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Walled Gardens

The Walled Gardens

Brunswick Organic Nursery has been renting The Archbishops Palace Walled Gardens from the Church Commissioners since 2004, originally only renting the smaller garden. They are situated just on the outskirts of Bishopthorpe village

The garden was very overgrown and neglected and the first year was spent clearing the land from brambles and restoring the paths. In 2005 we erected a poly tunnel, built a composting toilet block, and acquired a small tractor. (Although it is over 20 years old and looks like it will never work again it has proved to be very effective, saving us an incredible amount of digging). We covered most of the land with landscape fabric to help us compete with the weeds, and planted with our first crops of squash, pumpkins and sweet corn. Work also began stocking an herbaceous border and a collection of shade loving plants to use for propagation. By September the border looked stunning and we were able to harvest our first produce. At this time work also began on the second, larger garden and a group of international IVS volunteers helped us all to focus our efforts, clearing rubbish and cutting back the over growth. We also had to contend with a swarm of bees that had taken up residence in the garden walls. By the end of September we could all see the vast potential of the garden and its derelict buildings, and in January 2006 work began restoring the old potting sheds into a mess room and workroom. This work has been carried out on a very limited budget from funding given by the Church Commissioners and York Social Services. We added wooden edging to the borders giving the gardens some structure, and groups of students volunteered to help us with path laying and painting. Also a grant from Yorkshire Gardens Trust helped us to replace many of the older, diseased fruit trees. During June we were able to have a large part of the garden ploughed (with the generous help of a local farmer). We then covered this area with landscape fabric, and in July a group of volunteers from The Princes Trust helped us to plant 450 sweetcorn and 40 marrows and courgettes and over 500 squashes and pumpkins (including 24 different varieties for our Squash Festival on the 15th October 2006). In the smaller garden we have experimented with planting onions through biodegradable mulch and planted our potatoes through plastic in an attempt to reduce the amount of watering and weeding required. We have had a very successful harvest from the garden in 2006 including approximately 130kg of broad beans, 150kg onion, 28k garlic, and 150kg of potatoes.


History of the Walled Gardens

It has been difficult to date precisely the building of the walled garden and it appears to have had a chequered history swinging between glory and disrepair several times. In his Book Bishopthorpe Palace an Architectural History  Eric Gee informs us that the palace gardens were “formally laid out in c.1700 at the expense of Archbishop Sharp (1691-1714) planting “a fine avenue of lime trees” (these may be the avenue of trees visible on the 1785 plan of York and the Ainsty) and that the head gardener at this time was Thomas Halfpenny.

We are told by Ann Ward in her book The history and antiquities of York  “the gardens were almost wholly laid out at the charge of Archbishop Sharp” and that “The kitchen garden and Pleasure-Ground were completed in the year 1767” It is possible that the “kitchen garden” was on the site between the gardener’s cottage and the walled garden, across the road from the palace (this is certainly the site of the kitchen garden by 1818) but the map of the 1785 shows no sign of any gardens in this area. However, it is later recorded by Eric Gee that Dr Markham (Archbishop 1777-1807) included a flued wall 181 feet in length in his additions to the garden in 1785. We can assume that the walled garden was built in the same year that Francis White’s 1785 map was completed but as yet the earliest map found showing the walled garden is 1846.

In 1818 William Hargrove (city of York printer and newspaper proprietor) writes “On the opposite side of the road, are the kitchen gardens, which occupy about seven acres of ground. They contain extensive hot-houses, fruit-walls, store-ponds for fish and every other requisite accommodation. This is confirmed by William Cambridge (Local Methodist preacher.) who writes in 1890 that “the kitchen gardens, and gardeners house occupy a considerable portion of the palace ground, within the walled garden are extensive hot-houses, fruit trees, vineries,&c.,&c., in which fruits and flowers and vegetables for the palace are reared.”

Some years later Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang describes in his writings a “very large kitchen garden, with fine old brick walls, some distance from the house”. We hear that he let this to a market gardener that “exhausted the soil and made it untidy.”  He tells us of a new gardener by the name of Budden who proves a “happy choice” Showing a “love for flowers” and a “genius for colour”.

Budden’s passion for flowers determined the future of the kitchen garden with “almost half, including the walled garden being given over to flowers. The result was the creation of a garden with a long herbaceous border which became famous in Yorkshire”. Under Buddens’ expert management the gardens became “a source of unending delight to Lang himself, the predominant delight the great herbaceous border, after a wartime eclipse, blooming with all its old glory”. “He treated his flowers almost as if they were children, blessing the first snowdrops and saying goodnight to his dear delphiniums.”

In 1929 F.A.Iremonger quotes Archbishop William Temple’s descriptive account of the gardens “ten minutes walk from the palace was the formal walled flower garden where the statistically minded visitor could count fourteen beds ablaze with wallflower and myosotis, polyanthus and tulip, and seventy-five yards of double herbaceous border, separated by a generous width of grass, in which delphiniums were “nothing accounted of if they were less than eight to ten feet in height; in the spring thousands of daffodils would be inf lower along the lime avenue, and crocuses of many colours dotted along the banks that sloped down to the river’s edge”.

Sadly it seems despite his apparent delight in the gardens, in his first Diocesan Letter he writes “I must not attempt to keep up the flower garden in the splendid beauty which has made it so great... in the recent years”.

This was clearly the beginning of the gardens decline as in 1942 on his first visit to Bishopthorpe Palace Archbishop Garbett describes; “Across the road the once glorious flower garden, many vegetables, neglected fruit trees, and dilapidated glass houses rapidly falling into ruin, the plants within dying through cold.” This sorry picture goes from bad to worse as we hear that in 1942 the local Home Guard have taken over the walled garden as a riffle-range! Despite the kitchen garden being generally in “good order, the walled flower garden is ruined by neglect”.

We know that the palace and gardens were taken over by the church commissioners during Arch bishop Garnett’s time (1942-1936) and “the gardens brought into order” and that “the large kitchen garden on the other side of Bishopthorpe road is still retained but the land to the north was let to a farmer.”

It seems that all is not lost as a certain Charles Smyth goes on to write “despite the war, the Archbishop managed to find a new head gardener who arrived at the Palace on the evening of his enthronement. He wrote “ I think I have got a treasure in my new head gardener”. It is possible that this treasure was a Mr Evans whose daughter-in-law still lives in the village. We are delighted to have a copy of the letter from the palace to Mr Evans upon his appointment tin 1943. Mr Evans worked along side a Mr George Tansley and Mr Walker (followed by a Mrs Walker who took over her husbands role after his death). Mrs Evans remembers most of the kitchen gardens being in the area between the gardener’s house and the walled garden but that when Dr Ramsey followed Archbishop Garrett, it was decided that such extensive vegetable gardens were unnecessary. It seems that Mrs Ramsey felt that the vegetables for the Archbishops family could be bought from the local shops. Despite the changing times Mrs Evans remembers her father-in-law going every evening to stoke up the boiler that heated the green houses. “You had to step down into it, there were beautiful tomatoes and a cucumber house” (situated outside the walls possibly those shown in hatching on the 1891 map as they were on this site) and she recalls rushing out on an evening to protect the strawberries with nets. “There was a beautiful long walkway with delphiniums and strawberries and plum trees.  I remember being in hospital with the twins and my father in-law sent me peaches from the garden and a huge bunch of gladioli for me and one for the nurses.” (There was still a glimmer of the gardens exotic past). Mrs Evans tells us that the larger walled garden had some little apple trees in it but was mainly overgrown. She particularly remembers the day her father in-law took her and her young daughters into the garden to show them a family of foxes who had slyly made their way into the garden via the drainage ditch that runs from the farm fields through the garden to the large fish pond in the Palace grounds known as Warren Pond. It seems that Mr Evans was passionate about his gardening from an early age as we have a picture showing him as a young boy with a huge marrow and a later photo showing him at his first gardening post as a lad at Thorpe Perrow. You can imagine a similar team of gardeners working in the palace gardens in the early 1900’s. We also have a photo of the famous delphinium border and Lassie the family pet who is reputed to have stolen pears from the pear tree! Mr Evans worked as head gardener until 1959 when he retired due to ill health; he continued to live in the gardener’s house until his death in 1971. His wife remained in the house until ill health took her to the county hospital. Mr Evans was followed by a Mr Jim Bingham who lived in Acaster Lane. We hope to discover more about the history of the walled gardens, so if you know any tales or have any stories you have heard please help us add to our archives.

We have been told that at some time horses were kept in the large walled garden (which may account for the damage to some of the older trees). Possibly it was a Mr and Mrs Dolman who kept these horses and that his son still lives in Acaster Malbis.

We have also had confessions from elderly gentlemen who remember scaling the walls (in their youth) to steal apples!

Another gentleman remembers picking the fruit (legitimately) with his brothers during the war, for Shepherds greengrocers on Bishopthorpe Road. He remembers gooseberries growing in the larger garden, and a lovely pear tree.

We are well on the way to reclaiming the gardens and look forward to restoring some of its former glory.


Brunswick Organic Nursery and Craft Workshop
Appleton Road, Bishopthorpe, York, YO23 2RF. UK
tel: 01904 701869 email:admin@brunswickyork.org.uk
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