Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Secret Garden

Last weekend, along with my husband Paul and grandson Lucas, I headed off north to Whickham (near Newcastle) to see for myself the wonders of Whickham Community Garden that I had heard lots of good things about from our son Matthew and daughter in law Lynsey.
Before I tell you about this garden I want to tell you about Whickham itself. It is a lovely village on the outskirts of Gateshead, quite high up on a ridge above the Tyne, with amazing views across to Newcastle. Both Bronze Age and Iron Age remains have been found and aerial photographs of the area taken in 1970, revealed crop markings in the shape of a playing card showing that there was a Roman Fort there in the fields of Washingwells Farm. I find this particularly interesting because in the 70's Paul and I used to dig at another Roman fort, Vinovium, in Co Durham at Piercebridge, where Dere Street crossed the River Tees, and no doubt some of the same soldiers who passed through that fort went on to Whickham. The fort at Whickham is thought to have been part of the Stangate Frontier (cA.D.105) built when Roman soldiers were withdrawing from Scotland and is a possible explanation to why the forts of this period stretched from Carlisle to Corbridge but not eastwards to the coast. [Hadrian's Wall wasn't built until c 130 A.D.]
Amazingly this site is on the same farm that a very close friend of ours, Joan (1911 - 2011), spent many happy years. Her father farmed this land in the first half of the 20th century. The discovery of the fort was only made after the family had moved on to another farm at Wolviston and so they were totally unaware of its' importance as a Roman site.
Whickham was a rich agricultural area even in Anglo-Saxon times and still has the remnants of a village green, around the church of St Mary the Virgin, which would have been much more extensive then to accommodate the villagers' livestock. It was however coal that became the chief commodity and records as far back as 1356 show the Bishop of Durham granting a lease to mine the coal. There was a massive expansion in mining here in the 16th century with coal being carted down to the River Tyne. These coal wains were horse drawn on wooden railways and the oldest railway bridge in the world, built in 1727, can be found 3 miles from Whickham at Causey Arch. One wealthy mine owning family from that time were the Bowes whose family mansion was at nearby Gibside.

Causey Arch

Gibside Hall
A wealthy Tyne keel owner, and owner of brewery at Swalwell, built his home, the Hermitage, in 1790 in Whickham. By the early 19th century it had a lavishly laid out garden including a watchtower that overlooked the Tyne Valley, a lake with a boathouse and bridge of a "willow pattern design", a pagoda and tennis courts adjacent to the lake. It is part of this that now forms the Whickham Community Garden.


Part of the garden was acquired by Gateshead Council but became neglected. In 2002 Dave Peacock formed a committee to try to gain planning permission to restore the gardens to their former glory.He was successful and work started in 2004, retaining many original features but the lake was reduced in size and is now a wildlife pond and bog garden. It also has an accessible vegetable garden with raised beds so that local children can gain hands on experience of gardening.
I hope this selection of photographs speak for themselves and give credit to Dave, Gateshead Probation and Payback scheme and all the other volunteers who have made this project such a success.

Lucas had a lovely time as children were very well catered for and we enjoyed a nice cuppa in the newly opened Orangery Cafe where we were served by my lovely daughter in law Lynsey and son Matthew who acted as a guide.
The Orangery Cafe and Lucas
Inside the cafe
Lynsey behind the counter

Next time you are up at the Metro Centre why not take a look for yourself. It is open daily between 10am and 4pm and well worth a visit.

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