Bringing Killerton Park to Life - Fiona Hailstone
- Nominee: Fiona Hailstone
- Project: Bringing Killerton Park to Life
- Category: Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People
“You look at things so differently on a walk through the park when you are aware of things that aren’t visible to the naked eye,” said Fiona Hailstone, who has drawn on the deep mystery of Killerton Park to safeguard its scheduled monuments and bring the Grade II-listed National Trust parkland in Exeter gloriously back to life.
State of neglect
Until recently the 220-acre Killerton Park, set in rolling Devon countryside, had been sadly neglected. The dramatic views were obscured by encroaching vegetation and two large scheduled monuments were on the Heritage At Risk Register. Reviving the historic landscape was a complex undertaking that would involve engaging staff and the local community with the significance of the parkland, as well as increasing the opportunities for visitors to enjoy it.
Fiona Hailstone, who had been volunteering at the park for a year, was selected by the National Trust as project leader to develop a Higher Level Stewardship project and lead a team of rangers and volunteers. With Fiona, 24, as leader, the project has gone beyond its original remit and even recovered a lost stately home whose existence had long been rumoured. The clue to her success may lie in her answer to a question on why conservation work appeals to young people like herself. “I believe we all have that curiosity about mystery in us,” she said. “It’s up to us to dig deeper.”
The lost house
By 'digging deeper' Fiona and her team have breathed new life into the parkland and filled in a gap in its history. The team began by rescuing the linear sections of the deer park pale from dense scrub and large trees, volunteers working with specialists to repair access ways and large amounts of fallen pale stonework. Fiona then led research into the boundaries, working with archaeologists and using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) laser imaging technology to unearth details of how the area had developed. After the imaging revealed a large rectangular earth bank in the woods, the team dug deeper to uncover the remains of the doors and walls of an unfinished stately home designed by architect James Wyatt, which had vanished more than 240 years ago. “We knew from letters that the existing house was only intended to be temporary but we were not expecting to find the ruins of this other house,” said Fiona. The site of the newly-discovered house now forms part of the National Trust’s 'Lost Killerton' experience.
Fiona and her team have revived Killerton Park in many ways. Under Fiona's enthusiastic leadership, the complex heritage project has achieved its main objectives and is now going above and beyond them. The project has removed scheduled monuments from the Heritage at Risk Register and reconnected the park’s staff, volunteers and visitors with its history. “One of the best things about the project was seeing the staff and volunteers become so enthusiastic about the park,” said Fiona. By reducing damaging vegetation around the parkland, the team have opened up contours of the hill fort; and the pales are now a more prominent feature, helping visitors to better understand the development of the parkland. Volunteers continue to offer guided walks to explain the heritage of Killerton, and a monitoring team check the condition of 600 sites.
Why this category?
After starting as a full-time volunteer, Fiona has become the leading source of knowledge on caring for Killerton Park. Her excellent communication and organisational skills meant she was quickly regarded as the person to rely on for the complex restoration project. One of her many jobs involved producing tender documents for all groundwork, archaeology, forestry, and wall repairs; and she also commissioned map and interpretation specialists to undertake work on the project. At every stage, Fiona has advocated the work of the National Trust and built good relationships with all bodies and organisations involved in the project.
Many of Fiona’s efforts have focused on volunteers. For example, she set up a group called HART at Killerton (Heritage and Archaeological Ranger Team) to feed information on the condition of all the heritage sites and scheduled monuments on the 6,400-acre Killerton Park estate into a national monitoring scheme. She has enlisted local archaeologists to work with the HART group, and organised the parkland guides who offer walks around the estate. Having fulfilled the remit of her original project, Fiona has drawn up detailed management plans for a next phase, and continues to raise the profile of Killerton Park through social media, the National Trust website, and appearances on regional media channels. While her dedication and determination to 'dig deep' have helped clarify rumours that had long surrounded the parkland, they have also encouraged its sense of mystery.