skip to main content
The Royal Parks web site uses cookies. By browsing you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Read our cookie policy

On this page:


What were the Water Gardens?   A Baroque-style garden of pools, cascades, basins and a canal that together originally extended almost 1km across the northern part of Bushy Park.
Date   Approximately 1710.
Location   Next to Upper Lodge in the north-west corner of Bushy Park.
Original owner   Built for Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, a politician and writer who lived at Upper Lodge and was keeper of Bushy Park from 1709-1715.
Significance of the Water Gardens   In 1729, the garden designer, Stephen Switzer, wrote: "Without doubt, one of the best works of that kind in England, and perhaps as good as any else where." The gardens are now considered the best of their type in Greater London.
Later uses  Hospital and school: During World War l, Upper Lodge was a hospital for Canadian troops. After the war, it became an open-air school and the water garden ponds were used as swimming pools.

Barracks and research laboratory: Upper Lodge was a barracks during World War ll and after that war the site became part of the Admiralty Research Laboratory, which tested mines in one of the ponds.

Cold War defence technology: In the 1950s, the Admiralty built a vast tank alongside the Water Gardens to develop guided missiles and carry out submarine research. The site, including the ponds, played a significant role in the development of Cold War defence technology.
Restoration history   In 1997, The Friends of Bushy and Home Parks formed The Bushy Park Water Gardens Trust to restore the gardens. The Trust carried out research and developed a restoration plan in partnership with The Crown Estate and The Royal Parks. In 2001 The Royal Parks took the lead on the project and on 29 September 2006, they gained full responsibility for the Water Gardens for the first time and secured funding.
Scope of restoration   Restoration focussed on the core area of the gardens: the upper and lower ponds; the cascade between them; framing alcoves that originally displayed pictures from Upper Lodge; the Brewhouse built in 1710 by Lord Halifax to provide his workers with beer; the area round the Brewhouse.
Restoration dates   Began January 2008. Construction completed autumn 2008. Opening autumn 2009.
Restoration numbers   Cost of restoring the Water Gardens: £780,000

Total cost of restoration work in Bushy Park: £7.5million

Area of the restored Water Garden site: 14,000 m²

Area of upper pond: 1,800m² Area of lower pond: 920m²

Depth of the ponds: 1.4m at the deepest

Reuse of original materials: 60 to 70 per cent of the materials from the original cascade were reused. No materials were taken off site to landfill during the restoration.

Detail: Early history

Who was Lord Halifax?   A career politician who created the joint stock company that was to become the Bank of England. He was a friend of Sir Isaac Newton and part of a circle of writers that included John Dryden and William Congreve.
Supplying water to the gardens   Halifax diverted the Longford River into the upper pond, which fed the cascade and the other water features. The Longford River is an artificial waterway, created for King Charles l in 1638-9 to bring water from The River Colne at Longford to Hampton Court.
18th century descriptions of the Water Gardens   The cascade: "Not very high but little and yet beautifully dispos'd so as to fall between two fine pieces of Grotto Work where are places left for Paintings representing two Caves in which the little walks round the Basin of the Cascade and the Paintings are removable so as to be taken away in Winter." Samuel Molyneux, 1714

The cascade: "Not very high but little and yet beautifully dispos'd so as to fall between two fine pieces of Grotto Work where are places left for Paintings representing two Caves in which the little walks round the Basin of the Cascade and the Paintings are removable so as to be taken away in Winter." Samuel Molyneux, 1714 The Water Gardens: "This very handsome rural Design is supply'd by a Branch of the River Colne; which, though not affording a perpetual Current, yet is never wanting to give Spectators a peculiar Pleasure. The design is so well known, that I need not expatiate or enlarge upon it; but is, however, of so rude an' rustick a Manner that it may well serve as a Patten or Model to any that shall be disposed to make use of Water Works." Stephen Switzer, 1729
The Water Gardens in paintings   In 1995, the garden historian, Jane Crawley, identified the Water Gardens in A Pair of Peafowl in a Park by an Ornamental Pond, a painting by Jacob Bogdani (1660-1724). This was verified in 1996 by Dr Milos Rajani, a leading authority of Bogdani. In 1999, Sir Roy Strong recognised the Water Gardens from the more detailed painting, Cascade at Bushy Park (1715), in the Royal Collection. (This is by an unknown artist. The then Superintendant of Artistic Heritage in Venice said it was not by Marco Ricci, as had been suggested.)
Original planting   The original planting is unknown but 18th century gardens were traditionally designed with trees, such as Cedar of Lebanon, Laurels and Oaks.

Detail: 20th century

World War 1   Upper Lodge was used to accommodate soldiers' wives and families and later lent to the Canadian Red Cross Society as a hospital and convalescent home for wounded Canadian soldiers.
Post World War 1   Upper Lodge became the King's Canadian School, a London County Council open-air school for East End boys who suffered from respiratory diseases. Ponds in the Water Gardens became swimming pools.
World War 2   Upper Lodge was used for barracks and later for munitions experiments.
Post World War 2   Upper Lodge and its grounds were transferred in 1945 from the Air Ministry to the Admiralty as an extension of the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington. In 1946, the Admiralty put up prefabricated buildings in the grounds.

During the restoration project, an explosives removal company found many old detonators dating from the post war period in the upper pond. Four concrete ramps placed diagonally, opposite one another, at the edge of the upper pond were used in experiments with pressure mines. Projectiles simulating the passage of a ship hull would be launched across the water from these ramps. The resultant pressure wave would trigger, or not, the pressure mine fuses being tested. One of these has been retained and moved to the north east corner of the site.
1950s   From 1951-55, the Admiralty, Royal Naval Scientific Service and the Ministry of Works built the Rotating Beam Laboratory next to Upper Lodge. This circular building, 160 feet in diameter, with a domed roof housed a circular water channel 15' deep and over 120' in diameter above which span a massive steel beam. The facility was built to test how objects behaved when they moved under water at high speed. The 60 ton beam drove models, of up to 20 feet long, suspended from it at speeds of up to 150 feet per second (over 100 knots) through the channel which contained a million gallons of specially filtered, optically clear water.

The facility cost £1.1m and was unique in Europe. Built to develop submarine technology it also helped develop underwater photography techniques. An adjoining building housed a water tunnel (the marine equivalent of a wind tunnel). Here again research was carried out on streamlining submarine hulls and developing the efficiency of propellers.
1980s   At its height, in the Star Wars era of the mid 1980s, the laboratory employed about 200 people. It closed in 1992.
1990s   The Ministry of Defence relinquished the lease of Upper Lodge to The Crown Estate in 1994. Large quantities of asbestos had to be removed and the ground cleaned up following the demolition work. The site had temporary buildings, including shacks and Nissan huts, as well as railway tracks, roads and paths. There was also a theatre, built in the 1930s for the King's Canadian School. The ponds were heavily silted and the cascade hidden by a Ministry of Defence wall.
2000s   The building that housed the rotating beam laboratory was converted into a home and won a design award in 2004. On 29 September 2006, The Royal Parks took over responsibility for the Water Gardens under a lease from The Crown Estate. Upper Lodge continues to be managed by The Crown Estate.

Detail: Restoration

What was restored?   Upper and lower ponds, the cascade, framing alcoves and the Brewhouse, In the Bogdani painting, the Brewhouse was visible from the Water Gardens so the restoration project removed trees to recreate that view. A pedestrian bridge has been installed over the Longford River to link it to the Water Gardens.
Project team   Archaeologists: Pre-Construct Archaeology; Architects: Martin Ashley Architects; Contractors: English Landscapes Ltd; Lead Consultant and Landscape Architect: Land use Consultants; Project Director: Greg McErlean, Director of Major Projects for The Royal Parks; Project Managers and Quantity Surveyors: Huntley Cartwright.
Cost   £780,000, of which the construction cost was £670,000.
Funding restoration work in Bushy Park   Heritage Lottery Fund grant plus donations from: The Crown Estate, The Royal Parks Foundation, The Friends of Bushy and Home Parks, The John S Cohen Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, The Mercers' Company, Weston Family.
Restoration Timeline
Early 1990s
  Peter Foster, of the Admiralty Research Laboratory, wrote an article about the possible existence of the Water Gardens. The Friends of Bushy and Home Parks carried out historical research.
Late 1990s - 2001   In 1997, the Friends formed The Bushy Park Water Gardens Trust to restore the gardens and open them to the public. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Trust carried out extensive historical and archaeological work and, in partnership with The Crown Estate and The Royal Parks, developed a restoration plan. Planning permission for restoration and public access was granted. In 2001 The Royal Parks took the lead on the project.
January 2006   The Royal Parks took control of the site. The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded The Royal Parks £4.5 million for work in Bushy Park, including restoration of part of the Water Gardens.
January-February 2008   Archaeologists uncovered and recorded the original structure. Their findings informed the design and dimensions of the restoration. Unstable areas were removed but as much as possible of the original stonework and bricks were used in the new structure.
March 2008   The ponds were desilted. The depth of silt removed from the large pond was 1.5 metres.
April 2008   Block-work on the edge of the pools installed.
May 2008   Design of cascade and walls finalised.
June 2008   Cascade and brick walls constructed.
August   Water engineering completed.
Sept 15 2008   Water flowed over the cascade for the first time in the restoration.
October 2008   Formal landscaping and footpath installed.
July/August 2009   Top dressing and seeding.

Help us improve our website by completing a short survey