The Woolbeding Charity was formed in 2017 to bring to completion the remaining grant commitments and legacy work of The Monument Trust, which closed in 2018. Foremost among these is the construction of a new Glasshouse for the garden at Woolbeding in Sussex, a property owned by the National Trust. This now constitutes the crowning achievement of the work of The Monument Trust after more than 50 years of philanthropy.
The new Glasshouse stands in a long tradition of restoring the garden and its features at Woolbeding, home to Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw for many years. Set in what Disraeli called “the loveliest valley in the land”, the garden with both its classic and newly commissioned elements, including a water sculpture by William Pye, is recognised as a significant twenty-first century garden.
No trace of Lord Robert Spencer’s celebrated early nineteenth-century Glasshouse survives at Woolbeding, so a contemporary design for restoring one was commissioned from Heatherwick Studio, sensitive to the natural and historic beauty of the setting in a National Park, that demonstrates how flora from along the Silk Route created English gardening as we know it.
Since its foundation in 1965 by the late Simon Sainsbury, The Monument Trust has given over £20m to the National Trust for nearly twenty of its houses, collections, parks and gardens. The value of the final legacy grant to the Woolbeding Charity, to cover the cost of the design, construction, planting and maintenance of the new Glasshouse and Silk Route garden was almost £11m. This legacy allows The Woolbeding Charity to own and operate the Glasshouse, so that, with the kind agreement of the National Trust, it can be open to the public as a last great contribution to the nation’s heritage.
The principal designers, consultants and builders are:
- Heatherwick Studio, Designer
- Eckersley O’Callaghan Ltd, Civil & Structural Engineer
- Atelier Ten Ltd, Consultant Environmental Engineer
- MRG Studio, Landscape Architects
- R W Armstrong, Builder
- Bellapart, Technical Design & Construction
- Great Dixter House & Gardens, Plants and Garden Design
- Stuart A Johnson Consulting Ltd, Project Manager
Notes on the Legacy of The Monument Trust
With the closure of The Monument Trust, after 53 years of making grants since Simon Sainsbury established his foundation to address his concerns for health, education, social welfare and development, as well as to support the arts and heritage of the United Kingdom, the Trustees left in place a number of significant gifts, whereby they hoped to form an enduring legacy arising from Simon’s philanthropic work and vision.
These include the Simon Sainsbury Centre at the Cambridge Judge Business School; “The Monument Fellowship”, a portfolio of organisations combining efforts along the journey of an offender, to reduce reoffending and the need for imprisoning young people; ground-breaking research in understanding the diagnosis and pathology of Parkinson’s Disease; a 1000-strong cadre of trained HIV-positive peer-support volunteers; the rebuilding of the Glasgow School of Art; the Exhibition Road extension to the Victoria & Albert Museum for the temporary exhibitions; an endowment to the British Museum’s Prints & Drawing Department and a donation for its temporary exhibition space too; and the Royal Opera House’s Open Up scheme. These gifts were in addition to the large bequest of paintings to the Tate and National Galleries after Simon’s death in 2006, and £500m in other grants through the lifetime of the Trust.
Among the legacy gifts was a final grant to The Woolbeding Charity for new public Gardens at Woolbeding House, a National Trust property in Sussex, home to Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw for over four decades. Here they had created what has come to be recognised as a significant Twenty-First Century garden. Set in what Disraeli described as “the loveliest valley in the land”, it combines extensive restoration of gardens, and landscape historically associated with the Whigs and Lord Robert Spencer, with a contemporary take on the classic English house garden.
Since 1965, when Simon and Stewart established The Monument Trust, it has allocated £20m for the benefit of the houses, gardens and collections of the National Trust. This included a substantial endowment from Simon’s estate for the permanent upkeep and development of the park and gardens that he and Stewart restored at Woolbeding, where Stewart still lives. Over the decades, they not only revived each section of the gardens, they reinstated the Long Walk through the parkland, re-created an 18th century Pleasure Garden, invented a new terrace garden, and continued the honoured tradition of setting follies and sculptures in sympathy with the landscape. Essential to the tradition of horticulture in England in the 18th century, as much as in the 21st, is the Silk Route, from along which came the flora and trees that still characterise England’s gardens and parks. Accordingly, as The Monument Trust took its name from a house at Petworth, where its first grant restored the outstanding Capability Brown tree-planting and landscape, so its final grant to the Woolbeding Charity will be to restore a glasshouse at Woolbeding, where the gardens exhibit the flowers, shrubs and trees of the Silk Route.
Heatherwick Studio was asked to design the Glasshouse for sub-tropical flora, as one of twelve zones that tell the journey and story of the plants that have come to Britain from along the celebrated Silk Route from China to the Mediterranean. Together the Glasshouse and Silk Route garden form an integral new part of the existing gardens at Woolbeding. Great Dixter, led by Fergus Garrett with his team of staff and students were commissioned to create wider expertise in contemporary Silk Route gardening, as well as the planting design of the new garden zones, including the Glasshouse itself, and the propagation and planting of the plants themselves.
The completion of the Glasshouse and Silk Route garden constitutes Simon and Stewart’s last and most beautiful contribution to the nation’s art and future heritage, the consummation of over five decades of philanthropy through The Monument Trust.
The Woolbeding Glasshouse and the Silk Route Garden are open free to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from after Easter to the last week of September, but bookings need to be made through the website of the National Trust, which is managing them on the Charity’s behalf. Please visit Woolbeding Gardens | National Trust website for more information.
Please note that The Woolbeding Charity’s resources are fully committed, and the trustees are unable to invite applications for grants.