Exploring Shenley Park
- Credit: Archant
An orchard, meadow, woods, café, walled garden and even an amphitheatre – Kiran Reynolds explores the grounds of historic ShenleyPark, a perfect spot for a late summer day out
Shenley Park is a 45-acre site run by the Shenley Park Trust in the village of Shenley near Radlett. Since 1992, the trust has worked to restore the historic elements of the park, which was once part of a grand estate dating back to the medieval period.
Dating back to the 13th century, Shenley Park was once part of an aristocratic estate known as Porters Park. Owners included a such worthies as Chief Baron of the Exchequer, a Master of King James I’s household, the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor and an admiral, Lord Howe.
During the First World War, part of the land at Porters Park was requisitioned to be used as an aerodrome and in 1924 the land was sold by the last private owner, Frank Raphael, to Middlesex County Council for the purpose of building a hospital for the mentally ill. The mansion, walled garden, stables and coach houses were all incorporated into the layout of what became Shenley Hospital, opened officially in 1934 by King George V and Queen Mary. Patients were engaged in agricultural and horticultural duties as part of their therapy; working in the walled garden where most of the fruit and vegetables were grown for the kitchens, in the 22-acre orchards, and at farms located on nearby Black Lion Hill.
During the Second World War, around 3,000 soldiers were treated here when part of Shenley Hospital was converted to military use.
By 1953, Shenley Hospital housed 2,300 patients. A shift away from institutional care meant that by the mid-1970s numbers of patients fell to 1,400 and declined further to 900 by 1986. The hospital was closed in 1998 after 60 years of service due to the belief that patients would benefit from being cared for in smaller hostels or sheltered accommodation closer to their own communities.
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The property was sold off to developers and almost 900 homes built, but land was set aside and gifted to the people of Shenley and its neighbouring parishes – the area now known as Shenley Park.
Shenley Park Trust was established in 1992 as an independent charity to develop, maintain and manage the park under a 150-year lease from Hertsmere County Council, which is the current land owner. In 2002, the trust won an award from the Institute of Landscape and Amenity Management for its work.
The orchard was first planted in the early 1900s and today there are more than 450 apple trees with more than 150 rare and unusual varieties of apple. One example is Seabrook Pearl, originating in Essex but now found only in Shenley. Between 1993 and 2006, the orchard was used as the location for Shenley Park Apple Day. This event has now moved to the walled garden to allow more space, as an average of 3,000 visitors attend each year. This year’s event takes place on Sunday October 18 with activities include apple tasting, juicing demonstrations, apple bobbing and apple shy and a cookery competition.
The Café in the Orchard is a popular destination, serving freshly-prepared breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas seven days a week from 8am-6pm as well as around 3,000 bottles of apple juice from the orchard’s produce. The café has wi-fi, parking, indoor and outdoor seating and is next to a children’s play area, one of two in the park).
The café is a good starting point for a circular walk – park in the car park and check the information board outside the café or pick up a leaflet inside. From here, follow the signposts around the park.
The meadow was once a grassy field that made up part of the Porters Estate. In 1935, topsoil was removed from the meadow and used to create a compost mix for the walled garden. In 1992, when the trust took over management of the site, the area was deeply rutted and had been used as a dumping ground. It was then cleared, ploughed and levelled, which allowed the seed bank in the soil to reappear. Poppies flourished together with ox-eye daisy and bugle. Today, it is a predominantly grassy area, great for picnics, while recent treatments are encouraging wild flowers to grow again. Both the meadow and the orchard are open year-round.
Walled garden and amphitheatre
Dating back to the 16th century, the octagonal walled garden provided vegetable produce for the house and formed an important part of the horticultural therapy for psychiatric patients at Shenley Hospital. Today’s garden is mainly Victorian, with several innovations from the period, including ‘frost arches’ that allowed cold air in winter to be driven out by rising hot air. Three large renovated greenhouses from the period also remain just outside the walls.
After the hospital closed, the walled garden fell into a state of neglect. One of the first tasks of the Shenley Park Trust was to restore this area. The garden was not restored to its former kitchen garden status however, but instead a novel garden was designed for the public encompassing two marquee lawns (available for event hire) separated by three terraces and a landscaped amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre was constructed between 1992 and 1994 and each summer a series of plays and music festivals is held here. Gates to the walled garden are opened an hour before events, giving visitors a chance to enjoy the gardens beforehand. The walled garden is not always open, but guided tours of the garden and park can be arranged for four or more people in exchange for a small donation towards maintenance costs. Contact the Shenley Park Trust office.
Visiting Shenley Park
Radlett Lane, Shenley WD7 9DW
01923 852629 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A walks leaflet can be downloaded at shenleypark.co.uk or picked up from the cafe or Shenley Park Trust office.