‘Tree management’ next for park project

An image from an old postcard from 1907 which shows the mansion house prior to becoming the town's museum
An image from an old postcard from 1907 which shows the mansion house prior to becoming the town's museum

The £3.64million regeneration of Wilton Lodge Park is nearing the halfway stage of the project with several major works completed.

Now comes a contentious one which will probably come in for intense public attention and concern. This will be the essential removal of some trees, described by project manager Scott Castle as “tree management”, around the Gilbert Davidson Fountain.

An image from an old postcard from 1907 which shows the mansion house prior to becoming the town's museum

An image from an old postcard from 1907 which shows the mansion house prior to becoming the town's museum

Work over the coming months will include opening up the area to create a vista from the museum to the other side of the River Teviot, necessitating the removal of some trees and shrubs.

But once completed in the spring of next year and with improved pathways, the fountain will be accessible to wheelchair-users and the area returned to how it was when a private estate.

There will be an impact, any impact of tree removal always does, but Mr Castle assured members of the stakeholders’ group at their meeting in the council chambers last Tuesday night that there will be consultation with local councillors, two representatives from Hawick in Bloom, as well as other interested parties.

He admitted that this could be the most difficult project put to townspeople but stressed that everything would be done to minimise destruction and, if at all possible, retaining any trees with a significant historic connection.

Of particular value are three creeping ash trees planted in 1815 by James Anderson (he bought the mansion in 1805) in memory of his only son, Allan, who died at the early age of eight years.

Those attending the project update, including Hawick councillors Ron Smith, Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall, were told that the tremendous activity over the past 12 months had generally been well received and 2016 was going to be an even more important year for the Heritage Lottery/Scottish Borders Council-funded initiative with the opening of the new cafe and bridge over the River Teviot.

To date, the Elliot Bandstand, Walled Garden and Park Gallery in the museum have opened, the Laurie and Henderson shelters renovated and the old cafe demolished.

Initial doubts over the necessity for a new bandstand were soon dispelled with a regular Sunday afternoon music programme regularly attracting 100-200 townspeople and some 200 for the Hawick Sings event. There has been a positive response to the use of the bandstand and some fantastic supportive feedback from the public.

Pressed on a date for the opening of the cafe, Mr Castle said: “Tendering for the work has been issued with a possible start date of November and possible end of May opening, but his cannot be confirmed until a contractor is in place.”

A new and improved children’s play park in front of the new cafe is in the 2016/17 plans, complete with new facilities, with the present “swings” area becoming a new car park.

Work on transforming the former scented garden behind the war memorial into an open-air classroom in association with museum staff, should commence in October, again with some trees removed, and there are plans for a waterfall walk and Common-Riding ceremonial area.

The poor condition of some of the paths around the park was put to the project manager and while he acknowledged the concerns, there was no funding from the Lottery for that work.

The same applies to the glasshouse in the Walled Garden which is currently being cleared of plants, the year-round heating for the exotic and tropical specimens being prohibitive given financial cutbacks. It is being retained, however, its ultimate use still to be decided.