Garden History

The site before the Walled Garden

The history of the Walled Garden almost certainly began well before 1830, when small-scale marl extraction created the ponds which later became a major feature of the Garden. Marl pits are shown on the 1829 Grappenhall Tithe Map in approximately the same places as they are found in the Walled Garden.

Marl is a calcium-rich deposit which is found under much of Cheshire and which, when spread over the surface, adds nutrients to the soil and raises its pH. As a handy by-product, it creates ponds which are useful for watering cattle.

However, spreading marl over large areas by cart is time-consuming and expensive, so it was often carried out from numerous small pits rather than large, central sites, leading to marl pits being dotted all over the Cheshire landscape – over 40,000 such ponds were recorded late in the 19th century, and it is fair to assume that there were originally more.

The evolution of the Walled Garden

The Walled Garden consists – in a way believed to be unique in the region – of both a formal, rectangular Kitchen Garden and informal Pleasure Grounds containing the three ponds.

Although it is not certain, it seems likely that the Kitchen Garden was built first and enclosed by a wall. An Ordnance Survey map of 1855 appears to show only the rectangular Kitchen Garden within the walls, with the ponds outside.

This suggests that the Pleasure Grounds were included within the enclosed area at a later date, within a new wall extension, and that a yew hedge was planted to replace the original wall dividing the two areas. Although not certain, this seems to have taken place by the time of the next Ordnance Survey map in 1875.

The heyday of the Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden was almost certainly built when the Estate was formed in the early 1830s to provide fruit, vegetables and flowers for the owner’s table.

Few Estates were without a Kitchen Garden, and there was considerable rivalry to have the most impressive and productive Garden in the area. Labour and fuel were relatively cheap, so Estate owners could enjoy a wide range of produce, including some fairly exotic species such as peaches, pineapples and out-of-season foods which were grown in heated greenhouses. Grapes at Christmas were a particular challenge to the Head Gardener!

To beat the chilly Cheshire climate a range of greenhouses were built along the sunniest, south-facing, side of the Garden, and extended in the late 19th century. These would have housed the more exotic produce which required warmth.

A range of brick-built sheds behind the greenhouses would have provided stores, potting sheds, a bothy for the Gardeners and probably a Head Gardener’s Office.

Around the edge of the Kitchen Garden fruit trees would have been trained up the walls, fruiting at different times depending on how much sun they caught – i.e. which way they faced.

In the main part of the Kitchen Garden a network of paths would have passed between the growing beds, both to allow the gardener to reach the plants and to allow the Head Gardener and owner to inspect the produce. Although much of the detail of the path layout has been lost, some parts have been deduced from maps or found by excavation.

The heyday of the Pleasure Grounds

Separated from the Kitchen Garden by a yew hedge – which is still in place, and now restored – the Pleasure Grounds are much more unusual.

They contain relatively informal water bodies, based on the original marl pits but probably reshaped and extended. Between the ponds were specimen trees and other forms of planting, although few of the plants have survived.

The Pleasure Grounds were contained within the same boundary wall, but were accessible through a separate entrance from the house – the owners presumably did not care to have their stroll spoiled by the unpleasant sight of food-growing activities in the Kitchen Garden!

Once in the Pleasure Grounds, a path followed the boundary around the edge of the ponds (a route which is, sadly, no longer accessible) before returning to the house either directly or through the flower-growing area of the Kitchen Garden.

The Parrs appear to have enjoyed their waterfowl, and later in the life of the Estate some 43 species were recorded, so perhaps this explains why the Pleasure Grounds were incorporated within the walled area. The birds must have provided an added attraction for a walk round the ponds.

The Sunset Years

As the life of the Estate declined in the 20th century, so the need for the Walled Garden diminished. Once the house was no longer occupied, presumably it ceased to be used at all. Fortunately it ‘fell asleep’ rather than being destroyed or the site re-used, as many were, so key historical elements such as paths, greenhouses and some parts of the planting were left in place.

In the 1950s, when the other estate buildings and the farms were being sold to various purchasers, it seems no-one wanted the Walled Garden. Instead of being sold it was gifted to Mr. Power, a former employee, who is remembered by local people using it to raise poultry.

By the time the land came into the ownership of Warrington-Runcorn Development Corporation in 1975 the Walled Garden was in a very dilapidated condition. Photographs from the time show a sad picture of abandoned cars and other dumping, broken-down walls and greenhouses falling down.

Under the neglect, though, the basic structure and some historical elements were still in place and waiting for a new era to begin when they could be brought back from the brink of being lost.

There are many aspects of the Estate’s history which we would like to know more about. Can you, or someone you know, help us fill in the gaps in our knowledge or correct any errors?

If so, please contact us and we will be delighted to learn more about the history of this fascinating place. Please e-mail us or contact us.