In the heart of Plymouth lies a historic gem. Drake's Place echoes with the memories of four centuries of local history. It was here that the waters of "Drake's Leat", an Elizabethan aqueduct, arrived in Plymouth from Dartmoor. It was here that Sir Francis Drake built his mills to exploit the power of the moving water. And it was here that the growing town built its first reservoirs to supply a growing population in the early 19th century.
Since 1891, Drake's Place has been celebrated as a key landmark in Plymouth's history. A fine garden was laid out with a beautiful colonnade. Above it was an elegant promenade where visitors could walk or relax on Victorian benches and admire the gushing fountains in the reservoir. Below was a cascade tumbling into the leat that crossed the ornamental gardens. In 1911 the gardens were planted with the latest and most exotic species from the other side of the world.
But Drake's Place is not what it was. Since those glamorous days, the reservoir has become redundant; the Promenade steps, walkways and railings have become dangerous; and the gardens have become plain and uninteresting.
In 2007, the University of Plymouth, took over the gardens and reservoir from Plymouth City Council on a 125 year lease, and immediately set about repairing the Victorian iron railings and tidying up the gardens. Now, the University in partnership with local residents, is laying plans for an inspiring project to bring life and community back to this wonderful space.
In 2010 we applied for funding from "Parks for People", a joint initiative between the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. We were overjoyed to receive £60,000 to help us put a full-scale plan together.
From May 2011 until August 2012, our engineers looked closely at the structures; our architects drew up ideas; our researchers found out about the history of the gardens; and we consulted local residents, businesses, staff and students. Finally we submitted our bid for £600,000 from the "Parks for People" fund.
In December 2012, we got the great news that our bid had been successful. Cornwall-based CEC were appointed to design the scheme carefully following the original 1911 designs for the gardens. Local contractors Ryearch won the tender and began work in December 2013 and are due to complete the restoration in May 2014. There will be a formal opening of the gardens on 13 June 2014. The capital works in the gardens and reservoir will cost up to £1.2 million. In addition, £200,000 will be spent over 5 years on an Activity Plan to involve the community in a variety of events and projects.
Our vision is to restore the site as an accessible, welcoming haven for people and wildlife, in keeping with its Victorian character.
Architect's view of Drake's Place showing options for improvement. As part of the public consultation, people were invited to say which of the blue options they felt were more important. To see the results of the consultation, to which we received over 700 responses, see the report.