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Warley Place Nature Reserve

Warley Place is a Grade II Registered Park and Garden located in a rural setting, southeast of Brentwood in Essex, north of the hamlet of Great Warley.

The Essex Wildlife Trust commissioned The Architect Studio in March 2021 to lead a team of consultants for their project to consolidate some of the dangerous brick structures that had been cordoned off to protect visitors from falling debris.

Back then

Warley Place used to be a larger estate in the sixteenth century that after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, was given to the Gonson family. The house was built in the early seventeenth century and went through several ownerships over the years. In 1875, the Willmott family purchased the house and land; under their ownership, the size of the estate grew considerably with the addition of rooms to the main house and other ancillary buildings. Ellen Willmott inherited the site after the demise of both of her parents in previous years and dedicated her life to gardening.

The gardens at Warley Place were renowned in the late C19 and early C20. Only two women received a Victoria Medal of Honour at the inauguration of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1897: Gertrude Jekyll and Ellen Willmott.

After Willmott died in 1934, the site went into disrepair under the new owners and then sold for redevelopment in 1938. The Second World War meant that the plans had to be postponed and the house was demolished along with many other ancillary buildings.

In 1977, the Essex Naturalists’ Trust leased 11ha under the condition that the remains of the garden created by Ellen Willmott were conserved.

The Essex Naturalists’ Trust now the Essex Wildlife Trust have been looking after Warley Place since then and with a team of volunteers have been maintaining the grounds and the derelict structures. However, there were concerns about some of the structures that had not been repaired and the Trust will be applying for a grant from the Countrywide Stewardship to repair five of the structures, namely the Kitchen walls, the Eastern extension, the East and West ha-ha and the boundary wall on Warley road.

The Project

The project was split into two phases due to funding availability. The initial phase in 2021 involved the inspection and production of a fabric condition report with recommendations including obtaining tenders from suitable contractors to repair and consolidate five of the brick structures dating from the seventeenth century until the early twentieth century: The Kitchen Garden Walls, the Eastern Extension (former greenhouse), the Boundary Wall, and the West and East Ha-has. Due to the site's status as a nature reserve, many protected species (animals and plants) imposed constraints on the timing of the works on site. Hence, the ecologist envisaged a thorough mitigation strategy.

The Architect Studio teamed up with experienced structural engineers, ecologists to undertake on-site specialist surveys and ensure that all aspects of the repair and consolidation works were considered. A very tight timeframe led by the deadline for funding applications meant that condition reports and tendering were undertaken in record time.

The Trust was granted funding by The Countryside Stewardship and the National Highways in early 2022 for the construction works.

The original walls were built with a mix of red and orange bricks, some of better quality than others and some very soft, deteriorating substantially. Lack of maintenance, extensive vegetation growing over the walls and unsympathetic repairs using hard cement mortar had affected the brickwork encouraging spalling and decay. In general, the lime mortar pointing was missing making the wall prone to absorb water in the brick beds, making them unstable in some cases.

The nearness of trees to the structures and vegetation growing at the foot of the walls needed careful consideration when specifying the repair works to mitigate the impact on the natural environment. Fabric consolidation, brick replacements, and structural reinforcement were the main works specified for the walls.

The level of craftsmanship was very high, as expected. Replacing localised bricks is tricky, and requires skill and lots of pacience! All the bricks procured were handmade to match the existing. NHL2 was used for rebedding as the structural integrity of the walls was of paramount importance and lime putty was used for repointing.

The overall principle was an honest approach to the repairs, while retaining as much of the original fabric as possible.

The leaning wall enclosing the Kitchen Garden was a challenge, due to its deterioration. A very thorough methodology had to be devised in conjunction with the structural engineer and the contractor to prop up the wall and carry out the work safely.

Works commenced in June 2022 and were completed in March 2023. Adverse weather conditions towards the end of the year and the beginning of 2023 delayed the works, as lime mortar cannot be worked in temperatures under 5 degrees centigrade.

Although this project was challenging due to the condition of the walls, which was worst than expected in some places, a collaborative relationship with the client, consultants, and contractor facilitated the progression of the works on site.

The Essex Wildlife Trust is now undertaking other maintenance works to enhance this heritage setting so the public can continue to enjoy this beautiful, designated Local Wildlife Site (LWS).

pink camelia flower
One of the rare plants in the Kitchen Gardens that had to be protected during the time of the works

Orthoimages: Aerial Cam

Consultants: The Morton Partnership, BSG Ecology, Daniel Connal Partnership

Principal Contractor: Universal Stone Ltd


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