After a very wet day: twenty-three of our members were given a guided tour of one of the great gems of our town. Holywells Park and its buildings have been lovingly renovated over the past two years by Park Manager; Nick Wilcox and his team. Nick himself was our guide and it was clear from the man's enthusiasm that the project was in good hands.
Early owners of the land were the Cobbold family and they originally had their brewery at Harwich but moved to Ipswich because of the excellent quality of the Holywells spring water. They built a mansion in the parkland close to their new premises in 1812 as a development of the old Pitt's farmhouse and Cobbold family members lived there until 1929. It was gifted to the people of Ipswich in 1935. The main house was unfortunately demolished in 1962. Luckily the stables, clock tower and orangery remained intact. It became clear in recent years that a considerable amount of work was needed to restore all the buildings and indeed give the whole park a facelift.
A National Lottery grant supplied money for the project which eventually cost £3.2 million. £400,000 worth of the work came from volunteer labour - a huge proportion and a tribute to the people of Ipswich. Nick first treated us to a 25 minute film showing the history of the project covering the period from 2013 to 2015. The film was shown in the newly renovated cafe section of the old stable block.
The first stage of the project was to remove all the silt from the pond network. Much of the work on the ponds was undertaken by Otley College students. The silt removed from the ponds was laid down to dry after which metal detectors were used to examine it. Examples of finds from the silt included a George III coin and a Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies token.
After the film Nick took us on a tour commencing with the stable complex which has now been converted to a reception area, cafe, toilet and workshop. One section is occupied by the Green Bike Project which renovates old, unwanted bicycles. I noted that certain artefacts still remained in the stables such as the disconnected gas lighting points, the gas being supplied by the nearby Town Gasworks in days gone by.
New paths led us to the new events area which is the location of the original mansion alongside the orangery. The latter had been located next to the ballroom of the mansion and was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. The events area is used for outdoor activities and a Tai Chi class meets there each Saturday.
The orangery had been badly vandalised during the seventies and had been clad with corrugated iron for many years to protect it from further damage. The cladding was removed and work began to renovate the windows and woodwork. Much of this work was expertly carried out by Dorothea Restoration Ltd of Bristol. The beautiful tiled floor was renovated and under floor heating installed. The internal pond was restored as a planter and all the Victorian cogs and levers which operate the window opening mechanisms work as they should now. It is interesting that each window has a totally unique set of dimensions making them a glazier's nightmare.
The renovation of the orangery cost close to half a million mainly because of the specialist expertise required. It is an ideal venue for wedding ceremonies and christenings although it is thought that the numbers of these will need to be restricted. The gardens around the orangery have been replanted including a sensory walk - all planted by volunteers.
Nick then took us through to the terraced area which was once the stepped entrance to the mansion. The balustrade around this has been completely re-instated and the view from the terrace is a revelation taking in as it does the rejuvenated ponds and the beautiful woods around them. The ground required piling before the new toilet block could be constructed alongside the impressive, modernised children's play area.
The wooded areas of the park required considerable effort; for example, the bluebell wood had a vast sycamore canopy which was removed to allow more diverse woodland species to grow there. Other new installations included a story telling circle, a new walking trail round the perimeter of the park and an i.play area. i.play represents a breakthrough in play opportunities for youngsters, combining interactive electronics with conventional play area equipment. It encourages "stealth fitness", where people exercise without realising it.
One of the most interesting discoveries in the park was the finding of the remains of an ice house near the carpark, close to the old cottages. This has been rebuilt by students from Suffolk New College - an interesting exercise for them because it incorporates a unique brick domed and arched roof.
Our tour ended back at the stable block and we all agreed that Nick had given us an excellent insight into the problems encountered and the rewards enjoyed from this project, especially when so much of the effort comes from voluntary groups.