The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen

A gift from Her people to Her Majesty the Queen
to celebrate Her 100th birthday

The
Commonwealth Conservatory:
a Gift to the Queen

Patrons

Dame Judi Dench, Dame Darcey Bussell DBE, Mme. Irina Bokova, former General-Director of UNESCO, Sir David Cannadine, The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Lord Chartres KCVO, PC, Lord Julian Fellowes, Andrew Marr, Sir Roy Strong, CH and Alan Titchmarsh, MBE

The Background

The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation was established last year as a charitable trust whose aims are to generate support and raise funds for the construction and endowment of a conservatory in Central London to present to Her Majesty the Queen on her 100th Birthday. The Conservatory will be planted with vegetation from all of the fifty-three countries of the Commonwealth as a tribute to Her Majesty’s love and leadership of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Foundation will be responsible for commissioning and overseeing the Conservatory’s construction and planting, and safeguarding its future as both a public amenity and an emblem of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is intended that the Commonwealth Conservatory will be a legacy of lasting beauty and educational value in appreciation for Her Majesty’s selfless care and dedication to Her people all around the world.

The Foundation was registered with Companies House on the 6th of October 2017 as a charitable company limited by guarantee. Once agreement has been secured with the relevant parties to progress the project, the Foundation will apply to the Charity Commission for England and Wales for registration. The Foundation’s charitable objects are to provide a world-class recreational space for the public, to promote environmental conservation and to advance education in the core values and principles which unite the Commonwealth of Nations, namely democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The Conservatory

The Conservatory, a transparent palace of glass, will comprise four main areas. A large central hall with a high-level gallery walk-way and a water-lily pond will have a tropical climate of at least twenty degrees centigrade. Two flanking halls of lesser height would have, respectively, a moist temperate and a dry temperate climate of at least ten degrees centigrade. The dry temperate hall will be designed to function as a cafeteria and also as a formal dining hall which could be hired for private events. The forth area will be a large subterranean expanse extending beneath the glazed halls and accommodating all of the Conservatory’s associated amenities.

A computer generated aerial view of the The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen in today’s Queen Mary’s garden.
A computer generated aerial view of The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen.

Education and conservation will play an important role in the project. It is intended particularly 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. An auditorium in the basement area will serve as both a lecture theatre and small studio theatre whilst a small concert hall will double as a cinema to host a Commonwealth Film Festival. This basement area will be accessed by two sweeping flights of stairs within a glass-domed subterranean rotunda. Accessible to the disabled by lift, the basement area would also contain a library and gallery as well as WC and cloakroom facilities, workshop and storage space, offices, plant and heat-pump chambers.

The Site

The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen ground plan model.
Proposed location of the Commonwealth Conservatory in the Regent’s Park

It was originally intended that the conservatory should replace Decimus Burton’s original Winter-Garden that was built in 1845 as the centrepiece of the Royal Botanic Society Gardens in the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park and demolished in 1932. The redundant old nursery just behind the Inner Circle would present an opportune site for the Commonwealth Conservatory.

More recently the Foundation has wished to explore the possibility of siting the conservatory on the Southbank beside the river Thames and adjacent to the Queen’s Jubilee Gardens, between the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye.

Location of the Commonwealth Conservatory on the South Bank
Proposed location of the Commonwealth Conservatory on the South Bank

The Regent’s Park

The choice of the Regent’s Park for the siting of The Commonwealth Conservatory: A Gift to The Queen, has a particular historical significance. Queen Victoria was the first Patroness of the Regent’s Park Winter-Garden and took a great interest in the 19,000 square foot glass and cast iron conservatory. 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. The Regent’s Park 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”.

View of the illuminated Winter Garden, Summer 1876.
View of the illuminated Winter Garden, Summer 1876

In 1931 the Royal Botanic Society’s lease of the land within the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park came to an end. Increasing financial difficulties prevented the society from remedying the Winter-Garden’s dilapidations and 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, the Winter-Garden was demolished, and Queen Mary’s Rose-Garden was laid out in its place.

Interior view of Decimus Burton’s Royal Botanical Society’s Winter Garden, 1930, shortly before demolition.
Interior view of Decimus Burton’s Royal Botanical Society’s Winter Garden, 1930, shortly before demolition

The Royal Parks are currently seeking proposals from interested parties for a sympathetic redevelopment of Regent’s Park’s redundant old nursery site. The site, adjacent to where the old Winter-Garden stood, affords the advantage of space to allow the creation of a bucolic setting in which the Conservatory would stand within a small woodland glade, recalling the origins of Regent’s Park as Henry VIII’s hunting grounds. This would fit well with the objectives of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a conservation project to create a network of national forest parks spanning the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, founded in 2015 under the patronage of Sir David Attenborough and under the direction of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy’s initiative aims to preserve indigenous forests for future generations to mark the Queen’s lifetime of service. A “Regent’s Wood” in Central London would give a physical identity to the implementation of this scheme and would complement perfectly the objectives of the Commonwealth Conservatory.

The Foundation believes that siting the Commonwealth Conservatory in the Regent’s Park would greatly enhance park’s visual and recreational amenities and enrich the magnificent legacy of The Royal Parks as a whole. The drawback to this option is that The Royal Parks are currently indicating that they would only grant a twenty-one year licence to the favoured party for the old nursery site. The Foundation is of the opinion that this project requires a more secure basis on which to proceed than a licence would offer and therefore would seek to explore whether The Royal Parks would consider some other type of arrangement or be prepared to enter into a form of partnership with the Foundation.

Aerial view of Regent's Park including the Inner Circle Queen Mary's Rose Gardens, St John's Lodge and the redundant Nursery.
Aerial view of Regent's Park including the Inner Circle, St John's Lodge and the redundant Nursery

The South Bank

The vibrant and fast evolving Southbank is a hugely exciting area. Its tourist footfall of over 18 million visitors a year is second in London only to Covent Garden Market, making it an obvious choice of location for a project of such international significance. The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation has approached the Canary Wharf Group who have been acting as the development partner for Qatari Diar on the Shell Centre site, to explore the possibility of using the vacant plot of land, formerly knowns as the Hungerford Bridge Car Park, as the site for the proposed Conservatory.

The Hungerford Bridge Car Park together with the adjoining Jubilee Gardens were designated as Metropolitan Open land in 1990. The Commonwealth Conservatory would appear to meet the Development Principles of Lambeth Council and could be the answer to developing this valuable plot of derelict land in both an aesthetically pleasing and culturally appropriate way. The Conservatory would occupy less than one third of the redundant car park. The remaining two-thirds of the site would be landscaped as parkland, finally extending the Jubilee Gardens to the railway viaduct.

The Southbank Centre is justly envied throughout the world for the excellence and diversity of the arts and culture it offers to the public. Horticulture has always been civilization’s foremost culture and it would be fitting for the Commonwealth Conservatory to become an integral part of the Southbank Arts Centre. The Commonwealth Conservatory would bring joy and quiet contemplation to the audiences of the Southbank Centre. Conversely people visiting the Conservatory from all walks of life would be drawn to the Southbank Centre to discover cultural paths that they might otherwise never have explored.

A Panorama of the South Bank including The Royal Festival Hall, The Hungerford Foot Bridges, Shell Tower, London Eye and County Hall
A Panorama of the South Bank including The Royal Festival Hall, The Hungerford Foot Bridges, The Shell Tower, The London Eye and County Hall

Siting The Commonwealth Conservatory: A Gift to The Queen on the Southbank would be particularly appropriate, as it would be accessed from both the Queen’s Jubilee Walkway and the Queen’s Jubilee Gardens. The Conservatory would be a fitting replacement for the 1951 Festival of Britain Dome of Discovery Pavilion, demolished in 1952, and on whose footprint it would stand. As well as celebrating the Queen’s one hundredth Birthday in 2026 and the centenary of the Balfour Declaration launching the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1926, the Conservatory would also celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Festival of Britain and the two-hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the construction of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The proximity of County Hall and the London Eye on the one hand and the Southbank Arts Centre on the other, together with the magnificent river-side setting, makes the Southbank an ideal location for a civic structure of world class status. The Conservatory will provide a focal point that will draw the Southbank’s disparate listed buildings and parkland together. Views of the Conservatory from across the river and the bridges, particularly the Hungerford Footbridge, will be spectacular, while the high-level gallery walkway within the Conservatory will provide splendid views of the river Thames and central London’s historic architecture.

The Design

Inspired by the radical and elegant design of Decimus Burton’s Palm House in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the two hundred foot wide and fifty foot high curvilinear glass-domed conservatory will be majestic in nature. It will not be dwarfed by its neighbours but will be sympathetic to its urban surrounding. It will not disconcert with the shock of the new but will delight in its graceful elegance. It will be constructed in a modular form to a human scale with twelve-foot fenestrated glazed spans curving upwards between arching ribs.

Architectural references for the The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen - Section of Palm House, Kew, by Decimus Burton and Richard Turner, 1844 to 1848.
Architectural references for the The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen - Section of Palm House, Kew, by Decimus Burton and Richard Turner, 1844 to 1848.

Although evoking the familiar and beloved grand botanic garden glasshouses of the past, the Conservatory will be thoroughly innovative in its construction. In place of traditional cast iron, the framework will be formed of a light-weight but strong and environmentally neutral fibre-reinforced polymer. The Conservatory will be environmentally sustainable with geothermal heating and a watering system fed by rainwater collected from its roofs. Like a giant crystal bubble, the Conservatory will appear to float alongside the river Thames: a beautiful bell-jar sheltering a garden of world-wide flora through the changing seasons.

The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen Architectural Drawing of Ground Floor Plan.
The Commonwealth Conservatory Architectural Drawing of Ground Floor Plan

The Commonwealth

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”.

Her Majesty the Queen signing a Charter setting out the Commonwealth’s values and commitments to equal rights.
Her Majesty the Queen signing a Charter setting out the Commonwealth’s values and commitments to equal rights, Marlborough House, 11th March 2013. The Commonwealth is an association of 53 independent member countries, working together to promote the common interests of its citizens. It contains over 2.2 billion people – about a quarter of the world’s population – 60% of whom are under the age of thirty.

Sadly, due to costly 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.

The reasoning

With the demolition of Decimus Burton’s Winter-Garden in 1932 London lost a valuable recreational attraction. By siting the Commonwealth Conservatory in the heart of London, the city’s historic landscape will be enhanced for the benefit of future generations. It will be the most significant conservatory in Inner London and will be destined to become one of London’s major tourist attractions. Over five million people visit Regent’s Park every year and over eighteen million visit London’s South Bank, the majority during the summer months. The Commonwealth Conservatory will also provide a magical winter experience attracting many more visitors to and from London during the winter season. A steady revenue stream could be expected to be generated by the Conservatory throughout the year through admission charges.

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 - an engineer’s model.
The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen - an engineer’s model.

The Trustees & Patrons

The Board of Trustees of the Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation is 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; 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, His Hon Roger Chapple, Miss Jocelyn Burton, Mr Benjamin Duncan, Miss Claire Grindey, Mr Ronel Lehmann and Mr Omar Vaja have kindly accepted invitations to become members of the Board of Trustees.

The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation is greatly honoured that Dame Judi Dench, Dame Darcey Bussell DBE, Mme. Irina Bokova, former General-Director of UNESCO, Sir David Cannadine, The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Lord Chartres KCVO, PC, Lord Julian Fellowes, Mr Andrew Marr, Sir Roy Strong, CH and Mr Alan Titchmarsh, MBE have agreed to become its Patrons. The Trustees will be approaching other respected public figures for their potential Patronage.

Cross section of the Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen.
Cross section of the Commonwealth Conservatory

The local Stakeholders

The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation is acutely aware of the number of stakeholders involved in Regent’s Park and the Southbank, and of the specific interests of each and every one of these stakeholders, be they residents or organisations in the Boroughs of Westminster, Camden or Lambeth: private, public, corporate or commercial. It is therefore of the utmost importance for the success of this project that the Foundation listens to and takes on board all opinions, concerns, advice and encouragement.

The Commonwealth Conservatory ground plan model

Timetable

The Queen’s 100th birthday is only eight years away. Campaigning and fundraising must commence at once. The site holder’s and planning permissions must be obtained. Architects must be commissioned; detailed drawings and models made. Horticulturists need to advise and works must be put out to tender. By working together we can achieve this deadline.

Planting within the Commonwealth Conservatory
The Commonwealth Conservatory: a Gift to the Queen.
11th May 2018

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

Appendix 1: Lambeth’s Planning Policies

According to Lambeth Council’s Waterloo Area Supplementary Planning Document of June 2009, updated in April 2013, the Hungerford Bridge Car Park is one of many sites in Waterloo where Lambeth would welcome redevelopment.

  • Chapter 7 sets out specific guidance for particular sites where clarification on the development issues are required.
  • Chapter 7, section 2, states that the Hungerford Car Park was first identified for open space by London County Council in 1934 and became part of a larger planned park in 1943.
  • In 1951 the site housed the Dome of Discovery as part of the Festival of Britain.
  • Jubilee Gardens was first opened in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and was intended to eventually fill the entire area between County Hall and the railway viaduct.
  • Jubilee Gardens was designated as Metropolitan Open Land in 1990. Planning permission was granted in the same year for new gardens that stretched across Hungerford Car Park but were never completed.
  • In 2002 the Jubilee Gardens Steering Group was formed to create a new vision for a world-class park which serves the needs of all users - residents, local employees and visitors to the Southbank.
  • In 2012, Jubilee Gardens was re-landscaped to provide a high quality park and is used intensively as the number of visitors continues to increase. An extension of the gardens over The Hungerford Bridge Car Park offers the only opportunity to increase the very limited green space that exist in Waterloo.
  • Jubilee Gardens and the Hungerford Car Park site are designated as Metropolitan Open Land and any development of the site would therefore be a departure from the adopted development plan. However, the Unitary Development Plan Inquiry Inspector did recognise that the site could be suitable for a cultural facility of national importance that allowed for a park extension.
  • The Unitary Development Plan states that the redevelopment of the Southbank Arts Complex as Britain’s premier arts and cultural centre is supported. This is subject to developments affecting the complex being compatible with the Council’s policies and proposals for extending Jubilee Gardens onto the Hungerford Car Park site.
  • Any new development at the Hungerford Car Park, an area of Metropolitan Open Land, could only be considered acceptable if it facilitated the extension of Jubilee Gardens and contributed to the Southbank Centre’s world class arts and cultural status.
  • It should maintain the campus style building pattern on the Southbank and should define the edge to the Riverside Walk promenade and provide an extension to the Jubilee Gardens.
  • Lambeth will only support such a proposal as a means to achieving the extension of Jubilee Gardens, and at least two thirds of the car park site would be required to be used as open space.
  • A direct pedestrian route from the Hungerford Foot Bridges to the station via the Shell Centre at ground level should be provided as part of any new development.
  • The protected view to St. Paul’s Cathedral from Westminster Pier must be maintained.

Appendix 2: The Commonwealth Conservatory South Bank Development Principles

The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation believes that the construction of the Commonwealth Conservatory as proposed will not only comply with Lambeth Council’s Waterloo Areas Supplementary Planning guidelines but will enable the visionary policies of Lambeth’s Planning Department to become a reality. The ugly duckling that is the Hungerford Bridge Car Park will be turned into a majestic swan adorning the waterfront of the River Thames. In just eight years’ time Lambeth’s South Bank will be transformed into one of the most beautiful city riversides in the world.

  • The pre-eminence of the Shell Tower will be retained as a London landmark with the contextual height of the Conservatory scaling down from the Shell Tower to the Riverside.
  • The height of the transparent glazed conservatory will preserve existing views of the London Eye from York Road and the Queen’s Jubilee Walkway. The Conservatory will relate positively to the character and settings of its surrounding listed buildings. It will act as an interface between the open structural engineering of the London Eye and Hungerford Foot Bridges on the one hand and the substantial architecture of the Royal Festival Hall, Shell Tower and County Hall on the other.
  • Franta Belsky’s listed bronze 'Shell Fountain' of 1961, removed from its original position in front of the Shell Tower, will be relocated close to the Conservatory as well as the memorial flagpole provided by the forest industry of British Columbia for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
  • Developing the Conservatory adjacent to the Jubilee Gardens will define and enhance its parkland setting and relate to it in terms of access, frontage and public realm design.
  • The footprint of the Conservatory will be minimised above ground by locating all of the Conservatory’s proposed amenities underground. As a single building of limited footprint within a parkland setting the Conservatory will reinforce the characteristics of the open riverside area.
  • The extension of the open space around the Conservatory with an enlarged Jubilee Gardens of exemplary landscape design will provide a world class park and a coherent public realm extending to the Hungerford Bridge and the Royal Festival Hall beyond.
  • The Commonwealth Conservatory will contribute to the Southbank Centre’s world class arts and cultural status, celebrating horticulture as the world’s most inclusive culture.
  • Access to the Conservatory will involve the creation of a new and improved pedestrian environment throughout the South Bank. Redevelopment will improve permeability and pedestrian linkages. Provision will be made for clear routes and attractive spaces connecting well with the wider area.
  • The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation will work with relevant landowners to coordinate improvements to achieve a coherent pedestrian-route masterplan.
  • A new street-level pedestrian route across the site would replace the upper level walkways to connect the Hungerford Foot Bridges with Waterloo Station.
  • The whole pedestrian-route masterplan will take into account specific sections of the route linking Waterloo Station with the Hungerford Foot Bridges, the South Bank Centre, the Jubilee Gardens, the proposed Conservatory, Country Hall and the London Eye.
  • Existing servicing to the South Bank Arts Centre will be retained and any new servicing will be provided alongside the viaduct with provision of emergency access.
  • Access to the Conservatory will involve the upgrading of the Riverside Walk.
  • The Commonwealth Conservatory Foundation will propose that the creation and delivery of the Jubilee Gardens extension and the upgrading of the Riverside Walk, should be part and parcel of the Conservatory’s development.

Appendix 3: The Charter of the Commonwealth of Nation

The Charter brings together the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth - democracy, human rights and the rule of law - in a single, accessible document. The Charter expresses the commitment of member states to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth. The Charter also acknowledges the role of civil society in supporting the goals and values of the Commonwealth.

The core values and principles of the Commonwealth as declared by this Charter are reaffirmed thus:

  • Democracy
  • Human rights
  • International peace and security
  • Tolerance, respect and understanding
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Separation of Powers
  • Rule of Law
  • Good Governance
  • Sustainable Development
  • Protecting the Environment
  • Access to Health, Education, Food and Shelter
  • Gender Equality
  • Importance of Young People in the Commonwealth
  • Recognition of the Needs of Small States
  • Recognition of the Needs of Vulnerable States
  • The Role of Civil Society

In the Press

The Sunday Times article about the Queen’s Commonwealth Conservatory

The Sunday Times on the Commonwealth Conservatory