Thursday 24 May 2012

Heligan gardens appeal

An appeal from Cornwall:

Heligan – The Lost Memories Project

It is now 22 years since The Lost Gardens of Heligan were discovered and interest continues unabated, both from those with a possible historical connection and from a wider audience too. This fascinating story of discovery and restoration is now told across the world.

The initial focus of the restoration was specialist investigation into what structures and plants remained beneath the overgrowth, how they might have originated and what they were like in their Victorian heyday. The Heligan Labour Books show that outdoor staffing levels were depleted by two-thirds during the period 1914-17 and it is known that Heligan House was used as a convalescence hospital for officers of the Royal Flying Corps until 1919.

Between the 1920s and 1960s the property was let out. In the early 1930s Prince Edward and Mrs Simpson made a visit to see the still renowned gardens. In 1944 the American Army requisitioned the property and servicemen of the 38th Engineer Regiment spent six weeks here, practising for the D-day landings. Heligan also served as a billet for Italian prisoners-of-war and evacuees were later sent from the cities to stay in the vicinity.

Now the team at Heligan are looking to piece together the later parts of the jigsaw and are seeking memories from people who knew the house and gardens during these ‘lost’ years. If you were born, lived, worked or visited here at any time over the past century and recall names of staff, jobs done, specific plants or animals in particular areas or any other individual stories, your input would be most welcome. Heligan hopes that The Lost Memories Project will result in being able to piece together a nostalgic on-site exhibition in 2013, when The Lost Gardens of Heligan will celebrate 21 years since opening to the public.

A number of people have already been generous with archive and information, sharing old albums, letters, mementos and personal reminiscences. One elderly gentleman who grew up on the estate in the 1920s (when his father was Head Gardener), was able to draw a stunningly accurate plan of the lay-out of the farm buildings; another recalled visiting the gardens in the late sixties, when the overgrowth was already starting to take a hold. There are tales of children conceived in the Jungle, strange fruits harvested from trees long-forgotten, flower-pickers gathering violets to be sent to London and white camellias used in Princess Alexandra’s wedding bouquet.

“Without our visitors, Heligan would cease to exist. It’s the people who visit Heligan and appreciate its unique atmosphere, beauty and soul who keep the place alive” comments Lorna Tremayne, who has been leading the search for ‘lost memories’. “Now we are inviting those who have more distant personal memories of Heligan to help us fill some of the gaps in our understanding of what went before. If you have old photos or artefacts relating to Heligan we would be delighted to see them. As we work towards celebrating another important anniversary, we are ever respectful of the history of this unique place and the role it plays in our connection with it today. The 2013 exhibition will be for all those who love Heligan, as well as more specifically for those whose Heligan story has not as yet been uncovered and whose part in the unique history of Heligan has not yet been told.”

All 'LOST MEMORIES' can be sent via email to:
or post to: ‘LOST MEMORIES, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, Cornwall, PL26 6EN.’

(With thanks to Simon Whittam at Onshore Media)


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