From a medieval walled garden serving Arbroath Abbey, to the first residential art school in Scotland, the site at Hospitalfield has been through many changes.
Now, in its latest incarnation, Hospitalfield House reopens with new gardens, sculpture installations throughout the site, a new glasshouse café, and the Victorian fernery fully restored.
This is the first phase in the £11m Future Plan – a five-year project to transform the house and the site.
It’s one that Hospitalfield director Lucy Byatt hopes will encourage people from Arbroath and beyond can come to enjoy the surroundings of Patrick Allan Fraser’s 19th-century Arts and Crafts masterpiece.
Planning for a bright future
The Future Plan is the first full business case to be approved by the Tay Cities Joint Committee. On the basis of £5.5m match funding, it approved the allocation of £5.5million funding from Scottish Government.
The second phase will include restoration of the Arts and Crafts house and artist studios, and the addition of a gallery and visitor centre.
However, Lucy Byatt is delighted that now the first phase is ready to welcome visitors when the site reopens tomorrow, Thursday May 27.
“The first phase has been all about visitors,” says Lucy. “It’s about creating the gardens where people can come and hear the birdsong and the great sense of wellbeing that gardens can offer people.”
The gardens have been designed by Nigel Dunnett, one of the world’s leading voices on innovative approaches to planting design.
The London Olympic site and The Barbican are just two of commissions. Lucy Byatt adds that the brief to Nigel was “brief to him was to tell the gardens’ 800-year history, so you know, not a small task!”.
800 years of garden history
“There’s a symbolic uses of plants over the 800 years of the gardens’ existence, from their Medieval monastic origins through to the heights of Victorian exotica,” says Nigel.
“It’s been a thoroughly absorbing and exciting experience to be able to work so closely with Hospitalfield staff and volunteers to unlock the incredible potential of this historic site’.”
The restored Victorian fernery has a glass roof designed by Caruso St John. It’s the first project in Scotland for the Stirling Prize-winning architects.
There are more than 20 types of fern gifted by Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.
The roof of the fernery was allowed to fall in 1929, but as Lucy says in the Victorian era there was a fascination with ferns. From collectors of the plants themselves but they were also a style statement, from being used as prints to worn in hats as a statement.
Since Lucy came to Hospitalfield around eight years ago, it’s been something of an ambition to restore the fernery.
Home-grown produce on the menu
Caruso St John has also designed the new glasshouse café that sits alongside it. Here chef Simon Brown has created a menu which will use produce grown and harvested in the garden.
“Our aim with the café is to tell the story of our local food and the incredible innovation is happening with small producers in the region,” adds Lucy.
Artists residencies have already begun again at Hospitalfeld under strict Covid-safe guidelines, but tomorrow visitors can start enjoying the next stage in its history.
People power on the sculpture trail
Mick Peters was delighted to be given the Hospitalfield Annual Sculpture Commission for 2021. Having worked there previously, he knew the collection well and was able to use it in this trail that covers all areas of the site.
His Gerroff! (or User Feedback) is a rare outdoor work and a response to not only the fact that we have only been able to commune outside for such a long time. It’s also about how the public respond to art.
“Bringing the inside outside was definitely one of the motivations for me,” he says.
“Also thinking about the relationship between people and public art and looking at how people think they should interact with sculpture.”
Mick says the sculptures are made of material that tends to be for kitchens, something hardy that should withstand being exposed to the vagaries of the Angus weather.
“It’s quite dense and the line work is cut right into it. A bit like a terrazzo tile, or even a stick of rock in that you’d see the line if you cut through it.
Adding that sometimes people have a lot of reverence for an artwork, he says that can change quite a lot when the piece is outside.
“I think what I do is recognisable. There are life-sized people. They are characters and I think people relate to that. It’s a bit irreverent. It puts people at ease. I find that with these kind of works, people take a lot of selfies, which is fun.”
Mick Peter’s Gerroff! (or User Feedback) is at Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, DD11 2NH until October 31, 2021. Hospitalfield Gardens, Fernery and Café is open Thursday to Sunday 10am to 5pm