Retro: Green city pioneers of allotments and parks

Lynne Traynor who runs the Herb Garden at Hardstoft, Near Chesterfield.'14th June 1994
Lynne Traynor who runs the Herb Garden at Hardstoft, Near Chesterfield.'14th June 1994
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Sheffield has always prided itself on being a green city and in this Retro A to Z of jobs we look at its green-fingered gardeners.

The city has more than 80 parks and 650 open spaces, many of which are looked after by gardeners working for the city council.

The Lord Mayor of Sheffield toured the city inspecting flowers for the Sheffield in Bloom season.  Picture shows the Lord Mayor, Coun Ian Saunders, with the Chief Executive, John Taylor, as they inspect blooms in Fargate - 22nd August 1994

The Lord Mayor of Sheffield toured the city inspecting flowers for the Sheffield in Bloom season. Picture shows the Lord Mayor, Coun Ian Saunders, with the Chief Executive, John Taylor, as they inspect blooms in Fargate - 22nd August 1994

The city’s Botanical Gardens, which is run by a trust, were created as a public open space for healthy recreation and education that was much needed in 1833 when Master Cutler Thomas Dunn called a meeting.

The Botanical Gardens website says that Joseph Paxton, the head gardener of Chatsworth and his colleague Joseph Harrison of Wortley Hall gave their advice.

The money was raised to buy 18 acres of south-facing farmland from the Sheffield snuff mill owners the Wilson family.

Robert Marnock, who was the gardener of Bretton Hall, Wakefield, which is now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, designed the gardens and became their first curator.

Martin Koss, Brodsworth Hall Head Gardener - 5th December 1994

Martin Koss, Brodsworth Hall Head Gardener - 5th December 1994

Joseph Paxton, who died 150 years ago, is well known as a pioneer of landscape gardening, designing parks, gardens, cemeteries and housing developments.

He also put his architectural and engineering skills to use in designing greenhouse technology, most notably the gigantic Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London in 1851.

That design, based on the Chatsworth lily house, got him knighted by Queen Victoria.

Three years later he became an MP, all while working for the duke and creating the Chatsworth gardens.

Sheffield Corporation recreation workers on the traffic island at Station Road, Mosborough, which is a blooming picture after their efforts to gain sponsorship for the planting of flowers - 25th August 1993

Sheffield Corporation recreation workers on the traffic island at Station Road, Mosborough, which is a blooming picture after their efforts to gain sponsorship for the planting of flowers - 25th August 1993

One of Joseph Paxton’s most impressive feats at Chatsworth was the Emperor Fountain, which needed a separate lake to be built above it to supply the water that can now rise to 60 metres or 200 feet.

He also designed the first British public park at Birkenhead in 1843, a prototype that was copied around the world.

A conference called PAXTON150: A History of Public Parks has been organised at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape on September 11-12 to celebrate Joseph Paxton’s legacy.

For details of the conference, go online to Landscape Events

According to research published by the British Agricultural History Society, Sheffield was ahead of its time in the 18th century in using agricultural land around the city as allotment gardens for workers to grow their own produce.

It’s possible that Sheffield was a pioneer of allotments.

They were rented from private landowners by workers such as “cutlers (mainly), button makers, miners, bricklayers, shoemakers, innkeepers, tailors, butchers etc, plus a few widows”, according to research by N Flavell published in 2003.

It sounds like this was a nice little earner for Earl Fitzwilliam and other small landowners, who could charge double the rate paid by professional gardeners on far larger plots.

Around 90 acres of Sheffield land was taken up by allotments in the 1780s, says Flavell.

By the end of that decade the area of Brightside near to the River Don also contained far larger market gardens.

As the city grew, the gardens were swallowed up for building land.

In 1925, the Sheffield Allotment and Leisure Garden Foundation was set up to revive the idea of allotments after World War One.

The society website (http://salgf.btck.co.uk/ says that the federation played a pioneering role in establishing allotments for the unemployed during the depression of the 1930s.

This idea was quickly adopted by the Government and became a national scheme.