brand new and exciting era for the Garden. It is, of course, a major project and we need to acknowledge some of our other key funders, chief among whom are heritage philanthropist Richard Broyd OBE, who suggested and supported the project from the outset; Garfield Weston Foundation, Welsh Government, the Mercers’ Company and The Pilgrim Trust.
She added: “It is an ambitious project and the most significant undertaking since the Garden opened in 2000. It is one which will not only provide enduring value to this part of Wales but is also very much about honouring the original vision of William Wilkins and all the Garden’s founders.”
Dr Manon Antoniazzi, Chair of HLF’s Committee for Wales said: “This is an extremely promising project and we are thrilled to be able to provide initial support to develop the plans for the restoration of this Welsh landmark. The Garden provides such a rich reflection of Wales’ natural heritage and it is vital that this continues to be protected and developed so that future generations can also enjoy and appreciate these wonderful, Carmarthenshire landscapes. Not only did the National Botanic Garden make a convincing case for restoring the Regency landscape, there are ambitious plans for people to get involved in the project and new ways of helping people to learn about the heritage and significance of the site, including the little known links the East India Company had to the area. I’m looking forward to hearing how those plans develop.”

Speaking on behalf of Welsh Government, Tourism Minister Edwina Hart welcomed the news and said: “This fascinating story of Middleton will resonate around the world – and it all emanates from Wales, played out by the people of Wales and Welsh-speaking people. This project is a coup for our National Botanic Garden and we await with great anticipation the opportunity to watch it progress.”
The Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council Mark James also heralded the announcement as great news for the Garden, the county and the region. He said: “Tourism is the beating heart of Carmarthenshire and is worth more than £330 million a year to the county. This will be an important addition to the great and growing heritage offer we have for visitors to Carmarthenshire and the region.”
The Garden’s Head of Development, Rob Thomas, who is responsible for successfully piloting the funding bid, said: “The Middletons who settled in Carmarthenshire in the last quarter of the 16th century were a family that comprised the prime movers in the creation of that early instrument of empire, the East India Company. They were not merely the petitioners for the original charter: they were the investors, directors, stakeholders and principal merchant adventurers in all of the Company’s first voyages of discovery and enterprise that came to be known as the Spice Wars.
“And it is the fortunes won by John, David and Sir Henry Middleton, during their brief and brutal lives and by their bequests, that created the Middleton Hall estate which flourished for more than 150 years: and theirs were fortunes gained through the vastly profitable business of plants for health, at a time when pepper and cloves were prized commodities and nutmeg and mace worth more than their weight in gold.”
Said Mr Thomas: “With the decline in the Middleton fortunes, the estate was acquired in the 1780s by Sir William Paxton, a Scot returning from his East India Company service as one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He set to work, creating the blueprint for the landscape here today, employing the finest minds of the day to design the mansion, gardens and necklace of lakes that surrounded his hilltop home. He would have been acutely aware of the Middleton history that he was buying into. This truly was the heyday of the estate and the Garden today can not only claim that it has been a site of formal growing for more than 400 years, but can also point to the fact that it had its very genesis in plants for health and the profits to be made from them and was sustained by the development and growth of the British Empire.
“It is an incredible story of pirates, plague and plants for health, and plots a period of 250 years of international trade from the times of barter and exchange to the establishment of international lines of credit and investment banking; the forging of the blueprint for our current capitalist system; and, in the hands of Sir William Paxton, the formation of modern investment banking.”


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