Walled Garden History

When was it constructed?
We do not know the exact date but we think it will be about 1820. It was the fruit and vegetable garden for Meersbrook House (now known as Meersbrook Hall). The house was built in 1780 by Benjamin Roebuck, a private Sheffield Banker. It later became the residence of the Shore family, who also owned Norton Hall.

Why were walled gardens set up?
The owners of grand houses regularly entertained other privileged people and having good meals was an important part of the hospitality. Although meat and basic vegetables were available in Sheffield at the time, the choice was limited and the garden provided a wide range of fruit, flowers and vegetables. This was a modest set up compared with the houses like Chatsworth where exotic fruit like pineapples, oranges and lemons were grown. Visitors to the House were probably shown round this garden as one of the entertainments they provided. Food may have been stored on this site and the crops grown here we think included a range of vegetables as well as apples, plums, grapes and peaches.

Why did walled gardens have walls?
These were very expensive to build and also needed maintenance, so they were regarded as being essential to this form of horticulture. The high cost of building these walls is shown by the estimate Meersbrook Park Users Trust got on the cost of renovating them, up to £500,000. The advantages of having a walled garden were probably that they helped to keep the garden warmer, it kept out pests and made them a prestigious feature of the grand houses.

Did walled gardens have greenhouses and heating?
The garden has traces of three generations of heating systems. As the technology developed different systems were developed to make the best use of solar heating, the use of solid fuel and finally oil. The current classroom and tool room were built as greenhouses, probably for grapes, in the 1820s.

Who would have worked in the garden?
We have no record of the staffing of the garden but it will probably have included a Head Gardener, gardeners that had served apprenticeships, apprentice gardeners and garden boys. Horticulture was a traditionally male occupation. At Meersbrook, the garden staff would probably have also been used to maintain the estate.

What was the original layout of this garden?
The walls of the garden would have been used for growing fruit trees and you can still see the numerous holes left by the nails uses to support the trees. The classroom and tool room were built at about the same time as the walls.

Was gardening different when this garden was built 200 years ago?
Much of the horticulture practiced 200 years ago is still practiced today and many of the techniques used now were brought to the UK by the Romans.

What happened to the garden when the Council bought it in 1885?
The Council found that the walled garden was well stocked with fruit and vegetables, which they distributed to local hospitals. The garden changed from growing food plants to producing bedding plants and bushes for the city’s parks. In 1975, it became a training centre for the Councils’ park gardeners and a number of the older staff were trained here on City & Guilds courses. In the 1990s, this role came to an end due to a government decision that local authorities should outsource many of their services to the commercial sector.

When was this walled garden taken over by volunteers from the local community?
Meersbrook Park Users Trust, with Heeley City Farm, were given a licence to run the site in 1999. The contract requires Meersbrook Park Users Trust to maintain the garden well and to regularly open it to the public.

How many hours work a year are needed to maintain the garden?
It is difficult to give an exact number of hours, but we estimate it to be 3,000. Currently we have 30 gardening volunteers as well as other volunteers who serve as company directors of Meersbrook Park Users Trust.

Why is there a museum in the garden?
There were a number of old and interesting tools on the site when we took it on so we added to this collection as a reminder of the generations of gardeners who had worked here. Most of them will have been born & lived in Heeley/Meersbrook.

Why is there a Japanese Garden on the site?
In 2006 a Japanese gardener Naho Tanaka joined the volunteer team and she developed the first stage of this garden. Some of the trees that had been previously planted by the Council were Japanese species and others fitted in well with the plan. We have also had help from a number of Japanese people living in Sheffield.

What is a hot wall?
There are two hot walls in the garden, one in the old greenhouse building and the other is the long wall on the lower side. These were warmed by fireplaces in the walls, which had flues that snaked up the wall. They were used in Spring and Autumn and may have kept burning all night when it was cold. Stoking the fires was probably the job of the garden boys.

The small entrance to the garden below the main gate
This will have been used by the Head Gardner and by the House’s chief cook. The tradition of the time was that other staff were not allowed to use this door and the staff were probably not allowed to be seen on the main lawn by the house. In most grand houses the domestic staff were expected to keep out of site of the owners and their visitors.

More information wanted
Most of the above information has come from records of other walled gardens of the era but we would love to hear from anyone who knows anything about this site or has actually worked here.

History of the rest of the Park
People interested in local history can find out more about Meesbrook House, Bishops House, the Bowling Club, the Shore/Roebuck family and estate, the Pavilion, the Blythe water mill on the Meersbrook estate and the Tannery Pond.