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The Woolbeding Charity

The Woolbeding Charity was formed in 2017 to bring to completion the remaining grant commitments and legacy work of The Monument Trust, which has now closed. 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 will constitute the crowning achievement of the work of The Monument Trust after more than 50 years of philanthropy.

The new Glasshouse will stand 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", 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 has been commissioned from Heatherwick Studio, sensitive to the natural and historic beauty of the setting in a National Park, that will show 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 £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 will be almost £11m. This will allow the 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
  • 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”, 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 has been 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 will form an integral new part of the existing gardens at Woolbeding. A grant has been awarded to Great Dixter for its student programme, to create wider expertise in contemporary Silk Route gardening, to assist with habitat design at Woolbeding, preparation of plants and planting training.

When the Glasshouse with its Silk Route garden is completed, at a projected cost of £5.8m, it will constitute Simon and Stewart’s last and most beautiful gift to the nation, the consummation of over five decades of philanthropy through The Monument Trust.

To see further detail on the design from Heatherwick Studio, visit www.heatherwick.com.

Planning consent was granted by the South Downs National Park in March 2019. To see the summary planning application, it is linked here. Construction will begin in July 2019, and the main planting will take place during autumn 2020. The Silk Route gardens and Heatherwick Glasshouse will open to the public in spring 2021.

Please note that The Woolbeding Charity’s resources are fully committed, and the trustees are unable to invite applications for grants.