For what feels like the longest time I have wanted to get over to Rivington Terraced Gardens, at Rivington near Bolton, Lancashire. I know, I know I keep saying this, but the places to visit in the North West is a very long to do list.
My dear friend Donna, and I have slowly but surely been ticking off the wainwrights in the lake district, but need more local walks during the week, and have scoped out a few. Rivington, being one of them.
So we packed our little mud gremlins into school, grabbed Donna’s 6 month old Labrador puppy, Monty, and headed out.
We parked up on the lane leading to Rivington Barn Hall (BL6 7RU). Just the drive that leads to the barn is stunning, lined either side of the road with thick ancient trees, something so satisfying about seeing old trees still in situ, there is something so regal about it, don’t you think?
Brief History of the Gardens
The Terraced Gardens, were originally created for the soap tycoon Lord Leverhulme and were built as a specular backdrop for him to relax and entertain.
The plot is situated just below the summit of Rivington pike. The Gardens themselves, were designed by the renowned landscaper Thomas Mawson between 1905 – 1922. We will come back to him throughout this article.
The lane approaching the Rivington Barn, has parking pretty much the full stretch of it, on both sides so there is plenty to go around. I use the all trails app for all our walks, so had downloaded a route the day before.
For the simple fact, that Donna and I have the most insane history of getting so lost that we end up neck deep in ferns, begging to find an actual trodden path.
I won’t lie, there has been points where I wasn’t sure if we would make it back to the car alive… but it seems that in all honesty, the gardens are well signposted and is essentially a loop, so it’s pretty hard to get lost even for us!
So we headed along the path that bear left from the car park. We had been on the path for all of about 30 seconds, and whilst Monty was taking some private time, a deer hoped the fence on side of the path and over the fence on the opposite side.
Me being the absolute photography geek that I am, the camera came out, and I dashed over, in the scramble to get the correct lens on, and me dashing over I managed a shot of the deer, I think maybe it wasn’t in the mood for a photoshoot that day, as all I got was his behind, and to make matters worse, its blurry too. I mean I’m not heartbroken about it or anything…. Does anyone have a tissue? Ok no, moving on…
The loggia & The Archway
We followed the path round which brought us to the first part of these stunning gardens, the arch and the loggia – ok I didn’t know what one of those were so a quick search on the internet and I quote ‘an outdoor corridor or gallery with a fully covering roof, with an out wall, which is open to the elements’.
The archway at the bottom of the path frames the loggia that stands above it perfectly. It’s a stunning piece of design. The loggia was built in 1906.
You can take the steps on the left or right of the building and it takes you on to the roof which was also designed to be a viewing platform and gives you a beautiful view of the beautiful woodland below and beyond that the Lancashire moors.
The Italian Lake
The path then takes you to the Italian Lake, which was designed to resemble the gardens at Villa d’Este just outside of Rome, which Thomas Mawson believed to be some of the finest in the world.
It’s been said that this was where Lord Leverhulm would entertain his guests, and would sometimes go boating. Since visiting and whilst reading some of the history of this location, I have read that on the far side of the lake the ring where he would tie off his boat can still be seen.
The summerhouse at the far end of the lake has also been designed with stairs up the side to use the roof as another viewing platform.
From what I have read, the views on a clear day you can see the Lancashire plains, the lake district and as far as Snowdonia. I however didn’t realise it was a viewing platform so unfortunately I can’t comment on the views from there.
We continued on, to the place I was looking forward to the most. We took the steps up to the corridor of path that runs just above the Italian lake, and along to the Pigeon Tower.
The Pigeon Tower
Now, from the name it really doesn’t sound the like much but it is this amazing four story tower that sits just below the ridge of Rivington Pike.
It has been known by several names over the years, originally it was called the Lookout Tower. It is more officially known as the Dovecote Tower but affectionately known as Pigeon Tower.
Thomas Mawson liked to always have a tall focal point in his designs for the gardens. And the focal point for this particular one is what is now known as the pigeon tower.
The building was built and given to Lord Leverhulme’s wife, Elizabeth Ellen and was kitted out on the top floor with a sitting room inclusive of a fire place and then another of the rooms, it is said that there was a sewing machine and instruments for Elizabeth Ellen’s enjoyment.
I love knowing little pieces of sentimental history like that being the hopeless romantic I am … wait there just going to shout the other half to see if he will build me in a tower in our back yard, wish me luck! He said I can, he has gone to get the paper Mache out.
The wall adjacent to the Pigeon Tower, has these curious holes which Donna referred to as giant plug sockets – which in all fairness its exactly what they looked like, but according to the various articles and research I have done they used to house doves at one point during the history of the gardens. Another gorgeous touch to these already glorious gardens.
We walked along the path just below the ridge of Rivington Pike that then proceeded to some more steps leading us back down. We walked the path that lead to the bungalow.
The lovely detail about these gardens, is that they were designed with the idea of all the paths leading back to the bungalow. It is said that, Lord Leverhulme believed he did his best thinking whilst out in the fresh air. So the gardens were designed with that in mind.
There is very little left of the bungalow now, and at the time I didn’t realise the significance the bungalow had to the gardens so I won’t lie I haven’t got a photograph for you, I have one of the path though leading to it.
The bungalow has quite an interesting history to it, it was originally built in the early 1900’s I don’t seem to be able to pin point the exact date. However, when it was build the purpose of the bungalow was to be a hunting lodge, this didn’t last long and it was later expanded and turned into a hilltop holiday home. Much of the materials were brought up to the side of Rivington pike by horse and cart from Horwich train station. The home was soon filed with family portraits, antique furniture and fine arts. As it is said that Leverhulme was a bit of an art collector.
Now for the dark twist in the buildings story. In 1913, a woman by the name of Edith Rigby, a suffragette, went to the bungalow, armed with paraffin, with the intention of burning it to the ground. Once she was sure no one was inside, that’s exactly what she did.
Her reasoning was that she was annoyed at Leverhulme for entertaining the King, George V and Lord Derby at Knowsley Hall, even though Lord Leverhulme was in fact in favour for the women’s rights movement. By the time anyone had noticed the flames the building was far too damaged to be restored to its original state. Edith Rigby admitted to the crime and later said in court – “I want to ask William Leverhulme, whether he thinks his property on Rivington Pike is more valuable as one of his superfluous homes, occasionally opened to people, or as a beacon lighted for King and Country, to see that here are some intolerable grievances against woman.” I suppose she was taking the go big or go home ethos.
Either way I think she made a statement.
Only a few weeks after the fire, Lord Leverhulme lost his wife at their home at Thorton Manor. He did vow to rebuild the bungalow, using brick and stone, whereas the original was built using timber – less of a fire hazard, I suppose.
Leverhulme died in 1925 and the property was passed down to his son, however it seems that his son did not have the same passion for the local area as his father had. He sold the bungalow to a local brewer a Mr John Magee, who bought it for £15,600 and most of its contents for a further £10,000. He died in 1931, and his family did try to sell the property and grounds but it seems unsuccessful until the Liverpool water corporation bought The Terrace Gardens in its entirety for just £3000.
However, by 1947 the building had been so badly damaged due to vandalism it had been deemed unsafe. There was a public outcry to save the building, however none of the local authorities at the time wanted to invest in a restoration, so unfortunately the demolition of this historic building took place in 1948.
In 2018 during a massive restoration project that too place all around the gardens, the footprint of the bungalow was fully excavated. With some of the original tiles being uncovered. During the project a circle of wildflowers have been planted to signify where the ballroom would have been, where Leverhulme would entertain his guests. Just below the bungalow is the great lawn, which features a sun dial, this is said to be where Lord Leverhulme proposed to his darling Elizabeth Ellen.
Well, I’m hoping you will read this article before visiting the gardens, so you realise the significance that the bungalow had in the history of the suffragettes, but also the importance it has to the story of Leverhulme and his family.
We continued on for the last two stops before heading back to the car, there are several paths from the bungalow, if you remember I mentioned earlier how all of the paths were designed to take you back to that as a centre point. It is very well sign posted and you can pretty much pick and choose the places you would like to see. The next on our walk was the Japanese lake.
The Stunning Japanese Lake, is something to see the surrounds are beautifully kept. The sun was shining, leaving a stunning shimmer on the surface of the water. At this point Monty, was off the lead, and for the entire time of walking round all I could hear was Donna trying to persuade him not to jump into the water.
I was waiting just to hear the splash but, low and behold Monty did manage to resist temptation, much to Donna’s relief I think she was convinced that she might have had to follow him in to get him out. Either way I may have made them walk home if that had happened…only joking Donna!
The lake was a built as the centre piece for the gardens. This part of the landscape was built in 1921/22. This tranquil lake, was fed by a waterfall which falls over the steep cliff edge on the west side. You can in fact see Rivington tower from the lake too.
When the Japanese lake was designed it did in fact include, a tea house, unfortunately, since then only its footprint is left behind. There are various little tunnels, and according to other articles I have read a couple of caves, however I didn’t come across any.
I think I may have been side-tracked by Donna’s pleads with the pup! I think that the Japanese lake is the perfect spot to enjoy the tranquillity and grab a sandwich, we unfortunately didn’t have time as it was nearly time to head back home to get the kids from school.
On our way out of the gardens, we found Leven’s Bridge. It’s pretty outstanding in design. It has seven arches! Seven! The whole garden is knock locally as the Chinese gardens; I think it has a very Aztec vibe to it. I don’t know why I think that but it’s just what I see when I look around.
Anyway back to the bridge. Lever bridge was actually designed but Leverhulme himself. It was built in 1910. So was one of the earlier introductions to the gardens. This was out last stop before heading back to the car, with an exhausted Puppy in tow.
Rivington Terrace Gardens, is a stunning garden, beautifully laid out, with sentimental history in parts, definitely a place to take a morning or afternoon wandering and exploring. I would absolutely recommend it.