Images & Brian Tuohey Photography
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Raise money for the Walled Garden by voting now in NatWest CommunityForce Competition!
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The Walled Garden is tucked away amidst the woodland paths around Oakwood Gate, and unless you knew that it was there, you could easily miss it. It was created about 1980 as the area of Birchwood was being developed. For the first decade or so, the gardens were managed well. Since then, they have been in gradual decline and the area is partly overgrown, although it is still managed with shrubs close to the paths being cut back and the boardwalks maintained.
Info on The Birchwood Partnership site:
Voting closes at 12:00 noon on 24th October 2011
It seems odd to have a square brick-walled area in the middle of woodland paths in Oakwood Gate. The name of the area gives a clue to its history. Oakwood Gate was the main entrance to the old Risley Royal Ordnance Factory that was built for service during World War II. Its name lives on in the parkland and the short stretch of road that now links the 'dog-bone' roundabout on Birchwood Way with the petrol station roundabout at Dewhurst Road. In those days, Warrington Road was the main road, and the main offices and entrance buildings to the factory occupied the area now taken up by Birchwood Way and the dog-bone roundabout. Just behind the offices were two of the three reservoirs that served the needs of the factory. Reservoir 2 was square and surrounded by a large brick wall. As far as I know, this reservoir supplied water to the fire ring main that operated around the factory site. There is an old sluice gate handle that remains near one corner of the garden as well as a small number of fire hydrants around the area that would have been fed from this reservoir. Old maps over the years continued to show the old reservoir containing water right up to the period when Birchwood was being developed in the 1970s.
The map above, reproduced from an original that is over 50 years old, shows the location of the reservoir in 1951. Although the factory had closed by then, the buildings were all still in place and Warrington Road and the old Almshouses can also be seen. The path from Warrington Road to the shop at Locking Stumps runs alongside the area marked as the Almshouses.
The site of nearby Reservoir 3 is now occupied by the area known as the Vantage Point, sadly surrounded by recently planted trees. It can be reached by the steps cut into the hillside. Some of the woodland to the north and west of the Walled Garden has survived from rural farming days.
Once restoration work gets underway, I hope to add more photos that record the next chapter in the history of this forgotten oasis in Birchwood.
I have recently obtained some old aerial photos of Birchwood. The Walled Garden and surrounding area as it was in 1973, 1983 and 1993 can be seen on Page 2 along with a modern view from Google.
The gardens were originally laid out with a boardwalk path cutting diagonally across the area and a trellis at one end, in addition to other paths and a central open area. The borders closest to the paths were planted with smaller ornamental plants, allowing woodland to develop further back. Many of the plants were exotic. From the mid 1990s, management of the gardens reduced and they gradually became overgrown. Many of the ornamental plants were crowded out by encroaching woodland and weeds, although some have survived to this day. In the last few years, there has been some management and cutting back, led by the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers. Their efforts have led to a big improvement in the appearance of the gardens and the rediscovery of some plants thought to have been lost. Even so, the gardens are in need of regeneration and they become very overgrown in the summer months. The pictures below show the garden in spring sunshine in 2008 and again in early summer.
Click on an image below to see a larger version.
Here are some videos of the Walled Garden that I have put together. The two from 2011 are in support of the NatWest CommunityForce competition.
Old Sluice Gate Wheel and Other Signs of Use as a Reservoir
A remnant that gives a clue to its former use as a reservoir for the former factory, this old sluice gate control is in one corner of the Walled Garden. The third picture shows that it was manufactured by Glenfield & Kennedy Ltd of Kilmarnock, Scotland, a company that was well known for manufacturing water pumps and meters, hydrants and valves. A small number of old street hydrants still exist around Birchwood that were likely to have been served by water from this reservoir. I have not yet been able to confirm whether they were also made by the same company. A photo of one is included in the gallery below.
It is much easier to photograph the sluice gate handle in early spring before all the surrounding trees and shrubs are in full leaf.
In at least two locations around the perimeter wall are remains of old supports for water pipes from the former reservoir.
Perimeter Walls and Entrances
Originally built as part of the reservoir, the wall around the garden is of reinforced concrete faced with red brick. There are three entrances, each of which had to be cut into the wall. They are at the north end of the eastern side close to the footbridge over Oakwood Gate, at the north end of the western side opposite the lake by the path to Roberts Fold Subway, and at the western end of the southern side, close to the footbridge over Dewhurst Road. The earth around the outside of the walls is thought to date from ROF days. It might have made it more difficult to spot from the air, or it might have helped support the reservoir walls, perhaps both.
Public Campaigns, 2008-2009
There have been two public consultations on the future of the Walled Garden. The more recent took place during the summer of 2009 with a slightly broader perspective, looking at the rejuvenation of the Oakwood Gate area as a whole, with the Walled Garden as a major part of it. It was conducted jointly by Birchwood Town Council, Warrington Borough Council and The Birchwood Partnership. They are working together to establish whether there is a desire within the community to regenerate to Oakwood Gate Walled Garden as a community open space. The comments received are now being evaluated, in addition to those from the survey conducted during 2008. There is a desire to see the area retained and developed as a place for gentle recreation and recognising its historical value to Birchwood.
The photos above show the display in the large tent at the Birchwood Carnival in June 2008, thanks to the hard work of Esstta at The Birchwood Partnership.