Cliveden Gages, Berkshire
Cliveden in Berkshire is one of Britain’s great houses with a 152-hectare estate stretching for almost 3 miles along the eastern bank of the River Thames. Built on the edge of an escarpment of the Chiltern Hills, great views of the surrounding area can be seen from the house, and much history has unfolded here – many famous figures have owned, stayed or visited the estate.
During the first World War, the owners of the property, the millionaire William Waldorf Astor offered some of his lands to be used for building a Canadian Hospital (the HRH Duchess of Connaught Hospital) for the many injured soldiers of that country evacuated from the battlefields in France and Belgium. This generous offer included the use of the indoor tennis court (still in existence) and temporary wards were constructed on the site of the outdoor tennis courts on the eastern boundary of the estate. At the war's end, these buildings were dismantled and the land was returned to the Astors.
In 1939 with the outbreak of war again, the Astors repeated their offer, and this time the Canadians built a far better hospital on the same 5.5-hectare piece of land – now called the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital. Paying a peppercorn rent of one shilling per year, the new hospital was a great success, being viewed as a nice and clean place to be, in wonderful surroundings. Once the Canadians no longer needed the facility, the hospital was donated to the NHS and was used as a specialist rheumatic research clinic and a maternity unit for the surrounding area until 1985, when the site was vacated.
For over 20 years the site remained vacant and derelict as discussions continued between the National Trust (who owned the estate from 1942) and local planning authorities for a way forward for the site. The masterplan for the site was prepared by Urbed, and the architects commissioned to design the properties were ECD Architects of London. Local residents were concerned about new residential development and the additional vehicle movements, inadequate infrastructure and facilities for families. Therefore, development was not begun until 2006 – with an agreement that the development was for over 55-year-olds only. A high quality, low energy consumption contemporary style was agreed on, and in the context of the Chiltern Hills and the wooded banks of the River Thames, tree planting on the estate was a sensitive issue.
The National Trust chose Countryside Properties to work with to develop the site, and in total, 135 dwellings were built. Within this gated community a range of different sized homes was available, and tree planting was carefully planned to maximise canopy size without causing maintenance issues. GreenBlue Urban was involved from an early point and Rootcell soil cells, Root Directors, RootRain Precinct irrigation systems, underground guying and Avon ductile steel tree grilles were all specified and installed.
Seventeen tree species were planted, bringing a wide range of biodiversity and the multiple other benefits that trees alone can provide. Some of the trees were large semi-mature examples, up to 8m tall in some cases. These expensive specimens needed every assistance that could be provided for them, and with GreenBlue Urban solutions, these trees should last for the life of the development, without causing the challenges with other infrastructure that often occur where long-term consideration has been ignored.
An unusual feature of this development is that, as the National Trust are not allowed to sell property, these homes are all leasehold, with Countrywide Properties holding a 125-year lease on the site. This has not deterred residents, who have created a true community village, with unfettered access to the main Cliveden House grounds, river frontage, and a flourishing social calendar with quiz nights, wine tasting and other social outings.
GreenBlue Urban believe that the success of this development, at least in part, is the attention to detail in the landscape and tree planting. Achieving a rural idyll only a few minutes from town centres and mainline railway stations is truly applaudable – and an example of what can be achieved. GreenBlue Urban are proud of being involved in the establishment of Cliveden Village.