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Our work at Prior Park Landscape Garden

Archaeology team working on the Cascade at Prior Park, Bath
Archaeology team working on the Cascade at Prior Park, Bath | © National Trust Images/Dawn Biggs

Over 25 years of garden restoration have taken place at Prior Park Landscape Garden to uncover the remains of a Grotto, Gothic temple site, Cascade and Serpentine lake. Discover how the garden was restored to creator Ralph Allen’s 1764 vision.

Archaeologists investigate

When we took over the care of Prior Park, not much was known about the garden. Many areas were overgrown, and views had closed in since Ralph Allen’s time.

Archives suggested there were a number of features to re-discover, but it took painstaking work by a team of archaeologists to uncover the remains of the Grotto, the Gothic Temple site, the remains of the Serpentine Lake (reduced to just a small pool at this stage) and the broken Cascade.

The archaeologists pieced things together, as we slowly realised there was more to Prior Park than just a bridge and a view.

The Palladian Bridge at Prior Park, Bath
The Palladian Bridge at Prior Park | © National Trust Images/James Dobson


There were lots of projects to get stuck into in the early days - mainly at the lower end of the garden.

The top lake was drained and cleared of silt and a silt trap was created to help maintain clear waters and the all-important reflections. Repairs were also made to the dams and cascade.

The Palladian Bridge was also in need of attention. Vegetation was cleared from around it, stonework repaired, and it was given a new roof of Cornish slate – a nod to creator Ralph Allen’s home county.

Railings were added around the pasture, and the path network was established.


For the first three years, there was no general public access to the garden, except by guided tour. The garden was opened to the public in 1996.

Temporary structures were brought in for the visitor reception area and to cover and protect the Grotto.

Some of these structures are still present in the garden today, as we continue our plans to restore the garden to its 1764 splendour, at the time of Ralph Allen’s death.


In 2000, a line of trees were planted to the right of the Palladian Bridge as you look down the garden. These trees are seen on a Thorpe and Overton garden plan, dated 1762.

Man carrying little boy on his shoulders at Prior Park, Somerset
Visitors at the Serpentine Lake at Prior Park | © National Trust Images/James Dobson


The Wilderness project involved restoring the Serpentine Lake, the Cascade and Cabinet, with lots of planting in the area at the top of the garden.

Launch of appeal

An appeal was launched, and a grant was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and preliminary work started in late 2005.

Trees were thinned out, and new paths created, making this an area for exploring and discovery. Archaeologists worked on the historic line of the Serpentine Lake and studied the original construction of the Cabinet, for an authentic restoration.

There was a lot of work to do to create a sustainable route for the water that flows down from the Serpentine to the Cascade, under the Cabinet, then down to the lakes at the lower end of the garden.

The project was finally completed in 2007.

Spring daffodils in bloom at Prior Park, Bath
Spring daffodils in bloom at Prior Park | © National Trust Images/Dawn Biggs

Historic planting

Planting is a constant theme in the work of the garden team; using historic plans to mirror the planted areas in Ralph Allen’s time, and always only using plants that were around in the UK in the mid-1700s.

The addition of thousands of daffodil bulbs in the Summer House Glade, has created the glorious spring displays that can be enjoyed every year.

Studying the Thatched Cottage

In recent years, archaeologists have studied the remains at the Thatched Cottage site alongside the lower lake. The remains are open for visitors to see, and we hope that this is a lost garden feature we can restore in the future.

Protecting the Grotto

We’ve worked hard to protect the historic features of the Grotto and to improve the experience for visitors to the garden.

In 2016 we worked with lighting company, Enlightened, to black out the old scaffold structure, and shine a light on the historic Grotto archways.

The mosaic floor was covered with sand to protect it and a digital model of the garden - created by Bath University - was installed to show visitors how the garden might have looked in Ralph Allen’s day.

Tree maintenance

Since the 1700s, trees have self-seeded and views closed in, so we’re now undertaking a five-year programme of tree felling, to open up the historic views.

This work will run alongside the dams project – the next step in our conservation of this 18th-century landscape garden.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

A view of the valley parkland with the Palladian Bridge, and beyond to the skyline of Bath, at Prior Park, Bath


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