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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 12:03 GMT
Painted inspiration for garden's rebirth
Gibside by Turner
William Turner's vision of Gibside, painted in 1817
Landscape designers have turned to watercolour paintings to help recreate one of England's most important 18th Century forest gardens.

The Forestry Commission and the National Trust have joined forces to restore magnificent woodlands in the Grade I listed grounds of the Gibside estate, near Gateshead.

The estate predates and survived the influence of Capability Brown - making it one of the very few early 18th Century designed landscapes to escape later re-modelling.

However, the wood's fortunes declined along with those of the estate in the first part of the 20th Century, culminating in the felling of large numbers of trees in the 1940s to help the war effort.

Soon after, the Forestry Commission moved in to plant fast growing conifers to bolster the nation's low timber reserves.

Foresters and National Trust experts have pored over watercolours of Gibside by William Turner (1817) - at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, County Durham - to produce a new blueprint which will see the grand vistas reinstated and classical planting patterns revived.

Further historical evidence for the original landscape has been discovered in 19th Century maps.

Gibside is one of the treasures of the North east

The new 50-year strategy will involve removing 40,000 western hemlock conifers.

First felling is due in the New Year.

A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: "This is a truly ambitious project.

"Gibside was a mixed woodland and we must carefully balance historical accuracy with conservation needs.

"It's been a major challenge peering through the 20th Century plantations to rediscover the woodland's original character.

"But the long-term results should be spectacular."

Outstanding buildings

Gibside is also renowned as a wildlife sanctuary and is the UK's most northerly location for a breeding colony of grass snakes, with much of the land designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The site is also famed as one of the great designed landscapes of the North with several outstanding buildings, including a Palladian chapel and Column of Liberty.

It was the creation of George Bowes in the 18th Century, whose family's wealth was drawn from coal mining and agriculture in the North East.

The estate is also the former home of the late Queen Mother's family, the Bowes Lyons.

In June 2003, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded 1.5m to the National Trust to purchase and restore the now derelict stables, stabilise the ruined Orangery and reinstate the historic Green Close.

Upgrade for historic estate
26 Jun 03  |  Tyne

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