We often get links and pieces sent to us via our site and we appreciate every single one of them. They all add to our archives and enrich our living history.
Such was the case last week when this wonderful piece popped up in my mails, though sadly no e-mail address with it to thank the sender.
Below is what I received as it was written. I have added a couple of photos for those who are too young to remember it as it was or maybe like myself need something to jogs zee leettle grey cells as Poirot was fond of reciting.
‘William Craven & The Palm House
(Part of the original Palm house, now a cafe and playhouse, seen here during the 2012 floods;)
The ‘Palm House’ as it is now seen was the creation of William Craven, Parks Superintendant from 1921 until his retirement in 1933.
Originally from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, he was employed as a gardener, and in 1894, at the age of 24, married Elizabeth Pears. The 1901 Census returns show that they had moved to Dorset and were living at Childe Okeford, William working as a Domestic Gardener.
By 1911 they had moved again, the Census showing their address as ‘The Gardens’, Moreton. Originally part of the Frampton Estate, Moreton Gardens was a private 3 acre walled landscaped garden with a variety of plant environments, stream-fed ponds and large lawn spaces, styled on the original Georgian and subsequent Victorian designs with long borders, formal gardens, wetland features and woodland. Clearly a considerable responsibility which is indicative of his capabilities as a gardener.
In 1921 the family moved to Weymouth, and William was employed as Departmental Superintendent with responsibility for laying out and extending all of the of the parks and gardens in the borough.
His great opportunity came with the reclaiming of land between Commercial Road and the Swannery on the line of Radipole Park Drive. He laid out ‘Melcombe Regis Gardens’ on this newly reclaimed land, was responsible for the many stunning displays of colour in the flower beds and rose walks; the gardens included a putting green, children’s play area,
tennis courts and a bowling green.
Most of his work has now disappeared, but his lasting legacy is the municipal hot houses, in which were grown bananas, lemons and oranges; these are now known as the ‘Palm House’.
As a mark of his abilities and achievements, in 1932 he was made An Associate of Honour of the Royal Horticultural Society. He had also been generous with his knowledge and willingly gave help and advice to amateur gardeners who sought him out. In addition he had a considerable reputation as a water diviner and also claimed to be able to detect treasure; unsuccessfully!
His wife Elizabeth, a midwife, established a local reputation for herself with her swimming activities and was considered something of an eccentric.
She went swimming every day of the year from Weymouth Beach, even if it was snowing, and continued to do for most of the rest of her life; her last swim in the sea was in 1959 at the age of 84. But what really captured the public imagination was her stated ambition in 1925 to swim the English Channel, an ambition never fulfilled. With the thwarting of her ambitions, Elizabeth turned in another direction, and in 1926 the Town Council gave her permission to rent out between 12 and 20 inflatable hobby-horses from the sands and to have a tent on the beach. The success of this venture is not clear, but it appears to have gone on for some years and on his retirement in 1933 William took over the running of the enterprise.
In 1942, at the age of 67, Elizabeth finally retired, and she and William set up home in Stoke Road, Wyke Regis, William dying in 1946 at the age of 77.
Greg Schofield/February 2019
I’d just like to say a very big thank you to Weymouth historian Greg Schofield for sharing his family story with us (hope you don’t mind I did come across a couple of photos to go with it)
Do you have any family stories to tell of Radipole park and gardens built in the 1920/30’s? Did you play there as a child, or better still, remember the playpark in wartime when it was occupied by the Southern Command then the US troops. We’d love to hear them.
You can contact us via this website or at firstname.lastname@example.org