853 exclusive: Eltham’s much-loved Winter Garden is likely to be transferred to Greenwich Council, with the University of Greenwich providing £4.75 million to secure the historic site’s future, 853 can reveal.
The university announced it was putting its Avery Hill campus up for sale in 2014, sparking an outcry from neighbours who feared for the future of the Victorian conservatory, the second largest glasshouse of its kind after Kew Gardens.
After years of campaigning by neighbours and negotiations with the university, the council is poised to take the building on, planning to transfer it to a trust which can use the space for weddings, conferences and other events, activities which would pay for its ongoing maintenance.
Council officers are confident of being able to sign a deal with the university, which would then be put to the council’s cabinet for approval.
They estimate that £3.5m alone is needed to restore the Winter Garden, which has been neglected in recent years, with a further £3m required to create catering facilities and office space.
Most of the rest of the site is due to be sold to a Government agency for use as a new Harris Federation boys’ school. However, 853 understands that the site’s engine room and tower are still on the market, and are not needed by either the council or the agency.
“We’re delighted, particularly as the university started out by offering us £50,000,” a council source told 853.
Poor state of repair
Built in 1890 for mining magnate “Colonel” John Thomas North, the garden and the attached mansion were bought 12 years later by the London County Council for use as a teacher training college. The college became part of what is now the University of Greenwich in 1985, and the university bought the Winter Garden for £1 eight years later.
But the glasshouse has been left in a poor state of repair in recent years, and has also fallen victim to vandalism. A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to restore the Winter Garden was abandoned when the university decided to sell.
Council officers are hopeful that the fund will agree to help with funding a new restoration scheme, which the council could begin and then hand over to a trust. The Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust – which runs Charlton House and was spun out of the council in 2014 – has been mooted as a possible candidate to take over the site.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– join well over 100 monthly patrons at www.patreon.com/853.
– switch power supplier! Low-cost renewable Bulb energy will pay you and this site £50 each if you switch
– buy the author a coffee at ko-fi.com.
– make a one-off contribution at paypal.me/853london