Thurrock Local History Society: Gardens in Essex

Thurrock Local History Society
Gardens in Essex by Linda Holdaway

AT our March meeting we had a delightful talk by Linda Holdaway about the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). Volunteers recruit gardeners to open up their plots to the general public in aid of various charities. The scheme was formed 91 years ago and there are now 1000s of privately owned small gardens which open to the public on various days throughout the summer, some selling plants

It started in Liverpool in the 1860s after William Rathbone MP, merchant and philanthropist hired Elsie Wagg to nurse his sick wife. After her death she was retained for her services to the poor. With the help of Florence Nightingale 18 districts were created – hence the name District Nurse. More funds were obtained from the Victoria Jubilee Fund and by 1912 the nurses had bicycles.

In 1926 Ms Wagg had the idea of opening gardens to the public at 1 shilling per head. This raised over £8000 (£250,000 in today’s money), and thus the NGS was born. In the early years stately homes and gardens also joined the scheme, including Sandringham, Sissinghurst Castle, Great Dixter and Hatfield House. After WW2 the scheme was expanded, George VI opening Frogmore Park; this year 70 nurses are invited there for a tea to celebrate 70 years of the NHS.

Mrs Holdaway’s illustrations showed several of the 80 large and small gardens in Essex, encouraging people to get out and about. Braxted Park in Witham has a large house, lake and parkland; proceeds from open days going to the Horatio Chapple fund set up by his mother after he was killed by a polar bear at the age of 17. Our nearest garden is Barnards Farm on the A128 with a wide appeal for families. There is a large lake and sculptures by such as Antony Gormley, with a model train and vintage motor bike and car museum.

There is a modest entry fee to the 3000 large and small gardens which come under the scheme, with Mary Berry as president. She was in the humorous film that Mrs Holdaway showed at the end of her talk, a skit on Bake Off. The gardens all offer refreshments with home-made cakes and many people go just for the afternoon teas provided. The NGS still supports nursing and caring and has given millions of pounds to charities. Their website and Essex Yellow Guide show places and times of opening – so, look for the yellow road signs and enjoy your outing.

Our next meeting is our AGM which starts at 7.30pm on Friday 20 April at the Grays Adult Education Centre in Richmond Road, Grays. This will be followed by our MP Jackie Doyle-Price giving a talk on the History of the Tilbury Docks Police. All visitors are welcome.

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