A 251-year-old island cave at the heart of a Grade-I listed Surrey park built by a plant-loving Georgian aristocrat will be made accessible to the public when a long-lost bridge is rebuilt as part of a £750,000 restoration masterplan.
The Crystal Grotto, in Painshill Park in Cobham, was crafted by grotto genius Joseph Lane in 1760 for a fee of £8,000, and described by German landscape designer Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell as “the finest of its type ever built.”
The Woollett Bridge, which is only referred to in engravings dated to 1760, will rise over the lake again in a commission which will link the grotto with the grounds.
Floating in a lake within botany devotee Charles Hamilton’s 158-acre landscape, the cave will have its main chamber lined with calcite, gypsum, quartz, fluorite and other minerals and stones.
Inverted wooden cones inside it will also be plastered with lime mortar and embedded with crystal in an intricate project which will invite volunteers, schools and colleges to help out.
“The recreation of the Grotto is an important milestone,” said Mike Gove, the head of the Painshill Park Trust, calling the Lottery funding grant for the scheme “an incredible achievement”.
“This is going to make a huge different to this heritage site, which has been painstakingly restored and treasured by many.”
The campaign has been given added impetus by the park’s singular layout. Hamilton’s design, created between 1738 and 1773, is a rare and spectacular example of the naturalistic romantic landscapes of the period, as well as a legacy of his passion for plant collecting.
A pair of apprenticeships in gardening and building restoration and an education post will also be created with the money.