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New schedule for our conservation project

In September 2019, the National Lottery Heritage Fund approved our application for funding. We’ll be using this substantial grant to complete our conservation project and our digital reconstruction. We are very pleased that this allows us also to make the grotto open to new audiences, in particular to young ones, and to build on partnerships with Marble Hill House, Strawberry Hill House and Orleans House Gallery.

We had planned to complete the conservation work in the School’s summer holiday this year – the only time in the year where there is sufficient time outside school hours for such activities. However, there have been delays to the legal agreements between the various parties and we have reluctantly decided to delay the conservation until the summer of 2021. Between now and next year, we’ll be raising the additional funds needed by opening the Grotto to the public and applying to trusts for additional grants.

‘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. We are also very pleased to have received a generous grant from the Heritage of London Trust towards the conservation. In 2014, the Trust supported the conservation of the 18th century gates.

The Grotto will be open for the first time this year on Saturday 21st of March (now sold out). We will open on three Saturdays during the Twickenham Festival in June and on other days – details of all these openings will be sent to subscribers to our email list as soon as booking opens.

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.