Budding Archaeologists work on lost Heritage Garden

Budding Archaeologists work on lost Heritage Garden

York Archaeological Trust’s Sheffield office, ArcHeritage, have recently helped children from Broomhill Infant School uncover an important heritage garden behind their local library.

The garden was originally installed by top designer Percy Cane in the late 1920s, when the house was a private home for steel magnate Arthur Samuel Lee and his family. Cane is famous for his work at Dartington Hall in Devon, as well as for producing gardens for elite clients such as the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

The garden was still in good shape when the Council took over the building to create a branch library in 1957, and retained its fashionable sunken terrace, water features, and large pergola. But the Yorkstone paving installed by Cane was stolen in 2003 and after that the garden gradually became little more than a wilderness, home to badgers and the occasional person sleeping rough.

Armed with trowels for digging and toothbrushes to clean up anything they found, the 6- and 7-year-olds spent a day helping dig out the garden’s central fountain, discovering pieces of Victorian pottery and old clay pipe along the way.

It is part of a bigger project to expand the library into a ‘community hub’ for Broomhill and its neighbouring wards, with the unused basement and attic offering the opportunity for an integrated cafe, rentable space and play area for children.

Members of the Broomhill Community Library group – which took over the running of the facility from the council in 2014 following cuts to the libraries’ budget – have been working for 2 years to clear the mass of self-sown trees, bramble and ivy that had taken over the rear garden.

Kathy Harbord, who runs the library’s group of garden volunteers, said “We thought all signs of the heritage garden had been lost. But as we started to clear away years of neglect, we found the odd step and paving stone, and began to wonder if there was more to be uncovered.”

Broomhill Infant headteacher Catherine Timbers said “Our children have had such a special experience. Quite a few parents came to me the next day and commented that their children had talked about being an archaeologist. Who knows, maybe one day they might be? We are looking forward to being involved in more digging at the library.”

Garden historian for the library Jill Sinclair said; “Before this, we only had a handful of old photographs and some people’s memories of what the garden was once like. Now we can see more of the bones of the design than we’d dared hope. Steps, paths and other features are starting to emerge from the undergrowth. It really does feel as if the garden Percy Cane designed is coming back to life.”

Neighbourhood forum BBEST – Broomhill, Broomfield, Endcliffe, Summerfield and Tapton – is also supporting the work, as a blueprint for the type of community development that local people want to see.

Visitors can tour the library garden and learn more about its history as part of the Broomhill Festival next month, and in a series of events this autumn called ’60 Years a Library’ which will celebrate the site’s diamond jubilee. To find out more, visit the website http://www.broomhill-library.org.uk.

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