It is proposed that a charitable trust be established to campaign for the creation of a conservatory to stand on the site of the Winter Garden built by Decimus Burton in Regents Park in 1845 and demolished in 1932. The Trust will be responsible for raising funds for the construction and endowment of the Conservatory, to be named The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen, for commissioning and overseeing its construction and planting, and for safeguarding its future as a public amenity within the Royal Parks.
The Trust is being established as a company limited by guarantee and its charitable objects will be to promote conservation, advance education about the values shared by the Commonwealth countries and provide a world-class recreational space for the public and will be registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales as the “The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation”.
The Commonwealth Conservatory would be a gift from the nation to the Queen to celebrate Her Majesty’s 100th birthday in 2026. It would be planted with vegetation from all of the fifty two countries of the Commonwealth as a tribute to Her love and leadership of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Inspired by Decimus Burton’s Palm House in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the two-hundred-and-ten foot wide and fifty foot high curvilinear glass and white-painted steel framed conservatory would occupy the site of his original Winter Garden in what is now Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, formerly the Royal Botanic Society’s Garden. William McMillan’s Triton Fountain, given to Regents Park in 1950 in memory of Sigismund Goetze by his wife and installed on the site of the old Winter Garden, would be relocated to stand in front of, and be reflected by, the new Conservatory. The Conservatory, a transparent palace of glass, would comprise a large central hall running west to east with a high-level gallery walk-way, a water-lily pond and a tropical climate of at least twenty degrees centigrade. Two lower flanking halls would have a moist temperate and a dry temperate climate of at least ten degrees centigrade. The Conservatory would be environmentally sustainable with geothermal heating drawn from the ground and a watering system fed by a cistern collecting rainwater from the roofs.
Education and conservation would play an important role in the project with a lecture theatre, library and gallery housed in the basement. The lower level would be accessed by two sweeping flights of stairs within a glass-domed subterranean rotunda. The basement, accessible to the disabled by lift, would also contain workshop and storage space, offices, plant and heat pump rooms, WCs and cloakroom facilities. It is hoped that the Conservatory will inspire schoolchildren and students to understand and respect the natural environment whilst also cultivating awareness of the value of the Commonwealth of Nation’s fine example of co-operation and mutual respect between different peoples across the world.
To generate income towards running costs the dry temperate hall will be designed to house a cafeteria and could be available after hours for hire for private events. Access to the Conservatory and its facilities would be through the park. After-hours access would be made possible by the re-instatement of the northern gate to the inner circle, originally installed in 1845. A pair of Regency styled stuccoed gate-houses to be erected on either side of the gate would act as ticket kiosks if it was decided to charge admission. The gate-house chimneys would conceal the ventilation shafts required for the extraction of foul air and kitchen fumes.
Queen Mary’s Rose Garden was established in 1932 after the expiration of the Royal Botanic Society’s lease of the inner circle. The Society had been incorporated by Royal Charter in 1839 and in 1840 Robert Marnock and Decimus Burton were commissioned to layout the gardens and design a winter garden. Burton’s original glass and timber design was rejected but in 1845, with the cooperation of Richard Turner, the great Irish early 19th century iron founder, his 19,000 square foot glass and cast iron Winter Garden was built and on the 20th of May, 1846, opened to the public. Queen Victoria was the first patroness and took great interest in the project. Ladies were encouraged to become members and besides lectures and meetings, large flower shows and evening fetes were held in the summer. Refreshments, concerts and amusements were enjoyed throughout the year, illuminated at night by gaslight. In 1871 and 1876 flanking bow-fronted wings were added to the east and west ends of the Winter Gardens by William Turner, who succeeded his father Richard. The Winter Garden was, as Charles Knight wrote in his Cyclopædia of London, 1851, “charmingly light and elegant… a veritable fairyland, transported into the heart of London”.
In 1931 the Royal Botanic Society’s lease came to an end and increasing financial difficulties forced the Society to sell off its collection of rare plants at auction. Despite the efforts of Queen Mary, who particularly wished to save the Winter Garden, the Society was eventually disbanded. The grounds were taken over by the Royal Parks Department and the Winter Garden was demolished.
The Commonwealth Conservatory
The year 2026 will mark two centenaries: the birth of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Balfour Declaration launching the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Declaration stipulated that “the United Kingdom and the Dominions are to be autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. In order to accommodate constitutional changes in India, The London Declaration of 1949 replaced ‘The British Commonwealth of Nations’ with ‘The Commonwealth of Nations’.
The Commonwealth Institute had originally been established as the Imperial Institute by Royal Charter from Queen Victoria in 1888. The Institute and its permanent exhibition in South Kensington, dedicated to the British Empire, was opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1893.
With the creation of the Commonwealth of Nations, and by an Act of Parliament in 1958, the Institute’s name was changed to the Commonwealth Institute. On the 6th of November 1962 Queen Elizabeth II opened the Institute’s striking new home and exhibition space in Holland Park. The Commemorative Handbook for the occasion of the opening explained that the purpose of the permanent exhibition was “to foster the interests of The Commonwealth by information and education services designed to promote among all its people a wider knowledge of one another and a greater understanding of the Commonwealth itself”.
Sadly, due to expensive structural defects and lack of government funding, the Commonwealth Institute closed its doors to the public in 2002. The Commonwealth Education Trust, a registered charity, was established in 2007 as a successor to the Commonwealth Institute. It has its office in New Zealand House in London’s Haymarket.
With the demolition of Decimus Burton’s Winter Garden in 1931 the main focus of the Inner Circle Gardens from the York Bridge Gate and the Broad Promenade was lost. By siting the Commonwealth Conservatory in the footprint of its predecessor the original visual amenity of Regent’s Park will be restored and the Park’s historic landscape enhanced for the benefit of future generations. It will be the only inner London conservatory of any importance and would be destined to become one of London’s major tourist attractions. Over Five Million People visit Regent’s Park every year but the vast majority do so during the summer months. The Commonwealth Conservatory will be a magical winter experience attracting many more visitors to and from London during winter. A steady revenue could be expected throughout the year if admission charges were to be applied.
Since the closure of the Commonwealth Institute there has been a long-felt need to give the concept of Commonwealth a physical identity in our capital. The Commonwealth Conservatory and its contents will bring all the peoples of the Commonwealth of Nations together, both symbolically and actually, in celebration of our shared diversity and unity. The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen will be a legacy of lasting beauty and educational value to be presented to Her Majesty the Queen on Her one hundredth birthday in appreciation of Her selfless care and dedication to Her people all around the world.
The Board of Trustees is to be appointed under the chairmanship of Mr Mark Evans, the project’s founder. Trustees should represent the widest backgrounds and experiences possible, from horticulture, the Commonwealth, planning, local government, banking, charity and fundraising. Baroness Warnock, CH, DBE; Julian Fellowes, The Lord Fellowes of West Stafford; Mr Michael Lake, CBE, Director of The Royal Commonwealth Society; Mr John J. O’Connell, RIAI accredited Conservation Practice Architect; Mr Patrick Donlea, Financial Advisor and His Hon Roger Chapple have kindly accepted invitations to become members of the Board of Trustees.
The Gift of the Nation Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation is greatly honoured that Dame Judi Dench, Miss Darcey Bussell, CBE, Mme. Irina Bokova, General-Director of UNESCO, Sir Roy Strong, CH and Mr Alan Titchmarsh have agreed to become its Patrons. The Trustees will be approaching other respected public figures for their potential Patronage.
The Queen’s 100th birthday is nine years away. Campaigning and fundraising must commence at once. Planning permission and Royal Parks permission to be obtained. Architects to be commissioned for detailed drawings and models made. Horticulturists to advise. Works put out to tender. Planting to be commenced no later than January 2020.
Architectural services offered by
Marius Barran, B.A DIP. ARCH (CANTAB) RIBA
and Luka Zautashvili, MA ARCH
1 St. Paul’s Studios, 134 Talgarth Road
London, W14 9DA
Email: Contact Marius Barran
Telephone: 0208 741 5275
Engineering services offered by
70 Chancery Lane
London, WC2A 1AF
Email: Contact WSP
Telephone: 020 7314 5000
The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation
A charitable company limited by guarantee and registered with Companies House No. 11001514
(Charity Commission registration pending)
Mark Evans, Project Founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Bentley & Skinner (Bond Street Jewellers) Ltd
55 Piccadilly, London, W.1.
Telephone: 020 7629 0651 Email: Contact email
In the Press
The Sunday Times on the Commonwealth Conservatory