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Breaking news: National Lottery Heritage Fund gives a green light to ‘The Genius of the Place: Restoring Alexander Pope’s Grotto at Twickenham”

We are thrilled to announce that our long-awaited project to conserve the grotto and to restore Alexander Pope to public awareness has been given permission to start. Delayed by a change of ownership of the grotto and by the pandemic, the Trust has continued successfully to work and fundraise, and it is grateful for the support and confidence of our partner Radnor House School and its parent organisation Dukes Education.

NLHF has awarded £247,200 towards the £384,000 project, with other donations coming from a range of charitable trusts and foundations, to whom we give our warmest thanks. The project will support the cleaning, conservation and re-illumination of Pope’s mineral-encrusted grotto. Conservation work, to be carried out in the summer of 2022, will include the north chamber and entrance, plus the entire central chamber and passage under Cross Deep.

Visitor experience will be enhanced by innovative interpretative materials, including a digital reconstruction of the grotto, enabling visitors to visualise the grotto in its original context in Pope’s villa and garden in eighteenth-century Twickenham. Public outreach events will make it imaginatively accessible to a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds. There will be opportunities for volunteers (including children, students and people who are not in education, employment or training) to be involved in welcoming visitors, learning guiding, conservation and geology. Throughout we will be working with our heritage partners, Strawberry Hill House Trust, Marble Hill House, and Orleans House Gallery, and with Layers of London, Achieving for Children, Age UK, and many local charities and organisations.

‘You too proceed! Make falling Arts your care, / Erect new wonders, and the old repair.’ (Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Burlington).

 

‘The Verse and the Curse’

Once more working with our friend Giles Abbott, we are delighted to announce that we have received a grant from Arts Council England for work with secondary schools, linking Pope’s rhetoric to the language of young people today. 

A plan of the Grotto by Samuel Lewis, 1785

Alexander Pope’s Grotto is the last remaining part of his famous villa and gardens, which he built in 1720 on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham. A mine of minerals gathered from all parts of the world, it is listed as Grade 2* and as Heritage at Risk ‘Of outstanding national importance’. It is loaded with significance for British culture and for the birth of the English Landscape Garden Movement, described by Mavis Batey as ‘A seminal event in in the 18th century search to establish man’s relationship to nature’.

Demolished in 1808, the villa was replaced and the property became the subject of much redevelopment over the following 200 years. In 1996 St James’s Independent School for Boys acquired the estate, remaining for 14 years, during which time a Charitable Trust was created to preserve the grotto. The current owner, Radnor House School, arrived in 2010 and has committed wholeheartedly to the project of conservation and to the activities surrounding it.

A grant from English Heritage financed the preparation of proposals for conservation and listed building consent by Donald Insall Associates. These form the basis of the work for which the Trust is raising funding. A grant from HLF Resilient Heritage funded a digital survey, an audience development plan and fundraising strategy, and, with further funding, enabled a pilot project of conservation and lighting to be carried out on the South Chamber in 2017. 

Since the Trust started opening the grotto regularly to the public in 2016 approximately 3000 people have explored its passages and minerals, and its popularity continues, even in its present shabby condition, drawing Londoners, students and enthusiasts from all over the world.