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Hemel Water Gardens

Case study: Hertfordshire HP1 1EA (East of England)

List entry number: 1001710

Hemel Water Gardens Registered Park and Garden at risk- recesses in the park mirrored by courtyard style recesses in the town across the road
Designed recesses in the park are mirrored by courtyard style recesses in the town across the road

Background and history

After the Second World War, the government introduced a New Towns Programme. This was intended to re-house Londoners left homeless by the Blitz. Architect and Town Planner, Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) was commissioned in 1947 to devise a master plan for Hemel Hempstead.

A key component of the planned new town's centre was the Water Gardens (designed between 1957-59). Jellicoe's intention was to create a sophisticated, well-arranged public park to create certain illusions and impressions.

Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens is one of Jellicoe's earlier schemes and showcases many of his distinctive signature characteristics. These include canals, weirs, bridges, viewing platforms and associated planting by Jellicoe's wife, Susan.

The Gardens have been subject to some changes since the 1980s. These include the construction of a screen wall and a children's play area.

In 2010 The Water Gardens were added to the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England. Inclusion on this register means planning authorities must consider the impact of any proposed development to the character of the site.

Is it at risk?

In the 50 plus years since their design and inception, the Water Gardens have been well used. The original concrete structures now need urgent repair. Lack of maintenance has, over time, damaged the integrity of the whole.

Little original planting survives and the layout of the canal has been eroded by two islands created circa 1980.

The condition is generally unsatisfactory, with major problems affecting key structures. These include bridges, balconies, avenues of trees, areas of cultivated or display gardens, and designed water elements.

The gardens were placed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2013.

What's the current situation?

The Water Gardens achieved a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid in February 2014. The bid was put forward by Dacorum Borough Council.

Comprehensive refurbishment of the whole gardens is proposed. This will involve structural repairs to the historic fabric of bridges, balconies and other key elements. There will also be environmental enhancements, including a renewed planting scheme in keeping with Susan Jellicoe's original design. The impact of later additions will be reduced by felling some trees and removal of the two islands.

Historic England offered extensive pre-application advice and an appraisal of a detailed master plan. We also advised on the setting of the gardens in relation to the wider townscape redevelopment.

Works to the gardens are due to begin in 2015.

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Hemel Water Gardens image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Hemel Water Gardens Registered Park and Garden at risk - unsympathetic  development affecting the setting of the park
  • Hemel Water Gardens Registered Park and Garden at risk - Original seating
  • Hemel Water Gardens Registered Park and Garden at risk - General view
  • Hemel Water Gardens Registered Park and Garden at risk - Original steps alongside the river