Brunel 200 Legacy Brunel Manor – Celebrating Brunel's Garden
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Celebrating Brunel’s Garden

Brunel Manor was Brunel’s chosen place to spend his retirement days. The present owners are the Woodlands House of Prayer Trust and in their Brunel 200 project they wanted to share the sense of peace Brunel must have experienced here.

Restoration of the Gardens

Rick Hillard, Manager of Brunel Manor, commented:

“We were delighted to uncover some of the details Brunel put into the estate, especially the gardens, in Brunel’s Garden Book held at the Brunel Archive at Bristol University. With valuable input from one of our gardeners, we set about the project of restoring much of what we could find of Brunel’s original plans and ideas.

“The House itself remains of interest; although not completed by Brunel or his descendants, the interior resembles much of Brunel’s original plans. The restoration of the gardens is worth celebrating and we have taken this opportunity to open them up to the public again, as this was one of Brunel’s wishes, demonstrated by his request to gardeners to allow entry to anyone who wished to view his garden. We will continue to open the Gardens throughout the year, entry is free and we invite a donation if visitors wish to respond in this way.”

April Celebrations

Rick continued:

”We took the opportunity to celebrate the Special Day on April 9 with an open day and the official opening of the gardens. There were over 1000 visitors that day, and we were honoured to welcome six descendants of Brunel from both sides of the family, i.e. Isambard and Mary’s families. Lord Gladwyn and Lady Thomas were delighted to be here, and Lady Thomas made an opening speech, along with the Mayor, Deputy Chairman from Torbay District Council and Adrian Sanders, the Member of Parliament for Torbay.

“During the week we held a hog roast and fireworks evening on the Monday, followed by an art exhibition of local artists’ work, mainly inspired by the life of Brunel. We have since held two painting holidays with a Brunel theme. We planned and ran a special Brunel holiday week where we took over 60 guests on visits to many of the prime local places of interest linked to Brunel, including a visit to Bristol by train and to the ss Great Britain, Clifton Suspension Bridge and the original Temple Meads station. Mike Rowlands (Visitor Manager at the Suspension Bridge) assisted us very well with this day out.

“During the evenings we showed videos or had talks relating to the life of Brunel. It has been pleasing to continue to welcome and enjoy visitors to the Manor and Gardens throughout the year, although numbers decreased during the late autumn and early winter. We will be stepping up our promotions again for the new spring and summer season and continue throughout the year. There was a steady flow of individual and group visitors and a good start to help us get to grips with having this new direction added to our already busy schedule.”

Trail Map for Brunel Manor and Brunel Woods.

Trail Map for Brunel Manor and Brunel Woods.

Project Partners

Brunel Manor found developing partnerships with Torbay Museum and Combe Pafford School particularly rewarding. Several activities were shared and the links remain: the Manor has committed to a partnership with the school for five years, creating a gardening project to support the school’s education programme. Other fruitful work was developed with the University of Bristol, Devon County Council Records Office and many other smaller organisations.

The Manor generated a lot of publicity and support from the local media, with radio and television interest, news items and reports. This networking has enabled the Manor to reach into the Torbay area with effect, changing the prevailing local opinion that the House and Gardens are inaccessible and unwelcoming to visitors. As Rick Hillard commented:

“Through the project we have been able to make significant advances in this area of our contribution to the local community.”

Future Opportunities

A permanent exhibition of the Brunel family input into the estate and surrounding area is now in place at the Manor for all visitors and guests to view. All garden visitors and guests currently receive a free Garden Guide and ‘Brunel’s Hidden Kingdom’, a 24-page guide to the house, garden and estate, has been published. This is a possible forerunner to a coffee table book being published on the subject.

Overall, the project has had a hugely positive effect on the Manor:

“We are generally very happy with the response and success of the project. We have enjoyed being part of the Brunel 200 celebration. It has been a privilege to find our own appreciation and knowledge, as well as that of our employees, has been vastly improved, stimulated and has instigated enthusiasm for the ongoing opportunities to further educate visitors and guests alike with the Brunel story. We have enjoyed stimulating the interest in Brunel, both locally and nationally where we have been able to be of influence.”


For further information on Brunel Manor visit or phone 01803 329222.