Our precious stones

L1230224©Geoff Wilkinson

Wanstead Park has been described as the jewel in east London’s crown. In the first of a series of articles documenting restoration work on the park’s 18th-century Grotto – a gem in its own right – John Sharpe of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands reports on phase one of the repairs to the structure’s landing stage. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

As previously reported in the Wanstead Village Directory, the Wanstead Park Grotto has been declining and is on the Heritage at Risk Register, despite partial attempts at repair in previous decades. The edges of the landing stage have been crumbling, major stones have been dislodged and some sections have collapsed.

In 2020, the charity Heritage of London Trust commissioned a condition survey and have been working closely with the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and the City of London Corporation to develop a repair package of works. The Heritage of London Trust has raised £24,000 towards restoration of the historic landing stage.

The conservation contractor working on the Grotto is London Stone Conservation and the project is being managed by the City of London Corporation.

Initial phase one works will ascertain the exact build-up of the landing stage materials. The retaining wall areas at the front of the landing stage will be rebuilt from the ground up to give structural integrity to the stage. The next phase is to consolidate the landing stage in sections, carefully removing plant and root growth, soil and rubble build-up and exposing the underlying core. The landing stage core will then be rebuilt in each section. Missing elements will be replaced using the surviving stone sections. The stones have recently been salvaged and stored by Epping Forest from the area surrounding the Grotto.

This planned work for 2022 will be undertaken by specialist conservators. The restoration of the landing stage is the first part of the project to restore the upper levels of the structure, including the front elevation, and it is hoped this phase will include restoration of some of the lost historic elements of the Grotto’s façade. This work will also include assessment and possible replacement of unsuitable materials, such as modern brickwork, to return the façade to its historic appearance as much as possible.

Heritage of London Trust has been running educational visits to the Grotto through its Proud Places programme with great success. Over 50 young people have visited the site to learn about its history and take part in creative workshops.

Nicholas Munday, Epping Forest Verderer and Chairman of the Wanstead Park Liaison Committee, confirmed the City of London Corporation will also be carrying out detailed pre-restoration work to stabilise the structure and lay the foundation for detailed surveys and analysis to enable the restoration of the structure to be assessed.

The aim is to restore the Grotto’s existing structure and establish around it a new setting with improved public amenities and access. Work will also be done to investigate the foundations of an original bridge across the Ornamental Water. This broader project will be the subject of a feasibility study and consultation in the second half of 2022.

It should be a very active year for the Grotto and its surroundings. The City of London Corporation is working closely with Redbridge Council, Natural England and Historic England, with the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and Heritage of London Trust very much involved.

For more information on Wanstead Park’s Grotto, visit wnstd.com/grotto

Author: Editor