The History of Lily Hill Park

September 2020

Lily Hill Park is a community park in the middle of Bracknell that is well used by local residents. It includes woodland and meadows as well as a small formal water garden and pond. There are many fine trees including mighty Wellingtonias and Cedars. The 56 acres of parkland are managed by Bracknell Forest Council.

In addition to the benefits to the community and nature conservation, the park has a very interesting history which contributes to its significance. The park is part of what was a Victorian estate created by Henry Dormer Vincent (1751–1833) and his son, Henry William Vincent (1796–1865) in the 1800s.

Lily Hill House and Gardens, 1830 Painting by unknown artist. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Boultbee Brooks Real Estate.

The land on which Lily Hill Park is located was once part of Windsor Forest and was allocated to Henry Vincent senior after the Windsor Enclosure Act of 1813. It seems likely that the original house was built around 1817. His son inherited the property in 1833, and then rebuilt or substantially remodelled the house in 1849 so that it became a fashionable gentleman’s residence in the Jacobean style.[1]

It was Henry William Vincent who shaped the landscape in the style of the 18th century landscape park (inspired by Capability Brown’s legacy) with trees, meadows, ponds and a long carriageway to the house. He was an enthusiastic collector of trees and shrubs, but his detailed letters to his friend, Ralph Sneyd, show that he was thwarted by a lack of money to really fulfil his ambitions. Despite the financial issues, Vincent managed to acquire many exotic pines, specimen trees and ornamental rhododendrons, many of which survive to today. Vincent also expanded the original estate by purchasing what is now called Foresters Hill. The survey carried out by Bracknell Forest Council shows that Foresters Hill and Scots Hill were planted between 1850 and 1869.[2]

Vincent left the estate to his daughter when he died in 1865 and it appears that she and her husband did little to change the estate, other than to construct a water garden to the west of the house. This benign neglect resulted in some of the features such as the ha-has and fences disappearing while the trees and shrubs gently matured.  

The house and park were expanded in the 1920s to about 300 acres when the estate was bought by Jennings Scott McComb, a wealthy American who purchased several more parcels of land adjoining the estate. This included an area known as Starch Copse. The Ordnance Survey maps show that between 1913 and 1932, there were many changes.  They constructed reed beds as a filter for the waste water from the house.  These were situated where the pond is today. They planted species Rhododendrons and Azaleas at Starch Copse as well as hybrids identified as coming from the J. Waterers Nursery at Knapp Hill. It is also believed that the Edwardian Water Garden was built by the Scott McCombs. 

 

Lily Hill Park in Feb 2015 (c) Sara Randolph

Mrs. Scott McComb lived in the house until it was purchased by the Bracknell Development Corporation in 1955. The house and park became neglected until the Bracknell Forest Council began an extensive restoration programme with the aid of a Heritage Lottery Grant.  The house has been renovated as office space. Conservation of the Park began in 2010 and the work was recognised by the awarding of a Green Flag Award to reward the best green spaces in the country.    

Visit https://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/parks-and-countryside/parks-visit/lily-hill-park for a more detailed description of the facilities of the park and a link to the current Park Management Plan.  Also see  https://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/lily-hill-park-leaflet-2.pdf for a pamphlet about Lily Hill Park produced by Bracknell Forest Council’s Parks and Countryside Service that includes a very good map.

Sarah Randolph,

Member, Berkshire Gardens Trust

[1] Parks and Gardens.org. < http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2065> [accessed 22 October 2014].

 

[2] Bracknell Forest Council. Lily Hill Park Management Plan 2013 <http://www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/lily-hill-park-management-plan.pdf > [accessed 29 November 2014].

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