Russell Gardens & Kearsney Abbey Secure £3m Investment

Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund back restoration plans at Dover’s heritage parks

Two of Dover’s most popular parks (the Kearsney Parks) are to benefit from £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund to restore their unique landscapes and heritage, and to improve facilities.  The plans, developed by Dover District Council, include:

  • Restoring Thomas Mawson’s design for Kearsney Court and picturesque landscape features in Kearsney Abbey
  • Recreating Kearsney Abbey’s historic role as a cultural venue, attracting new audiences to the parks
  • Celebrating the parks’ unique heritage including mills, ecology, people and landscapes through new activities and interpretation
  • Creating a multi-use extension to the grade II listed billiards room in Kearsney Abbey to facilitate new education, training and volunteering programmes

A key feature of the plans include restoration of the formal gardens at Kearsney Court (now known as Russell Gardens), designed by Thomas Mawson in c.1901.  Designed in the Arts and Crafts style, Russell Gardens features a series of terraces cascading down the hillside and culminating in the magnificent canal in the valley bottom, with ornamental bridges and a boathouse set among mature trees.  Russell Gardens is Grade II listed and has been a public park since 1951.

Thomas Mawson (1861-1933) is widely regarded as the first of the great landscape architects.  His career took him from garden design to worldwide acclaim as an urban designer.  He became the first President of the Institute of Landscape Architects in 1929.  Russell Gardens is a rare example of his work in the south of England.

Like Russell Gardens, Kearsney Abbey was also once a grand country estate and has been a public park since 1945.  Built from 1820-1822, the Grade II listed billiards room is all that remains of the former Gothic revival manor house.  As part of the project, an extension to the building will facilitate new education, training and volunteering programmes designed to increase awareness and understanding of the heritage and ecology of the parks.

The picturesque landscape of Kearsney Abbey includes sweeping lawns, avenues, lakes, islands, fountains and trees designed to enhance the natural beauty of the location with controlled views.

Both parks share strong links with Dover’s industrial heritage.  The River Dour, an ecologically rare chalk stream, runs through both the parks and powered a number of flour and paper mills.  The remains of River Paper Mill can still be seen in the grounds of Kearsney Abbey.  It was Dover’s wealthy industrialists and businessmen who developed the country estates that were the forerunners of today’s public parks.

The project will also recreate the parks’ role as a cultural venue by restoring the open air theatre which was a feature of Kearsney Abbey during the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Cllr Paul Watkins, Leader of Dover District Council said: “This is the culmination of 18 months hard work by the Council and the many community groups and volunteers who supported our proposals.  The Kearsney Parks are at the heart of the community as a place for people to meet, learn, play and relax. 

“As Love Parks Week gets underway it’s fitting that the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund have agreed to back this exciting project to restore the district’s most popular parks.  There will be lots of opportunities for people to get involved with the project and we look forward to welcoming even more people to Russell Gardens and Kearsney Abbey.”

The funding for the Dover’s heritage parks comes as part of an announcement of £30.7million for 16 parks across the UK.

HLF’s Chair Sir Peter Luff, said, on behalf of HLF and Big Lottery Fund: “It’s clear that our parks are important to us in countless ways – from physical and mental wellbeing to a connection with nature and our heritage. It’s also clear however that public parks must work in new ways to respond to the funding challenges they face and this investment, thanks to National Lottery players, will help them to do this.

“We’re delighted to announce this funding today, especially in time for the tenth Love Parks Week, and look forward to a bright future for these popular green spaces in Dover.”

About the Big Lottery Fund

The Big Lottery Fund supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities across the UK. We are responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by the National Lottery for good causes and invest over £650 million a year in projects big and small in health, education, environment and charitable purposes.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. 

The Parks for People programme uses money raised by National Lottery players to support the regeneration, conservation and increased enjoyment of public parks and cemeteries. In England the two Lottery Funds have been working in partnership from 2006 to deliver a multi-million pound investment in public parks.  Find out more about how to apply at 

Posted on 15/07/2016