A HISTORIC Victorian conservatory that was in such a poor state it was almost beyond repair has been brought back to its former glory as a cafe at Heywood House, near Westbury.

An 18-month project to restore the structure was the passion of owner Chris da Costa, who bought the house in 2005 from the National Trust to open it as serviced offices.

He has spent the past 14 years gradually restoring the Jacobean house and its 25-acre grounds.

He said: “Restoring the conservatory was the most challenging thing we had to do. English Heritage were saying there wasn’t much of the original fabric and minimal historic interest but the design was original and we were determined to try to save it."

Although exact records of when it was built are unclear, the conservatory, then described as a palm house, was recorded in a building listing of Heywood in 1849.

At the time it was owned by the philanthropist Henry Gaisford Gibbs Ludlow, who came from a wealthy family of clothiers. In 1837 he rebuilt Heywood House.

After his death the house was sold several times until it lay unoccupied from 1922 to 1934. It was eventually bought by Sidney Herbert Barnes whose family built steam rollers in Southwick and sold them all over the country.

Mr da Costa said: “He poured a lot of money into the house to restore it to a point."

It is not known what condition the conservatory was then in, or whether it could be used.

After Mr Barnes’ death in 1964, the house was bought by Edmund Rosser Rees, who opened it as a school. One of his modifications was to turn the former palm house into a swimming pool.

The restored conservatory is now being opened as a café for Heywood’s dozens of office tenants. The house is also offering memberships that give access to the cafe and grounds.

Mr da Costa said: “Restoring the conservatory generated great teamwork and it is wonderful to see the place full of people – as well as a few palm trees.”