South Hill Park

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South Hill Park
South Hill Park Mansion and Grounds.jpg
South Hill Park mansion and grounds
South Hill Park is located in Berkshire
South Hill Park
Location within Berkshire
Established 1973
Location Ringmead, Bracknell, Berkshire RG12, England, United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°23′38″N 0°45′00″W / 51.3940°N 0.7500°W / 51.3940; -0.7500
Visitors 250,000

South Hill Park is a 24-acre (9.7 ha) site that lies in the Birch Hill estate to the south of Bracknell town centre, in Berkshire, England.


The original South Hill Park mansion was built in 1760 for William Watts for his retirement from service as a senior official of the Bengal Government. The house was originally on two floors, built in the Italian manner, decorated with stucco, with a front entrance and tower in the baroque style. The grounds included 30 acres (12 ha) of common land, which William Watts enclosed. In return he built almshouses on a site opposite Easthampstead Parish Church about half a mile away. The almshouses were eventually demolished by order of the Marquess of Downshire in 1826.

After his death, the Honourable Henry Bouverie lived in the house until 1787 and was followed by Sir Stephen Lushington until 1807, when George Canning, the celebrated Statesman, acquired the property. He was Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs under Foreign Secretary William Pitt, and both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of his death in 1827. Sir John Soane modified the house during this time.

The Earls of Limerick were the next owners, around the time of the Easthampstead Enclosure Award of 1827. Kelly's Post Office Directory for Berkshire shows that Sir James Matheson was in residence in 1847, and in 1853 he sold the estate to Sir William Goodenough Hayter, son of the Judge Advocate General. In 1868, South Hill Park was referred to in Cassey's Directory as "one of the principal mansions in the neighbourhood of Easthampstead" – and as the residence of the Right Honourable Sir William Hayter, 1st Baronet, QC, JP, DL. Sir William's busy political career apparently made him somewhat depressed, and he was found drowned in South Hill Park lake in 1878.

George Canning
George Canning, former Prime Minister and one-time owner of South Hill Park
Italian Gardens in 2009
Italian Gardens in 2009
Wilde Theatre
Festival Art at South Hill Park
Festival Art at South Hill Park
Theatre Performance at South Hill Park
Theatre Performance at South Hill Park
Brass Band at South Hill Park
Brass Band at South Hill Park

Kelly's Directory of 1883 contains a description of South Hill Park, referring to it as the seat of Lady Hayter, "a compact residence of brick faced with cement, standing in a park of 800 acres (320 ha) in which there are four lakes; the private gardens are very beautiful, being laid out in terraces".

Sir William Hayter's son, Sir Arthur Divett Hayter, born in 1835, rebuilt most of the mansion towards the end of the 19th century, in brick and Bath stone, incorporating one wing of the original house.

Due to a fire towards the end of the 19th century, the house is considered haunted, especially the modern Studio Theatre area which is located on the site of the nursery. The supposed hauntings are by two children who died when the nursery caught alight.

In the grounds of South Hill Park a plaque records the planting of a tree by William Ewart Gladstone in 1893. Architect Temple Moore (1856–1920) was commissioned to remodel the house in 1891 and the hard landscaping near the house in 1893. Moore was primarily seen as a church architect and in his previous church commissions were mostly designed in the prevailing Gothic Revival style but he also included Baroque details.[1]

Sir Arthur became Baron Haversham in 1906. Haversham Drive, in the Easthampstead neighbourhood of Bracknell, has been named after him.

The staff at the time consisted of three footmen, three housemaids, one lady's maid, one housekeeper, one butler, one valet, labourers, gamekeepers, scullery maids and kitchen maids. The Haversham Coat of Arms can be seen over the main entrance of the building and is described as "azure and escallop between three bulls' heads couped or". The crest surmounting the coat of arms also shows a bull's head and gold shells.

Lord Haversham died on 10 May 1917. Lady Haversham was still in residence in 1920 when she erected a marble tablet in Easthampstead Parish Church as a memorial to 62 men connected with the Parish who lost their lives in the 1914–18 war.

After the death of Lady Haversham in 1929, leaving no direct heir, the house passed into the hands of Major Rickman O.B.E., Lady Haversham's nephew, who was the last person to own and live in it as one house and is best known for shooting himself in the Gun Room in 1940.

During the Second World War (1939–45) the house was occupied by the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, evacuated from Margate. In the late 1940s it was converted into five luxury flats with the main reception being common to all.

From 1953 the house was owned by the BBC, who converted parts into studios and acoustically treated some of the rooms.

In 1963 South Hill Park was included in an extension of the new town designated area of Bracknell and the Bracknell Development Corporation acquired the property. The house was let in 1965 to Ferranti Limited, who used it as offices and laboratories until early 1972.

In 1972 a proposal to convert the house into an Arts Centre with an additional theatre was agreed, with the intention that the immediate surrounding gardens, lawns, trees and two lakes would be preserved. The South Hill Park Trust was established and the South Hill Park Arts Centre opened in October 1973.

Wilde Theatre and later phases[edit]

Before being completed in 1984, the 330 seat Wilde Theatre was first proposed after South Hill Park became an arts centre, and has since drawn many people to the area. The Wilde Theatre was officially opened by The Princess Anne on 15 May 1984 which due to the local association with Oscar Wilde was named after him and the first performance being The Importance of Being Earnest.

A new Dance Studio and Bar extension, along with additional dressing rooms, rehearsal and storage space, were added to the theatre in 1988 and 1989.

The Bracknell Gallery opened in 1991 as a result of these developments, and now presents a regular programme of contemporary visual art, crafts and live art. The art centre also organises exhibitions in the Mansion Space Galleries.

South Hill Park Arts Centre today[edit]

In 2002 South Hill Park underwent its most recent transformation, successfully applying to the Arts Council of England National Lottery Board and gaining £3 million combined with £1 million from Bracknell Forest Borough Council. These funds allowed the Mansion spaces to re-develop and focus on artistic activity. New studios were created for ceramics, printmaking, silversmithing and fine arts to complement the existing theatres, gallery, dance studio, cinema, recital room and cellar stage. The Atrium bar was opened, allowing food and drink to be served alongside the art and music performances.[2] The artist Martin Donlin created several artworks to the celebrate the new building.[3]

In 2004, the Digital Media Centre opened allowing an inventive digital media programme to add a modern dynamic to the venue programme,[4] thanks to the support of local businessman, John Nike. In 2011, Bracknell Forest Borough Council undertook a £4.4 million restoration of South Hill Park's historic grounds with funding from a National Lottery grant award.[5]

South Hill Park today is a prominent centre for the arts within the South East region and nationally. The multi award winning actress Kate Winslet, who is also a Patron of the centre, has said of it "The Wilde Theatre has been a wonderful home for theatre arts since it opened more than 25 years ago... This amazing centre does so much for its local community".[6] The centre's other Patrons are the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and multi award winning actor Kenneth Branagh.

South Hill Park has a varied programme of events which includes theatre, dance, music, exhibitions, comedy, live art, festivals and cinema for all age groups, featuring a range of personalities from the internationally renowned to emerging new talents. It is open 364 days a year and presents approximately 3,000 events annually.

It has four associate theatre companies who tour work nationally – Blackeyed Theatre, Icarus Theatre Collective, Original Theatre Company and Peut-être. New associations are being built with Squint and Scene Productions. Recent association with Hofesh Shechter and Jasmin Vardimon has brought the centre recognition in the contemporary dance world (e.g. the world premiere of "Freedom" in October 2012) [7]

It houses seven artists in residence covering different disciplines – ceramicist Samantha Robertson, Jewellers Holly Barton, Louise Walker and Mel Goodbun, printmakers Heather Upton, Ruth Simons and Holly Drewett.[8]

South Hill Park runs an extensive programme of courses in the arts – over 2000 annually, alongside around 250 individual workshops. It is now developing creative media and live streaming projects, for which it has received a substantial award from Grants for the Arts (Arts Council, England). SHP live-streamed their panto "Jack and the Beanstalk" to children's hospices and children's wards in hospitals from Berkshire to Devon in December 2012. [9] It is a registered charity and its activity attracts an average of 250,000 visitors a year.

Following national funding cuts in 2011, the Centre has embarked upon a newly developed business plan which has seen more earned income generated through commercial promotions, attracting an increasing number of visitors. This supports the centre's ongoing artistic and community programme.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Temple Moore, An Architect of the Late Gothic Revival, Geoffrey K. Brandwood, 1997
  2. ^ Allies & Morrison | South Hill Park Arts Centre. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  3. ^ Architectural Glass Artist. Martin Donlin. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  4. ^ Creative Technology at South Hill Park. Digital Media Centre (29 June 2013). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  5. ^ South Hill Park's £4.4m makeover – Reading Post. (5 October 2010). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  6. ^ Winslet's plea for South Hill Park / Bracknell News / News / Roundup. (11 April 2011). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  7. ^ Artists : Associate Companies. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  8. ^ Artists : Artists in Residence. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  9. ^ Learning : learning. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.

External links[edit]