Opening doors, exploring stories, inspiring the future – for everyone
About the project
We're re-opening the doors of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland for everyone to explore the stories of this extraordinary place, and take part in its inspiring new future.
Historic Royal Palaces are investing over £16m into an ambitious programme of capital projects and associated activities that will open the site to the widest possible audience; conserve and re-present the heritage; explore its stories and engage communities and learners.
The project has received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and significant support from Mark Pigott KBE, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Clore Duffield Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and other generous benefactors.
The castle and gardens re-opened on 18 April 2019.
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Improvements to site facilities
The courtyard area at the lower end of the estate is being redeveloped into a multi-functioning space with café, shop, visitor information, ticketing and meeting spaces for visitors, schools and groups arriving by car and coach.
A number of exciting discoveries have been made in this area, including the remains of early eighteenth century Pineapple Houses and original Hot House walls. These are thought to be from one of the earliest sets of large greenhouses constructed at a private residence in Ireland. We will preserve the remains of these historic structures and bring to life the stories they have to tell.
The Stable Yard
The Stable Yard, built in the 1780s and located at the upper end of the estate, is being restored and adapted to create a café, shop and facilities for visitors and local residents arriving to the Castle from the town.
The new Clore Learning Centre will be located on the first floor of the Stable Yard and will become a centre for cross-community learning and engagement programmes.
Clore Learning Centre
The first floor of the Stable Yard is being developed into an inspiring learning space providing facilities for learning and engagement activities with schools, families, youth and community groups, as well as talks and workshops for adults.
Historic Royal Palaces’ learning and engagement strategy places audiences and their learning experiences at the heart of the organisation. The Clore Learning Centre will be supported by a rich programme of learning, participation and public programmes appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Coach and car park
Now in the final stages of completion, a new car park with direct access from the A1 dual carriageway will ensure that access to Hillsborough Castle and Gardens is as easy as possible for visitors.
The car park has been designed to be in-keeping with and an enhancement to the existing landscape and environment. We’ve uncovered the ruins of what we believe to be an old agricultural building, which we’ve preserved and incorporated into the layout of the car park.
With well over 300 car spaces, including disabled parking along with 12 coach parking spaces and 600 overflow spaces and drop-off zone, this new facility will transform the possibilities of the estate and, for the first time, enable thousands of visitors to enjoy the site each day.
For our visitors who require mobility assistance or for those who are time restricted, a three-carriage people-mover with hydraulic wheelchair access will ensure visitors can travel quickly and easily between the upper and lower end of the estate, with a journey time of approximately five minutes. The castle itself is fully wheelchair accessible.
Work on the castle and gardens
To reach our goals of opening up the site to the widest possible audience, improving the visitor experience and increasing access, we are making a number of improvements to the infrastructure of the estate. This includes improving estate paths and visitor routes, and developing ‘back of house’ facilities to support our on-site staff. Through continued research and survey work we are also working to improve the management of the site and the biodiversity of the estate.
We've already re-presented the State Entrance Hall, Ante Room and Red Room with new decorative schemes, furniture and paintings that reflect the history of the castle and the town of Hillsborough.
Now, we've turned our attention to the restoration and re-presentation of the Throne Room, State Drawing Room, State Dining Room, Lady Grey's Study and Stair Hall. We're now displaying these rooms to create a more coherent narrative whilst retaining elements that capture the history of events that have taken place in the castle. We've even restored some original elements that existed prior to a fire that tore through the castle in 1934, such as four beautiful interior columns in the State Drawing Room.
Alongside the re-presentation, we're unlocking the rich tapestry of stories that Hillsborough Castle has to tell, using techniques that are the hallmark of Historic Royal Palaces' interpretive approach, offering a choice of adventures to everyone, from first time visitors to local experts. Visitors will be able to take part in our new guided tours, family events and visitor programmes, and share the 'backstage' work of our conservators and curators.
Our work to re-present and restore this impressive site, including the 18th Century Walled Garden, shop, café and car park continues until April 2019.
The Walled Garden
The gardens cover nearly 100 acres and our dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers are continuously working to restore the significance and beauty of these wonderful grounds, bringing them to life for visitors to explore and enjoy. The Walled Garden is our most grand and ambitious project to-date.
The Walled Garden dates back to the 18th Century and is a large, four-acre site historically used to produce fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house.
As part of the Hillsborough Castle and Gardens Project, we're restoring and re-presenting the site to create a beautiful working and productive garden, complete with dipping pond, crop rotations, seasonal produce, potting sheds, herbaceous borders and an apple orchard.
Produce from the Walled Garden will also be used in the nearby cafe, so our visitors can enjoy locally grown, seasonal produce from the gardens all-year-round.
A range of activities are being developed in the Walled Garden aimed at engaging a wider audience and supporting charitable organisations, schools and partner activities. These include developing skills through training in horticulture, traditional craft/heritage skills, learning about food and the environment, teamwork and confidence building activities.
Meet Adam Ferguson, our new Keeper of the Walled Garden, in this short film.
Adam and his team are bringing the garden to life with a new re-imagination of the garden ready for opening in spring 2019.
The Lost Garden
The Lost Garden is a picturesque ferny valley situated south-west of the castle. Remnants of an ornamental, exotic planting scheme can still be be seen, but much of the garden had been overgrown and difficult to access.
Now we're restoring this magical hidden gem with the aim of firing imaginations and curiosity through a range of interpretation and learning programmes that bring stories to life through activities, trails and carefully-integrated natural play features.
New paths, bridges and trails are being installed to allow visitors to fully explore the extensive grounds which will incorporate three main areas: southern hemisphere planting with a restored island and bridges, wetlands and walkways, and a Chinese glade.
As we restore the garden, new opportunities will be created for people to develop skills in traditional crafts such as stonework and carpentry.
This is a phased project, with the first of these areas due to be unveiled in April 2019.
The restoration and re-presentation of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens was made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Mark Pigott KBE KSTJ, Garfield Weston Foundation, the Clore Duffield Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation and other generous donors.