Thursday 4 April 2024

The Gardener’s Bothy at Turton Tower

The following article by Phil Broughton appeared in our newsletter number 105 in April 2024, relating to work undertaken by the Turton Tower Kitchen Garden Volunteers group.

Ever since 2009 when we began the clearance of bracken, brambles and self-seeded trees in the garden, the Bothy has stood prominently yet forlornly over-looking the Victorian Kitchen Garden at Turton Tower. It was already a roofless ruin with dangerously unstable sections of wall with huge stones poised to drop on the unwary. For public safety, it had been fenced off within the garden and on the side facing the Tower.

The Bothy following recent conservation work

The Kitchen Garden team had considered restoring it about 10 years ago, possibly partially with a sloping “living” roof but whether full or partial it would be reconstruction not restoration; much too costly and probably wrong. Never-the-less we continued to worry that this now elegant ruin was steadily disappearing taking its history with it. It had saplings growing within it, the interior was 3 feet deep in large stones and slates from the collapsed roof and inner walls, and one wall had almost entirely collapsed outwards. 

A Limited History of the Bothy

This was a fairly rare 2-storey gardeners bothy which may have been used as accommodation or as a store for gardeners employed by the owners and the residents of the Tower. Neither the garden or bothy is shown on 1840 maps. The Bothy walls are not keyed into the walls around the garden so it is likely that it was built later. Probably either James Kay or his successors constructed it and we know it existed (and was used by gardeners) when the Rigg family moved in, renting from the Appletons in the 1890s. At this time it was used as a tool store with potatoes stored on the first floor. There’s research to do here!

Bringing it back from the brink

In June 2022 the garden volunteers decided to explore its conservation and re-inclusion in the garden. We paid £840 for a professional structural survey based on doing the minimum of reconstruction necessary to make it stable for the future; safe for the public to approach and enter the ruin. The surveyors gave a detailed report which confirmed our approach to be possible and when asked, helpfully estimated a possible cost of £10,000. We checked with Historic England who said that only local planners needed to be involved for which the Tower management team at BWDC smoothed our passage.

In early 2023 we sent copies of the report with our aims to four local heritage builders who offered estimates ranging from £9,600 to £31,532. “Heritage Property Repairs” were “head and shoulders” above all the others; knowledge, enthusiasm, a thorough same-day estimate and not least cost! 

Simultaneously we started an attempt at Heritage Lottery funding; their demands were too onerous on our volunteer group so we gave this up after the first stage and turned to crowd funding through “Just Giving”. We received donations from Turton Local History,  The Friends of Turton Tower and gifts from many people who wanted to support the garden that they enjoyed. Thank you everyone! We reached our target.

The first months of 2023 saw our volunteers clear and stack big piles of large stones from inside and around the ruin, revealing a stone-flagged floor inside but leaving anything that might be supporting the walls!

In June Heritage Property Repairs completely cleared inside and then did a meticulous job involving replacing failing wooden lintels by stone, rebuilding walls where necessary, securing teetering stonework and lime-mortaring the whole building.

Plans and Work Since Conservation

With the Bothy now secure we have been able to remove the rickety fences that separated it from the garden and build a new rabbit-proof fence around the outside (making a small “land grab” from the Tower lawn to make more space for a new garden on that side). A new path is part constructed leading from an existing path in the garden into the Bothy and around it with space at the end for a bench overlooking the new garden and the Tower. Fallen stone from the Bothy is being used to build a terrace wall in this garden to counter its steep slope down towards the Tower.

On the side now opened up to the Kitchen Garden a wildlife garden is under development with a pond already constructed.

Inside the bothy it is planned to give information about the bothy and how it would be used. (research!)

We now have a beautiful and character-full ruin that will stand for many decades.