Reflecting on Prior Park’s beauty

An added bonus if you are planning to visit Prior Park Landscape Garden in Bath. The restoration of the dams has allowed the lakes to be refilled enabling you to see the historic reflections of the Palladian bridge in their waters once more.

It’s the first time since 2017, when the middle lake was drained to reduce pressure on the failing dams, that the famous reflections can be admired by visitors.  

In November 2019, work started to repair and replace the dams and restore the garden to the vision that Ralph Allen had in the 1700s. The middle dam had been leaking in several places for many years, and this was exacerbated by burrowing invasive American signal crayfish. The lower dam was also in need of improvement to cope with extreme weather events and as climate change continues the outlet needed to be upgraded to handle over-topping in the event of a flood.  

As the dams project nears completion the middle lake has been refilled, making it possible for the reflections to be seen again. The project has also re-instated the cascade, an original historic feature, which was taken apart stone by stone and put back together. Visitors can now hear the sound of gentle flowing water as they explore the garden.   

Paths have been renewed around the lower lakes and with the repairs complete visitors are able to enjoy walking over the middle dam, which was closed in 2014 for safety. From the new path, views can be enjoyed up over the pasture to the top of the garden, with the bridge spanning the water. 

Tom Boden, National Trust General Manager at Prior Park, said: “Being able to walk across the dams and see a perfect mirror image of the Palladian Bridge is a wonderful reward for all the work that has happened over the last two-years to restore this Georgian treasure. We’re grateful for the support the project has received which has enabled the National Trust to future-proof these reflections for generations to come.” 

The banks of the lakes were seeded with grass a few months ago and already the garden is looking green again. In the autumn, the planting stage of the project will start. Shrubberies which have temporarily been seeded with a wild clover mix, will be planted with over 4000 shrubs and plants inspired by 18th-century style. 

‘During the construction phase, the shrubberies have been prepared ready for the autumn planting’, commented Alice Norland, Head Gardner at Prior Park, ‘and the weather has helped the grass grow quicker than anticipated. Planning is now well underway as we prepare for the planting phase which will complete this project.’ 

The essential restoration project was funded with over £2.5 million left as a legacy bequest to the National Trust by J. L. McF. Webster for conservation work in Somerset, a number of very generous gifts from individuals and charitable trusts, community fundraising events led by Prior Park, a grant of £543k from DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) through the Culture Recovery Fund, administered by Historic England and through money granted by the National Trust’s central conservation fund. In total the project cost £4.69 million.  

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