After all the grey, damp and drizzly weather we had locally during October and early this month we recently had a couple of really nice sunny days so one morning I took the dogs for a walk round Rivington Terraced Gardens, somewhere I hadn’t been to for quite a while.
In 1899 local soap magnate William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme), founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and one of Bolton’s most famous and generous benefactors, bought a large parcel of land below Rivington Pike on the western slopes of Winter Hill with ideas on how it might be developed, and in 1901 a single storey prefabricated timber bungalow supplied by a firm in Manchester was erected on a level section of the hillside. Named Roynton Cottage it was designed by Lever’s old school friend Jonathan Simpson and was intended for weekend visits and shooting parties.
Four years later Lever met landscape architect Thomas Mawson and the two collaborated in the design of the terraced gardens though Lever himself influenced the actual layout and also designed Lever Bridge which crossed the main lane through the gardens. With one large arch crossed by six smaller ones it was based on a bridge Lever had seen during a trip to Nigeria and is now known locally as Seven Arch Bridge. Work on the gardens spanned a 16-year period from 1906 and in 1921 the landscape and architectural firm of James Pulham & Son were responsible for the creation of a steep rocky ravine with waterfalls and a Japanese-style garden with three pagodas, inspired by a visit Lever had made to Japan several years earlier.
In 1913 the bungalow was destroyed in an arson attack by suffragette Edith Rigby. The stone-built replacement was on a much grander scale and was a place for entertaining; along with a dining room, morning room, lounge, library, study, kitchen and servants’ quarters it also incorporated a music gallery, a circular ballroom, glass-roofed pergola and a winter garden. Following Lever’s death in 1925 the house and gardens were purchased by Bolton brewer John Magee then after his death in 1939 the site was acquired by Liverpool Corporation; in 1948 the bungalow and its entrance lodges were demolished and the gardens were opened up to the public. Following local government reorganisation in 1974 the site passed to the North West Water Authority and along with much of the surrounding land is now owned by United Utilities.
After decades of nature being allowed to take its course the gardens gradually became overgrown in many places and in 2014 the site was named by the BBC Countryfile programme as one of Britain’s Best Lost Gardens. In early 2016 the Rivington Heritage Trust secured £3.4million from the Heritage Lottery fund to improve, revitalise and maintain the gardens and their features and a huge repair and conservation project was soon undertaken. With non-native shrubs and self-seeded trees being cleared away, remaining stone buildings being made safe and accessible, and several original paths and stone stairways being uncovered the gardens eventually began to look how they once might have been. When I last went up there three years ago conservation work was very much ongoing, now it seems to have finished and as I walked round the gardens it was a delight to discover features I hadn’t known existed or which had previously been inaccessible.
Originally called the Dovecote Tower, the Grade II listed Pigeon Tower as it’s now known was built in 1910 by R Atkinson to a design by Thomas Mawson, commissioned by Lever as a gift to his wife, Elizabeth Ellen. A 4-storey building with a basement entrance, each storey was just one single room with the floors linked by a solid stone spiral staircase running up the spine of the building. The first and second floors housed ornamental doves and pigeons while the top floor was Lady Lever’s sewing room/music room. Above the ornate fireplace was the family motto and a circular emblem with the letters spelling out ‘WHEEL’, the initials of William Hesketh and Elizabeth Ellen Lever.
As part of the recent conservation project the Pigeon Tower has been sympathetically restored and with a new roof and windows, repairs to the stonework, new flooring and an aesthetically-pleasing security door with oak wood surround the building is now completely safe and open to visitors during special events and Open Days, although any doves and pigeons have long since disappeared. Situated on the highest level of the terraced gardens the nearby lane has far reaching views westwards across the Lancashire Plains to the coast and northwards to the hills of the south Lake District, while North Wales can be seen from the top of the tower itself.
It was just after I’d walked round the Japanese Lake that an unfortunate incident occurred. Steps took me down a steep bank from one end of the lake to the path below and as I walked up the path, and right out of the blue, a big dog came running down the bank, fell off the retaining wall, picked itself up and immediately attacked Snowy and Poppie. I’m not sure if it had seen my two from the bank and decided to attack or if it was just running along the bank and went too fast to stop before it fell off the wall but it landed almost at the side of me and so suddenly I had no time to react.
Poppie ran behind me but Snowy had a go back though it was much bigger than her and things almost developed into a full-on fight; although it wasn’t actually a pit bull it looked very much like that type of dog and I really thought Snowy was going to get hurt. There was no sign of the owners but they couldn’t have been far away so I just yelled as loud as I could for someone to call the dog then I heard a man’s voice calling it from the other side of the bank and telling someone to put it on the lead. Fortunately it ran back up the bank and I didn’t see it again, or its owners whoever they were. The whole incident only lasted a minute or two but to be attacked so suddenly like that really shook me up – thankfully Snowy was okay but it won’t have helped her dislike of other dogs.
After the dog incident the rest of the walk was fine and as I headed down the long path back towards the car park I was happy to see a squirrel running along some nearby tree branches and a robin which landed in the grass not too far away. It seemed happy to stay put while I took a couple of photos then it flew up onto a nearby fence post and posed for another quick shot before flying off into the trees.
Apart from the incident with the dog it was a very enjoyable walk and it had been good to discover parts of the terraced gardens which I hadn’t previously seen or known about. It’s a very extensive place and I know there are other paths which I haven’t yet explored so maybe next spring, once the trees get their new leaves, the three of us will go back to see what else we can find.