Hillworth Park has an interesting history, being tied to the fortunes of the owners of Hillworth House and changing social needs.
The house had extensive landscaped grounds of 27 acres including a Ha Ha, Garden Pavilion and mature trees. There were many changes of ownership prior to 1945 when the house and gardens were bought by the Town Council.
It was later sold and the majority of the grounds were given over to housing, with the remaining grounds of five acres becoming a public park, with extensive landscape enhancements which were completed in 2012.
In the 12th Century the site was part of the ‘old’ or ‘great’ deer park, which contained large areas of woodland. Over the next 500 years ‘assarts’ or clearings were made in the park for both settlement and agriculture. By the 1650s it was an area of cherry orchards and gardens, and in 1654 the whole of the park was split into small plots one of which was bought by the Quakers for a burial ground.
The first reference to a house was on a map of Devizes dating from 1737 when it was located 100 metres to the east of its current location on a road which was then known as Gallows Ditch. One theory for the change of location is due to the coming of the railway which passed very close to the original location.
Owners of the house included William Ludlow a snuff manufacturer; a Miss Pawsey who ran a boy’s boarding school from the house; Alexander Leek, a banker; and later the Devizes Town Clerk. The house stayed in the Meek family until 1923 when it was purchased by a Mrs Seaton of Taunton who owned it until 1945.
Hillworth House, which is Grade II listed, is in private ownership and does not form part of the public park.
The Garden Pavilion
Although often referred to as the Queen Anne Pavilion it is more likely that this Grade II* listed building was built between 1740 and 1759, during the reign of George II.
The building was possibly used as a ‘banqueting house’ where drinks and sweetmeats would be taken after a main meal, enabling the owners to enjoy views of their estate.
Of brick construction with an ogee shaped hipped tiled roof the Pavilion was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register due to concern over its condition. However, the Pavilion was restored in 2011 using traditional crafts and materials, ensuring that this beautiful and evocative historic building has a secure future.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) Burial Ground
Devizes has a strong protestant non-conformist tradition and the history of Quakers in Devizes has been traced back to 1647. In 1656 the Quakers bought a plot at Hillworth to use as their burial ground which was not part of the original Hillworth House estate, having its own gateway set diagonally into what was a lane or footpath. This gateway, built in Bath Stone, can be found in the north eastern corner of the burial ground.
At some point between 1812 and 1842 the lane running to the eastern boundary of the burial ground ceases to exist as a thoroughfare, and so it is likely that the burial ground became integrated into the park at this point.
Formal transfer of ownership took place in 1905 when the Burial Ground was sold to Alexander Grant Meek for £75 on condition that it was not to be built on and that burials were not to be disturbed.
The Burial Ground is of great spiritual importance to the Devizes Society of Friends who have a special affinity for the space and continue to use it as a place of worship.
Ha-Has are thought to have originated in France c.1700. Sunken ditches were installed in gardens to keep grazing sheep and cows away from main houses whilst retaining an uninterrupted view.
The Hillworth Park Ha-Ha is thought to date from c1830 when the current house was built. When Devizes Town Council purchased the park shortly after the Second World War the Ha-Ha had been lost and only the top was visible.
Plans to restore the Ha-Ha were made following the extensive re-development of the park. In 2014, thanks to the generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Devizes Town Council, the newly restored Ha-Ha was unveiled featuring a timeline of its history.
Children of all ages now delight in running the length of the Ha-Ha and it has become a much loved feature of the park.