Biddulph Grange Garden, a masterpiece of Victorian garden design, is celebrating the return of its striking Chinese Bridge, thanks to the skills of a National Trust specialist crafts team and the marathon fundraising efforts of a Staffordshire schoolgirl.
The ornate red, green and yellow footbridge – first built in the mid 19th-century and replaced in the late 1980s – is a key feature of the China garden, one of a series of garden ‘rooms’ that take visitors on a global journey. The China garden was modelled on the famous ‘willow pattern’ ceramic design and is one of the garden’s most prized and photographed areas.
But despite conservation repairs over the years, by autumn 2018 the bridge had deteriorated and for safety reasons it was decided that a replica should be made.
Local schoolgirl Mia Hearson was told about the need for a new bridge by her grandmother Elaine Lawton, who has volunteered at the garden for 16 years. Aged just 10, Mia set out on a sponsorship challenge and raised almost £1,400 towards the new bridge, by running 52 miles – the equivalent of the London and New York marathons.
Mia said: “I remember going on this bridge since I was little. It’s something now that when I look at it, I can think, ‘I’ve helped make this possible’.”
Elaine said: “I’m so proud of Mia for what she’s done in support of the bridge. I’m proud because she did it completely off her own back – it was all her idea and she just went out and ran in all kinds of weathers.
Mia’s mother Nicola Hearson added: “Biddulph is a place we’ve always gone to since Mia was little. It’s on our doorstep and my mum works there, so we’ve always called it ‘Granny’s Garden.’
“We have such fond memories of visiting, so when Mia heard about the bridge needing to be replaced, she wanted to help and did it by doing what she loves.”
Thanks to local fundraisers like Mia, donors and raffle proceeds, one of the National Trust’s Heritage Craft Skills teams was able to begin handcrafting a replica bridge.
Led by joiner Sam Tinsdeall, the team, based at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, hand-cut, shaped, joined and painted hundreds of pieces of timber using complex original designs. The painstaking work took three conservation joiners about 14 weeks to complete.
The new bridge and its zig-zag fence was then transported in 50 sections and carried into the garden by hand, with staff and volunteers carefully negotiating the narrow winding paths and many steps within the valley-side garden.
Visitors can now cross the bridge for the first time in four years and enjoy the scene just as the garden’s creator, Victorian plant hunter James Bateman, had intended.
Head Gardener Paul Walton said: “Biddulph Grange Garden is one of the most exciting gardens from the Victorian age. Features like the Chinese Bridge help make it a really unforgettable place to visit and explore. The specialist crafts team at Clumber Park have done an amazing job and we can’t wait for visitors to be able to venture over this special bridge once more.”
Congratulating the now 12-year-old Mia, Paul said: “Running two marathons, in all weathers, at the age of 10, is an absolutely fabulous achievement.
“Mia should be super proud of herself and we’re delighted that she chose to support our fundraising efforts, so that future generations can keep coming to the garden, and cherishing it, just as she and her family do.”
For further information visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/biddulphgrange