Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Land of the Fanns volunteers produce important document recording community heritage

HISTORIC parkland and fantastic features from designed landscapes have emerged during a project run by the Land of the Fanns in partnership with the Gardens Trust to re-connect local communities with their heritage. Encompassing everything from Tudor ‘canals’, icehouses, memorial gardens, spas and post-war playground-design, the Designed Landscape project has engaged volunteers who have recorded the area’s riches to help understand and to protect them from future neglect and development.


Over the past year, 15 volunteers have been researching and recording features in the landscape across the area of the Land of the Fanns in order to get a better picture and understanding of the importance and significance of some of the area’s forgotten or unrecognised heritage. This research, now collated into a report, is an important tool for local authorities and planners and will help protect these fabulous features for years to come.

The Land of the Fanns has a commitment to reconnect local people to the landscape, its history and heritage. Of its 26 projects running across East London and South West Essex, the Designed Landscape course run in partnership with the Gardens Trust offered local people the opportunity to learn how to ‘read’ the land and spot remnants of the past. The Know It, Love It training led by Twigs Way, gave them the necessary skills to be able to identify lost buildings, fragments of planned gardens, previously overlooked features of designed landscapes and thus gather a record of sites that had until now been unidentified or ignored.  

The training took place at large, well-known sites including Dagnam Park, Warley Place, Thorndon Park and Belhus, and at the Essex Records Office. The volunteers went on todiscover a huge range of features in smaller, less well-known parks and gardens including some relicts ‘hiding’ in later amenity sites and the bulk of the 50 Fabulous Features recorded in the report are to be found in these. There were also training sessions at the Essex Records Office. At each of the sites the volunteers discussed the sorts of features to look for, how to find out more about their history, how to assess their condition, and also what threats they were under and how better understanding and local involvement might result in enhanced protection and local appreciation.

The volunteers were initially challenged to find 35 features over two years but such was their enthusiasm and commitment for the project and such was the wealth of the discoveries to be made in the landscape that, working all during lockdown, the volunteers exceeded this and found 50 fabulous features in just one year. The historic designed landscape features are scattered across the Land of the Fanns and reflect the area’s long history, its shifting communities and changing cultures.  The list of fabulous features now records 1950s playground ponds, park shelters, a long-forgotten spa source, long abandoned ice houses and a possible rockery made of Pulhamite, a type of rocklike material invented by James Pulham and in use between the 1830s -1940s. 

The volunteers produced a significance statement for each feature as well as assessment of current condition, current use, and possible issues and future threats. The aim of these significance statements, based on enhanced research and desktop and site survey, was to create an awareness of the features to assist in their understanding, promotion and protection in a fast-changing area with considerable pressures; in particular where undesignated heritage assets may be overlooked or undervalued during the planning process.

The volunteers’ important research has now been collated into a report that will be an essential reference tool for local councils, local planners, developers, national heritage agencies and the general public and will inform them about the significance of the history of the landscape. The report can be viewed on the Land of the Fanns website at and hard copies will be sent to local authorities across the Land of the Fanns. A copy is held in print form at the Thames Chase Forest Centre which is where the Land of the Fanns team is based. The Thames Chase Trust is the lead partner in the Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Deborah Brady, Heritage Engagement Officer for the Land of the Fanns said “The fantastic work the volunteers have done builds up a picture of the extent of historical features across this dynamic and everchanging landscape, and their significance to each site in the landscape. The final report will be really useful when organizations come to prepare local management plans and historical management plans.”

Phil Lobley was one of the volunteers who having been trained to spot and investigate unusual features in the land, became an enthusiastic searcher. He said “I was delighted to get involved in the ‘Know It, Love It’ project run by the Land of the Fanns. It has succeeded in reigniting my interest in local history and, by learning new skills in interpreting features in the landscape, our team have now researched 50 features, mostly located in local parks and gardens.  Our report will be distributed to national and local stakeholders with the aim of ensuring that these historic features are properly conserved and that the local community becomes more aware of the history on their doorstep.”

Linden Groves, Strategic Development Officer, the Gardens Trust said “The Gardens Trust has been delighted to work with the Land of the Fanns project to deliver training and support to volunteer researchers, from Essex Gardens Trust and beyond. Volunteers are at the heart of our work conserving historic designed landscapes, and we have been thrilled by the enthusiasm and dedication shown by this fantastic team.”

Benjamin Sanderson, Land of the Fanns Scheme Manager said “The Designed Landscapes project has ensured that the heritage of the area has been identified and recorded so that its local significance can be better articulated, understood and appreciated. Its legacy will be to support future projects and the decision-making process.”  


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