Volunteers restoring a 200-year-old ‘secret’ garden on the Northumberland coast have launched a crowd-funding initiative to bring their plans to life.
The walled garden adjacent to the 14th Century Pele Tower in the village of Cresswell once provided all the fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for Cresswell Hall, the stately home once lived in by the family who gave its name to the village. When the hall was demolished in the 1930s, the garden was largely abandoned and has remained that way until recently, when volunteers started planning to restore it to use as a community space, food producing patch and local educational asset.
And those volunteers have now started to plan how the restored garden will take shape, clearing and moving a small mountain of rubbish and beginning to plant for its future. But their next step is to raise money for an orchard with some of the trees their Victorian predecessors would have cropped, as well as starting their own colony of beehives to produce honey.
Steve Lowe, volunteer co-ordinator and engagement officer at Cresswell, said: “Back in the 1820s when Cresswell Hall was first built, there was a six-acre complex of walled kitchen gardens that provided the family with all their fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. As many as 30 local people would have been employed as gardeners working in the estate grounds and kitchen gardens.”
Now all that remains is a half-acre garden surrounded by high walls which protect it from the North Sea winds. During the day, stone and brick walls absorb the sun’s heat, raising the temperature in the gardens by as much as 10 degrees compared to the surrounding estate grounds and fields.
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Fires can be lit in the hollow north wall, which has allowed more exotic fruits such as tomatoes, peaches, apricots and quince to be grown in the garden – as well as the usual apples and pears. And volunteers are planning to include those rare trees in their new orchard to show visitors what fruits people would have been eating during the Victorian era.
Alongside the trees, there are plans to grow strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries in the restored walled garden. And there are also plans to establish a colony of bees in Cresswell, with volunteers already procuring their first hive and hoping to have three more by summer.
Steve continued: “It really is an exciting project to restore the garden alongside the wonderful job that has been done to give the Pele Tower a new lease of life. Since the restoration work has been completed and we have been able to open the tower to visitors, thousands of people have been to see it and so many have also said they can’t wait to come back and see the walled garden restored too.”
The Pele Tower in Cresswell was one of around 170 built either side of the Anglo-Scottish border to give local owners, their workers and livestock, protection from raids by the notorious gangs of Border Reivers between the 1300s to the early 1600s. In 2021, it was removed from Historic England’s At Risk register after a seven-year battle to save the grade II-star listed building.
Steve finished: “It would be wonderful if people could support our crowd-funding initiative to help us restore the walled garden not only as a tranquil place for visitors to enjoy the outdoors in very special surroundings, but also to learn about its history and its links to the Pele Tower. But, there also a chance for people to volunteer to join us planting and maintaining the garden as well as enjoying the fruits of their labours by picking the crops we will be growing right throughout the year.”
Should the volunteers at Cresswell raise enough money, it could attract support from North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll’s fund that aims to help projects launched by community initiative groups such as theirs. To find out more or to donate, visit the Bees and Trees in Cresswell crowdfunding page.