On the death of Mrs Price in 1966, the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and the government officials concerned viewed Thomas Phillips Price’s bequest to the nation with some misgivings.
The house had gone, the grounds including the old walled garden had become over-grown with a jungle of weeds, self-sown trees and bushes. The lakes were choked with mud and overhung with trees, the roots of which had severely damaged the brick-lined banks and cascades. The deer park with its fine collection of trees was gone and the land had been leased to the Forestry Commission for commercial forestry. The farms were run down. It was only in the early spring when sheets of snowdrops still whitened the ground beneath the trees to the north of the lakes that it was possible to catch a glimpse of the former glory of Marks Hall.
It was decided that the bequest could not be refused and various suggestions as how to make the best use of the gift were considered. Finally the Thomas Phillips Price Trust was established as a registered charity to administer and manage the estate. The Minister of Agriculture appointed the first trustees on the 15th November 1971.
Faced with so much dereliction and dilapidation and the only source of funds being a small capital fund and the rent roll the trustees drew up a programme for the refurbishment and modernisation of the farms in order to establish a sound financial base. Modern farmhouses were built at Bouchiers Grange and Nightingale Farm. Lodge Farmhouse, which dates from the fifteenth century and the sixteenth century Palmers farmhouse, were renovated. Up-to-date farm buildings were erected where necessary.
In 1972 the trustees had considered the Trust’s objectives of the advancement of agriculture, arboriculture and forestry and decided they should create an arboretum of national status within the garden and parkland areas. Their conviction and persuasion led to the Forestry Commission releasing sufficient land from the nine hundred and ninety nine years leases to allow this plan to proceed. This second phase resulted in the area around the mansion house site and the old walled garden being cleared and landscaped; the ornamental lakes were cleaned out and the brick lining of the banks and cascades reinstated. The iron bridge was restored with help from the National Rivers Authority and a fifteenth century timber framed Essex barn moved form Bouchiers Grange and rebuilt as the Visitor Centre.
This stage of development focussed on a programme of planting new trees and the re-creation of parkland on land turned over to arable farming in the post-war years. This phase enabled the Trust to start the process of returning Marks Hall to something of its former glory and now the Trust has been able to open the Estate to the public.
Following on from this, the Trust observed how the majority of visitors were drawn to the Walled Garden, so in 1998 it was felt appropriate to make the Walled Garden the next project to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Thomas Phillips Price buying the Marks Hall Estate. One hundred and fifty thousand pounds was raised in order to clear, re-contour, landscape and plant. Brita von Schoenaich designed the overall contour and shape of each of the five gardens and on 1st July 2003 the Duchess of Devonshire officially opened the Walled Garden.
Having successfully applied for a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, Marks Hall improved both the physical and learning access to the Gardens and Arboretum, allowing more visitors to share the natural history, landscaping and planting.
With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Essex Environment Trust and The Rufford Foundation, 1400 metres of hard paths and a stunning new bridge have been installed within the 200 acre Arboretum. This allows access for people of all abilities all the year round.
The project also includes interpretation, a new guide leaflet and educational resources.
The official opening of the new hard paths and access bridge was held on Friday 5th August 2011.
On June 1st 2011 the Trustees resolved to change the Charity’s name from the Thomas Phillips Price Trust to Marks Hall Estate. The new name will help Marks Hall develop a stronger sense of identity and avoid any confusion between the name of the Estate and that of the Charity. The Charity’s registered number continues to be 256700. Marks Hall Estate is continuing to focus on developing the Arboretum and making plans to improve the visitor facilities at Marks Hall.