Report by Sandra Millsopp
There was a change of venue for the final meeting of Bangor Historical Society’s 2010-2011 season. A large crowd gathered in Bangor Library for the AGM and Bangor Night talk. The chairman, Bob McKinley and the Secretary Paul McKay presented their reports, while Ellen Elder dealt with the report of the treasurer Barbara Minnis in the latter’s absence.
Daphne Hamill presided over the elections of the officers and committee for the incoming season. Existing officers were re-elected. Bill MacDonald retired as Vice-chairman. Bob McKinley placed on record the society’s grateful thanks for his valuable contribution. Sandra Millsopp becomes Vice-chairman, while two new members were added to the committee – Ronnie McClements and Adrianne Brown. The chairman thanked Linda Patterson and her team who provided the tea and biscuits at every meeting. Finally he reminded members about the outing in May.
The main part of the evening was devoted to a fascinating talk on the walled garden in Castle Park by Ian Beaney, the grounds maintenance manager for North Down Borough Council. We were shown Castle Park on an Ordnance Survey Map of the 1850s and Mr. Beaney stressed that it was very unusual to have such a large town centre park. The map showed the walled garden and the adjacent farmyard. The larger part of the garden was laid out in a cross plan which has been used in the recent refurbishment.
We were shown some old photographs of the garden and Mr. Beaney pointed out some of the features still to be found today such as the archway. He also said that there were few early photographs of the area.
More recent photographs showed the garden before redevelopment took place and it was covered in grass and trees. The future of the walled garden arose, when the council decided to build a large new leisure centre nearby. Part of the garden had been a nursery for bedding plants for the town’s flower beds, but this was no longer economically viable and the area had become derelict. The council agreed to spend £1.2 million on restoring the area as a Victorian walled garden of a type which would have produced fruit, flowers and vegetables for the castle.
The first task was to clear the site of the trees, ivy etc. A ruined tram was found beneath the undergrowth. The original path layout of the 1850s was discovered as was some of the old drainage. A new design was commissioned for the garden with cross layout and four sections: a vegetable garden, a herb and topiary garden, a flower garden and a swamp or damp garden.
Work began in January 2008 with a target time of nine months to opening day. £120,000 was spent on repointing the original brick walls which surrounded the garden. Machinery was brought in to clear the site, but the soil became damp and created problems. When the original paths were uncovered they were used as the foundations of the new ones. Some of the tree stumps were retained to act as a feature in the damp garden. Service pipes for electricity, water etc were placed beneath the garden and it is hoped it will not be necessary to dig it up again.
New glasshouses were erected. It was not clear whether the originals were for vines or peaches but no animal remains were found in the soil as would have been the case with vine growing. It was not easy to restock the garden with Victorian varieties as it was difficult to get them and they did not have sufficient resistance to disease. Modern varieties had to be used. Early in June 2008 the gardeners encountered a major problem – mare’s tails. Work could not proceed and steps had to be taken to eradicate this weed. Chemicals were used, but it meant the opening of the garden had to be delayed until May 2009.
The garden contains some sculpture. In the centre is a fountain with a bowl in the shape of a flax flower. It is called a twister twisting and has a tongue twister carved in the surrounding base. The water rising up from the fountain twists, but this is only visible in photographs as it happens so rapidly. There is also another sculpture close to the archway in the wall which includes local themes such as the Bangor Bell.
Old varieties of vegetables are grown in part of the garden using organic methods. These are being sold to the public. The garden was finally opened in May 2009. It has won a prize from the Royal Horticultural Society. A group called the Friends of the Walled Garden was set up and members come to give some help. It was originally thought that the garden would appeal most to more mature people, but children are among the biggest users. Groups of children are taught about gardening and encouraged to plant seeds and take part in other related activities.
Plans for the future include changing the plants of the herbaceous borders so that they are more colourful. It is hoped to develop the northern garden to include a coffee shop, picnic area and space for a marquee. The garden will be open for the 2011 season from Easter. Sandra Millsopp proposed a vote of thanks to the speaker for a fascinating talk.
The chairman then recorded the society’s thanks to Catherine Morrow of the Northern Ireland library service and Stephen Hanson of Bangor library for the opportunity to hold the meeting there. He also paid tribute to two distinguished society members who had passed away: Jackson McCormick who had recorded the society’s meetings and outings so well for publication in the Spectator and Jimmy Stark, a former treasurer, local councillor and winner of the DFC during the Second World War. The opening meeting of the new season will be held on 8th September.
The evening concluded with a short talk by Stephen Hanson on the Bangor Carnegie Library. The original library was built over 100 years ago with a grant from the Carnegie Trust. This was set up by Andrew Carnegie, the multi- millionaire steel magnate, who had emigrated from Scotland to the USA. He was self-educated and realised the importance of libraries. His trust endowed 300 in Ireland alone. Others were built in USA, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the UK. They had to be designed by a local architect and to have steps and a light outside. The steps were to raise the building above the everyday. The lights are no longer at the Bangor library, but over 100 years ago they would have been unusual and a significant feature. The grant for Bangor library was £1,250. The local council wanted to combine it with a technical school, but had to modify their plans in order to make sure they got the grant. During the Second World War the building was designated an emergency mortuary as well as being used for firewatching and as a dispersal centre. People blitzed out of Belfast spent their first night there when they came to Bangor.
The rear part of the original building was demolished in order to make way for the recent transformation of the library at a cost of £3 million. When the original library was built the population of the town was about 6,000: now it is about 70,000 and the library is ten times the original size. The very successful evening concluded with the opportunity to take a short tour of the new building with Stephen Hanson.