The importance of the Grotto and its deteriorating condition are undisputed. Since 1993, efforts have been made to achieve a restoration of the grotto, with the support of many organisations including Garden History Society, Royal Fine Arts Commission, V&A Museum, London Parks and Gardens Trust, and National Heritage Memorial Fund. The establishment of Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust in 2004 and the writings of Anthony Beckles Willson have succeeded in keeping the issue in the public eye and in the minds of successive owners.
When Radnor House School bought the site in 2010, they invited Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust to join them in developing an achievable project for the conservation of the Grotto. Previous proposals were studied and reasons for their failure understood. It was decided to undertake a modest restoration because the grotto is integral to the school buildings, therefore unsuitable for leasing to PGPT nor accessible to the public during school hours.
Thanks to funding from Historic England and others in 2015 Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust was able to commission a conservation statement (prepared by Odgers Conservation Consultants) and a conservation management plan for the grotto (drawn up by Donald Insall Associates). These documents informed a pilot project to conserve the south chamber in 2017.
An application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for £247,200 made in 2019 was successful, but work was inevitably delayed thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past year, works to conserve and re-present the Grotto have been completed by a team led by architects Donald Insall Associates and Odgers Conservation Consultants. Works undertaken by Taylor Pearce Ltd have included lifting a later concrete floor to reveal earlier brickwork and the cleaning, resetting and replacement of the varied mineral samples which formed the final stage of Pope’s interior design for the Grotto. The Grotto’s underlying structure, and changes to it over time have been revealed by the works, along with evidence of water features referred to by Pope and 18th- century visitors to the Grotto.
Historic England has confirmed the Grotto will be removed from the 2023 Heritage at Risk Register at its annual update in November. These are some images of the conserved grotto:
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