Easton Gardens is a public garden, located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is found within the centre of the Easton village, at Easton Square. The gardens have remained a popular focal point for local residents for over 100 years, and have been awarded the Green Flag Award.
The open area where the gardens were later laid was originally barren land at Easton Square. With the government works of the breakwaters of Portland Harbour, and the associated military defences, Portland had seen major changes and a great increase in population. After a much-needed piped water supply was laid in 1901, along with drainage, a scheme was suggested in 1902 to turn two open land sites into public gardens. Both Underhill and Tophill communities were to have a separate garden - one at Little Common (Underhill) and the other at Easton Square (Tophill). The scheme for the gardens were sanctioned in 1903 and on 14 January 1904, work commenced on designing them. The council engineer Ernest Elford was appointed to develop designs for both gardens, which were to feature the contemporary Edwardian style. The centre of Easton Square was successfully converted into a public garden, and like its associate Victoria Gardens, an elaborate bandstand was erected within the centre of the gardens. Through the first half of the 20th century, and into the 1960s, weekly band concerts were performed at these bandstands. The council chairman, Henry Sansom, performed two separate ceremonies for the gardens, where he formally opened Easton Gardens in August 1904, with Victoria Gardens having already been opened earlier in May.
The garden's official opening in 1904 featured women wearing formal clothing, and the overall event featured music, public teas and fireworks. In Stuart Morris' 1990 book Portland Camera, he spoke of the garden's opening, stating "After the opening of the gardens the square was transformed into a palace of light and movement. A thousand fairy lights glimmered from among the shrubs; the crowds swayed to and fro, and children rolled on the lawns while their elders laughed and joked."
On 30 June 1940, the gardens were used to host an al fresco service by the Salvation Army. The event was suddenly disturbed when German bombers arrived to attack Portland's naval base. However only one bomb had a successful hit on land, and this was close to a set of wooden cafes near Chesil Cove. This particular bomb did not explode, and may have been the first World War II bomb to fall on England.
The bandstand within the garden survived until 1966 when it was removed. Up to that point band concerts were still performed on occasion in the gardens, as well as at Victoria Gardens, Portland Bill and West Weares.
In 2004, the gardens celebrated their 100th anniversary, where locals donned costumes of the period to celebrate. In recent years, Easton Gardens has been recognised as one of the best green spaces in the country by being awarded Green Flag status based on how safe, clean, accessible, well managed and welcoming they are. The Green Flag Award scheme is the national standard for parks and green spaces across England and Wales.
In late 2013 Weymouth and Portland Borough Council proposed cuts to the parks budget in Weymouth and Portland, which would save almost £150,000 over the next two years, could lead to the closure of Portland's two public gardens. A budget working group examining areas to save money found that a further £74,000 would be saved in 2015/16 by exploring the return of maintenance for Victoria and Easton Gardens to the Crown Estate agents and/or community groups. This led to demands that the gardens be kept open and that a budget for the maintenance of the gardens is maintained. None of Weymouth's public gardens were selected for budget cuts. The concern was based upon community impacts of the loss of the gardens, and also that the Crown Estate, who own both community spaces, could decide to do something else with the land if it was not looked after.
In 1905 Henry Samsom, who had opened the gardens a year before, donated his Portland Fair money to begin a fund for a clock tower to be erected within the gardens. The designer R. Stevenson Henshaw created plans for the clock to have illuminated faces on all four sides. The chosen builders were Wakeham Brothers, who had not long finished the construction of the Portland Bill Lighthouse the year before in 1906. As a prominent feature in the square to date, the Jacobethan styled structure has Gothic details. It has hammer-dressed stone blocks with ashlar dressings and chamfered corners to tower with battered plinth; cornice to open-pedimented clock faces with finials to cornice and lucarnes to the spire. The stone used for the clock was worked by Mason Hibbs and Bower, from the best Wakeham Whitbed, taken from Cottonfields Quarry. When the clock was unveiled at a ceremony in May 1907, Henshaw sang a solo. The clock tower has been Grade II Listed since May 1993.
Easton Gardens largely feature grassed and formal bedding areas, as well as holding mature trees. A children's play area is located in the gardens suitable for children aged between 5 and 10 years old, whilst a basketball court is located nearby, along with picnic tables and seating. There are also recently refurbished public and disabled toilet facilities within the gardens.
Easton Gardens once had a bowling green and a hard tennis court. These were open to the public at reasonable charges, and were still active during the late 1950s.
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