AN Usk woodland which was once home to a maternity hospital will be brought to life as a Victorian-themed visitor attraction with the help of a £300,000 heritage grant.

Coed Cadw-The Woodland Trust, which bought Cefn Ila in 2007, will spend the £297,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund on creating Victorian pleasure grounds, walled gardens and an orchard of rare fruit trees.

The 72-acres site, which is a mile from Usk, features a derelict mansion, 19th century gardens and an arboretum with rare wildlife but the Woodland Trust hopes that a new generation of visitors will now have the opportunity to discover the built, natural and social heritage of one of Usk’s best kept secrets.

The money will enable the Trust to carry out conservation work on the site, which is designated as one of Cadw’s registered Historic Parks and Gardens in Wales, and fund a history project and exhibition. It will also create opportunities for 23 volunteers, community groups and schools to learn about the biodiversity and social heritage of the site.

The mansion was once home to a maternity hospital which also served as a sick bay for evacuees from London during the Second World War, however it was destroyed by a fire in 1973. Women and children also lived there during the war and generations of local people have strong memories and links with the house’s history and gardens. The Discover Cefn Ila Project will capture these memories with an oral history project, developed in partnership with Usk Rural Life Museum, which will reveal the stories and experiences of those with a connection to the hospital.

Barry Embling, Cefn Ila site manager said: “We have a strong history of working with the Heritage Lottery fund, having received funding for projects across Wales, such as the Plas Power Woods project in Wrexham. It is vital that our wildlife and habitats are protected and we are grateful that the HLF continuously recognise the importance of nature as a key part of our national heritage in Wales.”

Jennifer Stewart, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales said: “This is an excellent project which offers a range of opportunities for young and old alike to discover Cefn Ila’s rich heritage.”

“By forging partnerships with organisations such as The Woodland Trust we can work in new and exciting ways to protect every part of our heritage, not only the old buildings and ruins, but the thriving wildlife and habitats to be enjoyed by all.”

Monmouth AM and member of the Welsh Government’s Cross Party Group on Biodiversity, Nick Ramsay added: “Cefn Ila reflects the rich natural heritage that we have in Monmouthshire but this project reminds us that we need to protect it. In the past 40 year, two thirds of the ancient woodland in Gwent has been lost and it is therefore vital that we understand and enhance what we have left.”