The theme for 2018 Heritage Open Days was ‘Farnham Green Spaces’ to highlight the all-important open spaces within or on the fringe of built up areas where you can relax, breath fresh air and soak up our rich heritage.
The two weekends of HODS featured many walks, talks and visits to many of these green and open spaces including and a walk and virtual walk (an illustrated talk) on ten lovely green spaces within the town centre and this is detailed in this article. Other ‘green’ sites also on show were: Farnham Park, The Rural Life Centre, Waverley Abbey and Waverley Abbey House, Moor Park House, The Bishops Meadow, green spaces within the Bourne, West Street Cemetery and the Chapel of Rest and finally readings by the Farnham Rep ‘In Englands Green and Pleasant Land’.
The walk and talk featured ten green spaces, parks, gardens and other public open spaces within the town centre.
1.The Victoria Garden. The late Victorian open-air swimming baths on this site eventually closed in 1981 due to the opening of the indoor pool at the leisure/sports centre. The old pool was demolished and then converted into a lovely, almost secret, garden which opened in 1998. The garden contains a good range of herbaceous plants, bulbs, shrubs, climbers and trees like rowan and whitebeam. There is plenty of seating and a giant chess game. Sculptures include ‘Outdoor Bathing’ by a local artist Jane Jones, but more commonly called ‘Shivering boy’ which alludes to the site’s former use. The restored entrance arch was designed by Harold Falkner in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The baths were opened by the Duchess of Albany in 1898 and her name is used today in stylised flowers of the Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’ in the iron gates and the real plant in the garden. The garden is funded and maintained by The Swimming Baths Trust with a team of skilful volunteers.
2.Haren Gardens. This very small gardenon the east side of South Street and close to the rivercommemorates the help and friendship given by people of Farnham to the town of Haren in the Netherlands. This started at the end of WWII when we dropped food parcels by parachute and again in 1953 when Farnham helped them following the North Sea floods. A plaque detailing this was presented to Farnham by the good folk of Haren and is displayed at the garden. Planting includes Dutch tulips surrounded by large trees and shrubs and maintained by volunteers.
3.Borelli Walk. A1 hectare (2.4 acre)park, opened in 1953 and named after Charles Ernest Borelli (1873-1950) a local businessman, conservationist, councillor and Chairman of Farnham UDC. He and architect, Harold Falkner (1875-1963), did much to shape the future of Farnham in the first half of the 20C and formed The Old Farnham Society in 1911. It appears the two of them were the ‘Planning Authority’ as there was no formal planning legislation until The Town and Country Planning Act 1947. He also helped to preserve the structural and natural beauties of his native town.
The planting along the south side of the River Wey includes a splendid range of native and exotic trees such as a scarlet oak, white poplar, blue Atlas cedar, an American red maple, Liquidambar, an unusual upright cultivar of the Persian ironwood and large native and European willows – backed up by the strategically important trees on the north side of the by-pass.
The garden has been under threat for a so-called temporary access to the by-pass for the Brightwells/East Street development which will cut right through the centre of the park and include a bridge for construction traffic over the river. On 21 February 2018, in came the diggers and chain saws. A 50m-plus section of the by-pass trees, part of a screen designated as an Area of Strategic Visual Importance, was felled including the rare Persian Ironwood. In August the walk was closed to the public to allow for a haul route for the bridge construction traffic’ – Mr. Borelli would not have been pleased!
The information board at the entrance refers to a ‘Scented Garden for the Blind’ but I see no such garden – perhaps a future project, if and when they restore the park in at least two to three years’ time. It will take decades to replace the felled trees. I say official vandalism!
4.Gostrey Meadow. This site was at one time part of the grounds to the Bush Hotelbut became a late Victorian rubbish dump. It was converted into a 1.08 hectare (2.7 acre) public park by the former Farnham UDC in 1909. It is now a very popular meeting venue with a full calendar of events run by Farnham Town Council. There is a wide range of native and exotic trees, shrubs and ornamental planting – including carpet bedding. There is a bandstand, the town’s main war memorial (1919), a Falkner-designed drinking fountain – which cost £21 to design and build in 1910 (you cannot drink the water) and a popular children’s playground. All of these are situated beside the lovely setting of the River Wey. It is maintained by Waverley BC but with some of the planting by Farnham Town Council. The park contains some interesting trees including a pocket handkerchief tree, a dawn redwood and a golden rain tree; all introduced from their native China. Some of the fast growing but short-lived willows and poplars have been felled or lopped on safety grounds over the last year or two.
5.St. Andrews Churchyard. The Grade II listed Anglican Church dates back to the 12th century but with substantial later additions. It is one of the largest churches in Surrey and during the 1930’s was considered as a cathedral before they built the new one at Guildford. The burial grounds contain remains of important Farnham people such as the political reformer, William Cobbett (1763-1835) and members of his family. There is a memorial to Farnham-born Reverend Augustus Toplady who wrote the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’. The Churchyard contains some notable trees including a pair of old yews, an Irish yew, an avenue of limes and semi-upright hornbeams.
6.Library Gardens. Themodern library is to the rear ofVernon House, a Grade II listed building with parts dating back to the 16C but mainly 18C. The terraced gardens to the rear provide a quiet oasis, with a range of exotic trees including a large old cedar of Lebanon, an evergreen oak, a row of yews, a mulberry and young specimens of the maidenhair tree. To the front there is a large stag’s-horn sumach tree and Liquidambars. This is a Surrey CC maintained property but the gate to the rear garden is frequently locked.
7.Museum Gardens. The small walled garden is to the rear of the Grade I listed Willmer House – built in 1718. The fine rubbed, red brick gauge work on the West Street frontage of Willmer House is said to be one of the best in the country.
The garden includes the Garden Gallery and a bust of William Cobbett. There are some interesting trees in the garden including a deodar cedar, a honey locust and a Ginkgo – plus herbaceous borders. To the rear is an educational garden, planned and planted since 2008, which shows the development of the kitchen garden with a mini orchard, herb garden, vegetable patch and even a crop of hops.
8.College Gardens. College Gardensis now a small residential cul-de-sac adjacent to Guitar Village in West Street but look closely in the grass and you will see a plaque confirming this was the site of the Royal Military college from 1814 -1820. When it closed, it moved a few miles north to Sandhurst. There is an interesting Manna ash tree fronting West Street which is thought to have biblical links where, rumour has it, sugary substances from the trunk sustained the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt – manna from heaven! There is an interesting tree to the rear, likely to be the Japanese walnut Juglans ailanthifolia.
9.University for the Creative Arts – Sculpture Park. Opened in 1998,this attractive garden, adjacent to the College entrance, features sculptures by well-known artists and graduates/students of the university all set in grassland and amongst trees and shrubs. The trees include a white berried or Kashmir rowan, a dawn redwood, a Persian ironwood, purple Norway maples and common trees like cherries, London plane and birch. It is always open.
Also at the UCA is the Craft Study Centre, a museum of modern crafts. There is a small but interesting garden fronting Falkner Road with two special trees. Firstly, there are two specimens of a hardy palm from the Far East called the windmill or Chusan palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and secondly a Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). This small to medium size tree has heart-shaped leaves with lovely autumn colour and the falling leaves smell of burnt sugar or caramel. There are several cultivars.
10.Farnham Castle Grounds. The 5 acre grounds surround the 12C castle, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and the Grade I and II Bishops Palace with wonderful views of Farnham to the south. A beautiful meeting/wedding venue and the greatest visitor attraction of the town for nearly 900 years – almost 1000 visitors toured the Castle during Heritage Open Days 2017 and close to 1200 last weekend.
The recently restored Bishop’s steps to the west of the Castle are of interest, they were designed for Bishop Richard Foxe (Fox) (1448-1528). He became blind in his later years and, to help him negotiate the steps, there are seven flights of seven steps with seven paces between each flight.
Home of the Bishop of Winchester for some 800 years, the last Bishop, Henry Montgomery-Campbell, left in 1956 when Farnham became part of the Diocese of Guildford. The grounds contain some large, quality, exotic trees including a cedar of Lebanon, false acacias, a shagbark hickory and an old lopped maidenhair tree. A very tall and impressive redwood suffered badly during the 2018 summer droughts and will need checking to see if it recovers next spring.
There are also many ‘on- the- edge’ or ‘out-of-town’ larger green spaces such as Farnham Park, Bourne Wood, the RSPB Nature Reserve at Farnham Heath, Frensham Common and Ponds, Bourne Recreation Ground, Bishops Meadow, Alice Holt Forest and Arboretum. There are separate tours to some of these or they will be included in future visits and/or talks. There are also many other green spaces around Farnham and its villages including village greens, recreation grounds, playing fields, footpaths, woodlands, cemeteries and the ever-popular allotments – perhaps over a hundred. It’s important to keep and maintain all these green lungs of Farnham – but as we have seen at Borelli Walk – nothing is safe.
Although this Heritage Open Days weekend was promoted as Farnham’s Green Spaces, this summer we have seen much of it turn brown. The grass will soon recover and in places it already has – but some trees and shrubs may well be lost. Shallow-rooted trees such as birch are often the first to suffer but with healthy young trees the shedding of leaves could be a defence mechanism and they should come back next spring. More worrying are trees like the large redwood at Farnham Castle which turned brown in early August. There may be some underlying problems and the drought may well be the final straw.
Peter Bridgeman September 2018