Tue, 06 Sept 2016
Tropical plant and wildlife centre was handed over to a charitable trust in 1996
The Living Rainforest at Hampstead Norreys is home to more than 700 species of plant and animal life.
It was the brainchild of Keith Bromley, former chairman of the shoe retailer Russell and Bromley, who said he was inspired to create Wyld Court rainforest (as it was first known) after sailing in the Orinoco delta in Venezuela in the 1980s.
Conservationist and philanthropist Mr Bromley handed the centre over to a the World Land Trust in 1996, amid much fanfare and a visit from celebrated botanist and tv presenter Dr David Bellamy, who helped greatly to raise the profile of ecology and conservation throughout his long career.
Wyld Court Rainforest opened to the public in three climate-controlled glasshouses in 1993, after more than a year of planning under the curatorship of botanist and Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist Barrie Findon.
In July 2000, with Keith Bromley’s support, the centre was handed over to Karl Hansen, Director of the Trust for Sustainable Living, who renamed it the Living Rainforest and established it as an independent educational charity.
Visitor numbers have soared as generations of school children from West Berkshire and further afield have been enthralled by the hot steamy environment with its huge-leaved exotic plants and unusual animals to explore. From tamarin monkeys to piranha fish,from birds and butterflies to lizards, there is much to attract the eye.
Exotic plants are no strangers to Hampstead Norreys. For many decades, the site was home to Wyld Court Orchids, one of Europe’s leading orchid nurseries.
The seed for Wyld Court Orchids was sewn in 1920 when then owner of the estate farm and stud, Sir William Cooke, became interested in the delicate and beautiful flowers sent to him from India by his son, and decided to collect and cultivate them. His daughter Betty took over the collection of 5,000 flowering plants in 1951, winning Chelsea Gold at her first show five years later. By the 1970s the collection had grown to over 40,000 plants. The award-winning and often rare orchids were exhibited all over the world, and the farm was open to the public on occasions under the National Gardens Scheme.
In 1983, Betty Garston (nee Cooke) by then living in Madeira, sold the Orchid Farm to Lewes Orchids of Sussex, and the family connection was thus ended.