Durham is a wonderful City for river walks. Being a small compact City it only takes literally minutes to be within peaceful countryside surroundings. Be they woodlands, open fields or small hilltops with great views. Head South out of the City on the River Wear, on the Eastern side, and within a mile you can find a historic garden, totally away from any hustle and bustle.
In fact this is just one of many great stops along a walk I will detail for you soon. Old Durham Gardens are really hidden away seemingly in the middle of the countryside, yet close enough from the Durham City, it was time to discover why and how! After all, this place has been here for over 350 years. In fact as soon as I entered I saw the Damson Trees that date back all the way to before 1650! There is plenty of history here.
It seems that those 350 years has seen the gardens and surroundings go through changes of much variety. In medieval times the area was owned by the local church St Nicholas’ and then passed onto Bishop Neville in 1443 as land for Kepier Hospital, a medieval hospital now known as Gilesgate with its own listed buildings to discover, with the Master of Kepier’s brother John Booth living here in a manor house. The Dissolution of the Monasteries came and 1545 the area was sold to John Heath I. Who did allow the Booths to lease the manor.
It is believed that sometime between 1630 and 1665, John Heath IV’s time, that the Old Durham Gardens were first laid down.
From the early 1700s the land and gardens passed through the Tempest family and then the second half of the Century the Thackray family, it is believed this is when the upper garden was enclosed. plus the planting of South Facing fruit Trees. outdoor musical concerts were known to happen here at this time too. I must admit the terrace down to the lower gardens even today looks mightily impressive.
Much changed over the next Century from the manor house being demolished, the gazeebo being built and some periods of abandonment.
By 1918 the gardens were actually sold to an ice-cream maker called Victor Mazzini Walton who developed into a public open space. It had tennis courts, bowling greens, a tea room and even a running track! after the Second World War the place became abandoned and went into a lot of ruin. Until bought by Durham Council in 1985. A huge operation was carried out over years to fix the terrace, do archaeological work and restore the walls, as well as re plant in the historical layout. A huge task. After this there was still the danger of falling back to ruin so Friends of Old Durham Gardens was formed to look after the area.
When staying in Durham I would say make sure you take the lovely River Walk to the Old Durham Gardens. It is like a secret garden hidden away full of wonder, history and intrigue. Much more than I thought before going and even on this cloudy day there were families enjoying a break from the City Centre to spend some quality time in the fresh air in this beautiful setting.
This was only one stop of many on the great river walks of Durham City. So much more to show… coming soon 🙂