22 January 1999

PAST

GLORIES REVIVED…

A STONE wall dating back to the early 1800s provided more than shelter to the gardens it once surrounded at Leagram Hall in Lancashire.

Follow the wall with owner John Weld-Blundell and its secrets are soon revealed.

Only a third of the wall remains. Though crumbling in parts with age and the invasive roots of creepers, the wall is more than it seems.

While it once protected the grandiose garden of the original Leagram Hall the garden designers of the time were certainly inventive.

Elaborate glass houses were built against its inner side to protect heat-loving plants and peach trees. To keep frost at bay and ensure winter warmth, the outer side of the wall incorporated open fires.

They were stoked and tended by a team of gardeners to ensure a constant supply of heat rose through the stone, warming and nurturing the tender plants.

Its an image from a time long-past but one that Mr Weld-Blundell is determined will not be forgotten.

By the summer of 2000 he hopes to have completed a major part of an imaginative restoration scheme that seeks not only to reinstate elements of Victorian life on this 607ha (1500 acre) estate but to engender interest in ecological and environmental matters relevant to the long-term viability of the landscape.

&#42 Re-creation

"The Victorian walled garden is one of the things I want to re-create and bring back into productive use including re-building the ornate glasshouses and restoring the wall fired heating system," says Mr Weld-Blundell.

Leagram Hall, once a 16th century royal deer park, is situated amid the rolling wooded fells and valleys of north Lancashire close to the Trough of Bowland. The hall, which looks down onto the tiny stone cottages of Chipping village, was re-built in 1955 but the estate has been in the hands of the Weld family since the early 1800s.

Mr Weld-Blundells plan centres on 6.8ha (17 acres) of woodlands and gardens that surround the hall. Renovation work has already been completed on a large range of 19th century brick farm buildings.

"About 20 years ago bulldozing them down to make room for more modern buildings seemed an option in the agricultural climate of the time. Fortunately they were saved," says Mr Weld-Blundell.

The Leagram Hall Gardens visitor centre aims to promote a wider appreciation of ecology and conservation. It will provide the opportunity to venture along Victorian woodland walks, savour the delights of a restored Victorian walled garden and to learn about achieving an ecological balance of land use on the estate.

&#42 Organic intent

An intention to switch to organic farming on the in-hand land will add a further dimension to the project. A restaurant serving organically grown food is included in the centres plans but even though an official opening is some time away, Mr Weld-Blundell is already welcoming parties of schoolchildren to Leagram Hall.

"Education is very much a focal part of the project and our newly excavated pond is already being visited by local schoolchildren as part of their ecological studies," says Mr Weld-Blundell. British Aerospace sponsorship has enabled a jetty to be built to help with pond-dipping and some of the renovated farm buildings have already been converted to provide teaching facilities.

One important feature of the project which is already underway is the creation of "A Living History of Roses". Many old rose varieties have been planted as the first of a collection that will number well into the hundreds. The new rose beds, their colour and scent encapsulating the promise of so much that is yet to be enjoyed at Leagram Hall, are being established in a reclaimed area of the Victorian garden.

&#42 Overgrown

Most of the garden lying within the confines of the remaining wall and extending to around an acre, has become overgrown with trees since the Second World War. But Mr Weld-Blundell regards the discovery of an aerial photograph of the hall and gardens taken in 1941 as a "great find".

"It has given us a wonderful vision of the layout of the gardens and the woodlands. Although the formality of the garden was being lost in the early 1940s and the yew hedges appeared unkempt, it is clear that the dig for victory ethic was ensuring the vegetable plots were kept going."

The concept of reclaiming the gardens was a great passion of Mr Weld-Blundell and his late wife Genny.

"We spent a lot of time and effort on the farm buildings before Genny died. Now I am determined to see the entire project completed," says Mr Weld-Blundell who lives at Leagram Hall with his two teenage sons Stacy and Kim.

The substantial garden wall at Leagram Hall was a heating system as well as a boundary while the newly built jetty enables children to pond-dip safely.

Left: One of the fire holes in the garden wall. Above: John Weld-Blundell beside what is to become "A Living History of Roses".