THE WALLED GARDEN OF NORTON PRIORY
A review of our May talk - by Anna Alexander
On 28th May we welcomed back Kathy Williams MBE, ably assisted by her husband Keith, to give a talk on Norton Priory's amazing Walled Garden. In 2006 Kathy delivered a talk on the history of the priory, which was closed by Henry VIII in 1536 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. A Tudor mansion was built in its place by Sir Richard Brooke, and in the 18th Century this was replaced by a Georgian mansion and the walled garden was built. The garden was built a long distance from the house so the family could avoid the smells of the manure used on the borders. An ice house was built at the same time as the garden.
The garden was 2.5 acres in size and its walls were built twelve feet high. The north wall was heated with a boiler so that tropical plants could be grown there. The large team of gardeners was led by a head gardener who lived in a cottage adjacent to the garden. The Georgian gardening team comprised of different grades of worker. The 'daisy grubbers' were women who wore gloves fitted with hooks, so that they could rake out the weeds and the daisies. 'Crock boys' looked after the pots and the potting shed; they were trained to know the Latin names of plants and they lived on the other side of the heated wall. The 'journeymen' were ordinary gardeners, and the 'foremen' specialised in different plants such as flowers or fruit. The head gardener ran the garden and liaised with Sir Richard and Lady Brooke on what they wanted in the garden. The team also looked after the ice house.
In 1921 the Brooke family moved to Worcestershire and the gardens declined. The house was demolished in 1928, but during World War 2 the gardens were used for 'Dig for Victory' and the ice house was an air raid shelter. However, when the Norton Priory museum was built it was decided to resurrect the garden and, as the old garden plans had been lost, research took place to make sure the new garden was as authentic as possible. Thanks to the hard work of both professional gardeners and a team of volunteers, the garden has been rebuilt over many years. The present garden comprises a fruit section including a national collection of quinces, an orchard, a herb garden, herbaceous borders, vegetables and a leisure area with a croquet lawn.
Kathy concluded by inviting members of the audience to pay a visit to Norton Priory and its gardens, and encouraged us to attend some of the many events held there each year. Thanks to Kathy and Keith for their interesting talk.