Is the walled garden idea pie in the sky?

 Written February 2009 :: revised August 2014

 

 

The walled garden? Metal fencing marks the boundary of an historic site in February 2009.

Other pictures:

Centre: A damaged section of the wall.

Bottom left: The early days of the overgrown garden site - before it qualified as a "jungle". See the Walled Garden Society website for a more ordered state of affairs. 

Bottom right: The damaged section of the wall where a small gate once stood. A close-up shot of the far end of the damaged section, (to the left in the large image here).

 

NO-ONE said it was going to be easy. Seven years ago (2002) when a group of Nantwich people set out to restore a little bit of Nantwich's history to a neglected area just outside the town centre, they would have little realised just what they were letting themselves in for.

   Their mission was to save for posterity, and restore to a semblance of its former use, what was little more than an overgrown site. But this was a piece of land with a royal connection. This was the former garden of Townsend House - long since demolished - to which King James the First paid a visit on August 27, 1617. He was a guest of the Wilbraham family, who lived in the house for 200 years and who had built the house in 1580 when Queen Elizabeth the First was reigning. He had come to see the town's salt workings.

   Battling to save the land are members of Nantwich Walled Garden Society (NWGS) who are aware a number of property developers owning the site over the years.

   But while they found the townspeople were behind them, Nantwich Town Council, whose job it is to represent the town and its interests, are apparently not behind the project and have not supported the views of the townsfolk. (Well, some of the members have, but in local democracy the majority decision prevails).

   Indeed, one member of the council has called the project to turn the former garden into a tourist attraction "pie in the sky". Cllr Bill McGinnis said: "There is no other viable option for this site, which is in a terrible

 

state, other than this application (to build six apartments)."  Quoted in The Nantwich Chronicle (February 18), he added: "It is like a jungle in there." Developing his "pie in the sky" theme, he said: "Not only would it cost 1million to buy the land, there are huge extra costs like maintenance. It would never happen."

  The developers in  2009, the Dowhill Group,  submitted new plans to Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council (which was to disappear from the local government scene on March 31 when the new Cheshire East Council absorbed it into a new local authority).

   The latest plan includes more car parking - in a half acre area - which would have seen the new homes all but wipe out the former garden.

   In the wall of the garden, which is listed as Grade 2 by English Heritage, are three recesses described as bee boles, where wicker bee hives would have been installed.

   Cllr McGinnis, referring to the revised plan, says the bee boles would be repaired - "which is a big improvement on previous plans," he said.  

   The NWGS Secretary in 2009, Nicola Booth, told The Chronicle: "Extra parking spaces means more of the garden will be eaten up." She added: "We still hope to open this as a tourist site and it would be great for school children to visit."

 

   Dowhill's agent, Robert Holmes, is quoted as saying: "This will lead to a slight absorption of car parking spaces but we do want to keep as much of the precious garden as possible.

  "However, we cannot ignore Cheshire County Council's requirement for adequate spaces and Nantwich Town Council's desire to keep cars from spilling on to the Kingsley Village estate."

   There would be no parking space on the walled garden site according to the NWGS Garden Plan (see this external website).

   But many sites which attract visitors, not just in Nantwich, do not have on-site parking, relying instead on the town's public car park. Visitors to the walled garden will park on various town centre car parks.       

   Back in the late 1970s, when I was Chairman of the amdram society, Nantwich Players, members voted to support financially the conversion of a derelict building. If they had been as negative as Nantwich Town Council is currently being there would be no Nantwich Players' Theatre.

   I told the Players' members to have faith, take a leap into the future and back the conversion.

  They did, and it paid off. Nantwich Town Council should do the same.   

   FOOTNOTE: Nantwich Walled Garden Society was formed in 2002 as The Campaign to Save the Walled Garden. It changed its name and held an inaugural meeting in 2004. 


"NWGS can be proud that, though their efforts, a much better development application has resulted"

Cllr Bill McGinnis sent me this statement:

"THE NWGS members have their agenda and I am certain the majority of the townsfolk would say "Hurrah" if some means of funding restoration, maintenance and security could be found.

  Unfortunately, despite attempts over a number of years, there is nothing in the pot.

   "It is entirely understandable that members have high aspirations but at the Town Council we do need to consider practical issues.

   "The Town Council has not opposed the aims of the NWGS. However, it has consistently called for a viable plan before any financial backing could be given.

   "The document produced by the society had several glaring flaws which gave rise to questions which have gone unanswered.

 

   "Leaving aside all the doubts surrounding the purchase and restoration, there remains the major problems of the ongoing costs - the gardeners, the maintenance of the structures and the security of the site.

   "In addition, if the garden were to prove a tourist attraction, the planning authority would be most interested in parking provision.

   "It is sad that restoration is so unlikely - barring a Lottery winner or other benefactor - but sometimes we have to take it on the chin.

   "I said at the last council meeting that NWGS can be proud that, though their efforts, a much better development application has resulted.   

   "The site is a mess and will get worse. One fear we have is that it will eventually attract the attention of undesirables and that will give rise to a host of

problems.

   "All in all, I believe that the council's view is sensible and pragmatic. In all the circumstances, the

 

current application offers a solution that will preserve the walls and the bee boles."

 

NOTE: The "major problems" mentioned by Cllr McGinnis are dealt with in the NWGS plan for the garden (see link above). 


The picture of Cllr McGinnis was taken from the Nantwich Town Council website (Nantwich Chronicle picture). Cllr McGinnis is no longer a member of Nantwich Town Council.

 

l  Nantwich Walled Garden Society has a plan for restoring and running the walled garden. It is not now believed that the purchase price of the land would be 1million (as stated in the main article). 

 

See below for a reply - from me - to another councillor's comment

 

March 2009                                                                                                 

Is this the end for the walled garden plan?

THINGS look black for potential tourist attraction, the Nantwich Walled Garden. At their meeting on Thursday, March 5, 2009, Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council Development Control Committee voted in favour of an application by the Dowhill Group to build inside the garden walls.

   So, barring any further action by the Nantwich Walled Garden Society (NWGS), that would appear to be end of the battle to save the garden from being lost under housing development.

   The walls have to be restored by the developers and there are said to be plans to construct flower beds around the inside of the walls, recreating the essence of an Elizabethan garden.

   Time will tell if that comes to fruition. But with an apartments blocks and car parking I can't see much of the available space being allocated for replica flower beds.

   And even if it were, only the residents of the new homes would see them, surely. The last thing anyone spending good money for an apartment would want would be for the general public being allowed access to the site.

   One of the criticisms of the NWGS Garden Plan was "Who will tend the garden?" (See the Garden Plan on the NWGS website for the answer). The same question could be asked of the Dowhill Group. Will there be a garden maintenance charge levied on the residents?       

 

Society 'unable to fight the committee's decision'

MARCH 2009

AFTER the Development Control Committee's meeting, the Chairman of the Nantwich Walled Garden Society, Mr Peter Harrington, issued a statement, part of which was: "Following this lamentable decision by the Development Control Committee, the Nantwich Walled Garden Society will be holding an Extraordinary General Meeting on April 6 to consider the next steps in the campaign to enable this part of our heritage to be protected and restored for the benefit of the whole community."    

   Legal advice told the society they had a good enough case to issue a legal challenge against the decision. But while members voted to go ahead they were unable to raise the necessary funds to do so.

 

The fight goes on

DECEMBER 2009

AT its AGM in December, the NWGS voted to go on with the fight to save the garden, rejecting two other ways forward - to dissolve the society and to continue to fight solely for the restoration of the walls.

   Although planning permission has been given for six houses and two flats, work has yet to begin on the site. (This is still the case in August 2014).

 

Picture: an artist's impression of one version of how the garden could have looked (from the NWGS website). Who can really prefer yet more housing to that?  

 

Other views of the damaged walled garden from Kingsley Village.

 

Left: looking along Byron Walk.

 

Right: looking toward the damaged section of the wall. 

 

[Apart from the sketch of the garden, all images on this page are by "A Dabber's Nantwich"]

 

       

 October 2005

AN OPEN LETTER TO COUNCILLOR ARTHUR MORAN OF NANTWICH TOWN COUNCIL

 

 

 

The roundabout at the far end of Fairfax Drive with the walled garden's breached wall in the far distance, to the left of the house in King's Court. The door on the left is to a property in Fairfax Drive.

 

 

LET me put my cards on the table and say that I was the webmaster for the Nantwich Walled Garden Society website at the time of writing. It is something I offered to do (and was accepted) and which I did in an unpaid capacity and according to their opinions.

   On this website, however, it is a different matter. Here I can say what I think - subject to the laws of libel! - and I am doing so in this letter.

 

Cllr Moran,

I am not usually minded to write and express views to local councillors, but after reading your comments in this week's Nantwich Guardian (October 1), I would like to make the following comment:

 

    While taking your point about the Nantwich Walled

Garden Society having to compromise with the developers or end up with nothing, I would have thought that the "nothing" optional was preferable.

    My point is that the compromise would leave Nantwich with a well-preserved Elizabethan garden wall (hopefully) surrounding a modern development. That is not the same - nowhere near - to the Nantwich Walled Garden Society's desired objective of a flourishing walled garden

   No matter how good architects might consider the building, the apartments would not be a matter of interest to historians (except in 2205 maybe).

   A better idea  would be to demolish the wall and

reconstruct a section of it somewhere else in

 

Nantwich. Far better that than the compromise proposed by councillors.

   The N.W.G.S. see the Nantwich Walled Garden as a tourist attraction as well as for local people. How many tourists and local people would want to come to see a block of apartments? Or a lone wall?

   Also, the N.W.G.S. is horrified that there is plan to demolish part of the wall to provide access to the eight apartments. That access would be off the roundabout already constructed in this part of Kingsley Village.

   Actually, the wall has collapsed already at that part of the site. Job done.

 

John H. Brough

Apartments on walled garden site? | Townsend House | Kingsley Village 2 | This website index page

 

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