FOR decades the towering centrepiece of the historic Rivington Terraced Gardens has been closed to the public. But now thanks to a multi-million pound restoration project, The Pigeon Tower, one of Bolton’s most recognised, intriguing and romantic structures, will once again open its doors ­— and for the first time provide a place to stay for a night or two. Saiqa Chaudhari reports.

Scaffolding has been removed from the stunning French-gothic style Pigeon Tower, much loved by Lady Leverhulme, who enjoyed spectacular views while retreating there to read or sew.

Now the Grade II listed building is set to open once more to the public in March, along with other areas which have closed to the public while conservation work has been taking place.

Andew Suter, heritage projects manager, said: “The tower has not been open to the public in my lifetime, it’s been shut pretty much permanently. It has been closed since the early 70s, if not earlier.

“The Pigeon Tower is kind of the centrepiece of the whole gardens. Every time you go to a show in Bolton, such as the Bolton Food and Drink Festival, there is an art tent which always has an image of the tower on display. Pretty much every artist locally draws, paints or sculpts it.

“I can be driving back from seeing friends and half-way through Cheshire, I can see it. On a good day you can see the Lake District and Snowdonia from the top of it.”

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The tower, built in 1910, has a spiral staircase to leading to three floors and which, if work goes to plan, will become a place for people to stay.

Work on the tower has included restoring the roof, pointing, installing new polycarbonate windows, all using original techniques and materials of the day.

Andrew said: “They wouldn’t be allowed to build it like this today, modern regulations wouldn’t allow it.

“I came before the floors were put back in and there were areas which were completely sodden. All the walls were wet and there were holes in the floor.

“We have put in a new flue so we can have a fire again in the fire place and we are going to get a wood burning stove so you can warm up a kettle. We have already been given a rocking chair which we will refurbish and put it up here for people to stay in

“We will make the top room a reading room and on the floor below put in a bed.”

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He added: “All the techniques we are using are exactly the same as were used originally. A few people, when we started, said the cement looks really white, but actually it is not cement it is mortar and it’s an exact match for the lime mortar that was used when it was first built.

“We had to take samples and test them to get the mix perfect and we are overseen by mentors and Historic England and all sort of people because it is a listed building. So the level of detail is incredible.

“Original techniques are used through the whole gardens and even the way we are relaying the footpaths is the same and hopefully to date the vast majority of people are happy with what they are seeing. People love the place.”

The Pigeon Tower has been refurbished as part of a £4 million project, the majority of which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery, to restore the gardens, which were in danger of being lost forever, with structures close to crumbling and disappearing.

Next March, as well as going in the Pigeon Tower, the public will be able to walk around the newly restored summer houses and loggia. Work on the Italian Lake will have been completed and people will be able to see the new restored Neptune’s Pond. And on show will be the amazing discovery of the lost path to the Pigeon Tower, found because of the fantastic efforts of the team of volunteers, aged from six to those in their 80s.

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“We have had a massive amount of volunteering over the course of the three years of the project and with them we have found paths that no one knew existed,” said Andrew.

“There is one that runs from the pigeon tower towards the bungalow which is above Neptune’s Pond and we’ve begun to uncover it. The path is beautiful. I took a picture there the other day with the winter sun just coming down through the trees and it is my favourite picture of the whole project so far. It just shows something that nobody knew existed.”

The opening of the Pigeon Tower and the Italian Lake will take place during an atmospheric light festival.

It will be one on many events planned for the beautiful gardens, which will include music on the orchestral lawn, where the steps have recently been uncovered.

Andrew added: “We have a full calendar for next year we are going to do a concert and do an event at summer solstice.

“Next up is a festival of lights in March. We are going to light up the Pigeon Tower and the summer houses. There will be night time walks. We will be lighting up the water, have lanterns, the paths will be lit up. It will be quite magical. Everything we do is aimed at a family audience."

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The capital programme on the gardens is due to be completed by the end of summer 2019, and will include making it accessible to all, allowing people with disabilities to explore. And thanks to the programme so far coming remarkably under budget, the grass on the great lawn will be replaced. It originally formed part of the programme of works but was taken out because of cost.

Andrew said more events and activities are planned for the when “everything is looking at its absolute best”.

He said: “And we are trying to be as innovative as we can with the things we do so and are always open to suggestions.

And for Andrew, who lives in Westhoughton, overlooking this project is simply a dream job.

He said: "This is a job of a lifetime, I came up here as a kid and I met my predecessor when he came to see me at another project asking if I would write a letter of support for this project. I remember as he left the building thinking if that job comes up, I want that and obviously it worked out."

A new website has been created as part of the project which will explore the history of the site and people’s memories of the beautiful lost gardens Updates are regularly posted on social media.