Ashwell Cottage Garden

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Ashwell Cottage Garden' page

Swan Street

by Liz Moynihan

   “The best cottage garden I have ever seen.”  John Betjeman in The Spectator.

This cottage garden was originally the site of three old cottages inhabited at least until the 1920s.  They fell into disrepair and were demolished.  Subsequently the site was turned into a garden by Albert Skerman and his wife, Alice, who were tenants of Swan Cottage on the corner.  Albert worked as a gardener at several large houses in the village and was not averse to taking a few cuttings from their gardens!  Albert continued to maintain the garden until he died in the mid 1970s.

Before then, in 1968, the site was threatened with unsuitable modern building.  The Parish Council felt that the site needed sensitive treatment as it was next to the museum in an unspoilt and historic part of the village and thus they initiated efforts to buy the site.  A fund-raising committee eventually managed to raise sufficient funds to buy the cottage (now Swan Cottage) and its adjacent garden.  The Merchant Taylors’ Company donated £500, Herts. County Council £250, and residents of the village raised the outstanding £1,450, partly with donations from the Queen Mother and Lord Butler.  The cottage and garden were vested in the Hertfordshire Buildings Preservation Trust (HBPT) and a covenant put upon the garden that it would never be built on.

Subsequently a band of volunteers has done most of the gardening.  In 1981 Mrs Skerman died.  The cottage needed a considerable amount of refurbishment and the HBPT were not prepared to use funds which they required for their primary purpose of saving ancient buildings of note in the county.

After a considerable amount of negotiation, and much against the wishes of the original fund raisers, the HBPT sold the cottage and a small part of the garden on the open market.  In 1986 they were persuaded to transfer the majority of the garden, together with a small portion of the profits from the sale, to the Ashwell Village Trust, a new charity set up to “... promote the permanent preservation... of lands and buildings of beauty or historic interest... for the public benefit in Ashwell.”  The garden was redesigned to make it easier to look after.

Between 2001 and 2003 the garden underwent a major renovation to create disabled access, more seating, renewed planting, an information board and other features.  This work was funded in part by the Local Heritage initiative.  The committee launched an appeal to match this grant and undertook many hours of volunteer labour.  The garden continues to be looked after by a team of volunteers organised by the Cottage Garden Working Group under the auspices of the Ashwell Village Trust.



This page was added on 21/12/2010.

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