Old Durham Gardens between Sherburn Road Estate and Maiden Castle being restored (From Durham Times)
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Garden between Sherburn Road Estate and Maiden Castle being restored
Dedicated volunteers are hoping to restore some little-known ornamental gardens to their former glory. Mark Tallentire reports.
Journalists are urged to shun cliches – avoid them like the plague, you might say. And the phrase ‘a hidden gem’ is perhaps overused and tending that way.
But Old Durham Gardens (ODG), caught on the right day, is a wonderful spot and truly deserving of the title.
Located between Sherburn Road Estate and Maiden Castle sports ground, but accessed directly by road from the former only, it offers a beautiful walled garden, a charming gazebo boasting stunning views of Durham Cathedral and Castle and attractive terraces running down to a restored orchard.
The Friends of ODG, established in 2010, is a small group of hard-working volunteers determined to revive the area, making it the popular visitor destination it has been, on and off, throughout its 350-year history.
The gardens date from the 17th Century – around 1630 probably: a time of brutal European wars and the first glimpses of mass migration to the New World.
Not surprising then, perhaps, that here in Durham our wealthy betters were seeking something altogether more peaceful and pleasant – a thoroughly lovely way to while away the afternoon hours.
Enter, Old Durham Gardens.
They were mostly developed by John Heath, who belonged to a long family of builders and gardeners and who inherited the estate from his uncle.
Heath’s only daughter, Elizabeth, married into the Tempest dynasty and, on her father’s death in 1665, Old Durham passed to her care – and that of her husband, John Tempest.
The Tempest family was to retain ownership until 1794, when it passed by marriage to the Vane Tempests and later to the Vane-Tempest Stewarts, the Marquises of Londonderry.
For some time, it included a manor house which enjoyed spectacular Cathedral views. It is thought this was demolished in the mid 18th Century.
As for the gardens, they are thought to have been developed to their fullest extent during the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, with the enclosure of a southern garden and refurbishment of the gazebo. THE area became a popular public spot between the two world wars of the 20th Century having been purchased, in 1918, by a character named Victor Mazzini Walton, an artist and ice cream maker from Scarborough, for £1,625.
Mr Walton developed ODG as a pleasure ground and, according to an advert from the time, by 1921 it boasted tennis courts, a putting green, running track and tea garden.
Also nearby was a pub, the Pineapple Inn, which – despite its somewhat isolated location – was, for decades, very popular with Durham folk.
The Pineapple lost its licence in 1926, however: some say due to a reputation for drunken rowdiness, others that drinkers were increasingly preferring the more accessible pubs of the city itself to the trek out to the Pineapple.
Nevertheless, the gardens remained popular: hosting weekend dances in the 1920s and tea rooms in the 1930s.
In 1949, Mr Walton sold the property to Adam and Margaret Black for the sum of £4,000. Oddly, the same sum was handed over when St Hild’s College took over in 1964.
Somewhere along the line, the Pineapple Inn became Pineapple House and the tea gardens turned private.
By the 1980s, the gardens were virtually derelict: a shame to all who saw them, though few did by then; their heyday and even their existence largely forgotten.
IN 1985, Durham City Council stepped in to buy the plot and officials drew up plans for the gardens’ restoration.
Archaeological excavations found the locations of paths, flower beds, planting holes and more.
Using this information, gradual reconstruction has been possible, with enthusiasts recently enjoying help from Durham University and Kings Church Durham volunteers.
The work stepped up a gear last summer and this year, weather permitting, supporters hope to prune apple and pear trees, plant new fruit trees, clear of the lower garden rectangular beds, remove brambles, prepare for the planting of a perimeter hedge, remove self-sown plants from the walls, paint garden seats recently acquired from Durham Market Place and paint the gazebo’s doors.
It is also hoped the attraction will have water supplied and toilets installed.
Visitors and volunteers are welcome each Thursday and every third Sunday in the month until September, always from 2pm to 4pm. Entry is free.
The annual general meeting of the Friends of ODG will be held in committee room two, County Hall, Aykley Heads, on Wednesday, May 23, at 7pm.
Fiona Green, a plant historian, will give a talk titled Historic Gardens and their Restoration. She will also outline the initial planting of ODG and discuss how it can be replanted with species and layouts sympathetic to the garden’s 17th and 18th Century origins.
For more information, visit olddurhamgardens.co.uk.