Chiswell Walled Garden

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Chiswell Walled Garden

Chiswell Walled Garden is a community walled garden, located on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is found in the village of Chiswell, close to Chesil Beach, within the remaining ruins of an old Jacobean house. The garden was made during the period 2001 to 2006 by the Chiswell Community Trust, with funding from Countryside Agency under their Doorstep Green Initiative. It is maintained by volunteer members of the Trust and is open to the public.[1]

Also managed by the Chiswell Community Trust is Chiswell Earthworks, located at the end of the promenade sea wall, towards West Weares, and at the end of Chesil Beach.


Chiswell Walled Garden

In 2001, the Countryside Agency launched their Doorstep Green Initiative which was a follow-on to a similar programme - Millennium Greens. However the new programme was different from the Millennium Greens programme, by being more accessible to grass-roots community groups. It also did not require the Green to be owned by the group in perpetuity. In the South West region, a total of 25 Doorstep Green projects were commissioned, including the Chiswell Walled Garden. With the aid of generous project funding and personal help offered by the Doorstep Green Advisors, the project also included funding from The Local Heritage Initiative, Living Spaces, Awards for All and Breathing Places, whilst gifts were received from South West Regional Development Agency, Batten's Solicitors, the NCCPG and many of the project volunteers who laboured on the site. [2]

In 2001, the old village common, which was once a large greenfield site, received permission to go to a housing corporation for development. As a result of the reaction from local residents in Chiswell, a group of residents asked the Doorstep Green advisors to help find another site in the village which would be suitable as a green space. Two Bristol advisors encouraged the group to apply to the Weymouth & Portland Borough Council for a long lease on a derelict walled compound near the beach. In 2003, local people of Portland formed a Trust, and with the help of the Countryside Agency, the Chiswell Community Trust acquired the derelict site to use for their Green site. The chosen land was due to become municipal housing. The land and building ruins featured an Air-raid warden's shelter from the second world war, a 1960's concrete plinth where the Council used the site as a yard to store sand-bags for use against sea flooding, and the remains of 1960's public lavatories whilst various walls remaining were of a 17th Century Jacobean house built of Portland ashlar with mullioned windows and a shingle roof. To the south the house may have had a walled garden or potager, or there may have been a stone-working yard. The owner was possibly a master mason, a quarry-owner, or a master mariner who was wealthy enough to erect a house of quality. The house on the site was demolished for the widening of the main road after damages from flooding (caused by the great storms of 1824). The local authority were bemused by the choosing of the site, described as "a dark gloomy place" and "hardly the site for a Green".[3]

Following the local boatyard clearing their lumber off the site, and found within the air-raid shelter and other remains were several alternating layers of concrete and tarmacadam, which were well built of Portland stone. The removal of all concrete began in September 2004, and soon the 380 square metres of walling had been repaired and re-pointed with lime mortar. The South West Regional Development Agency donated a substantial amount of new Portland stone paving to the courtyard area. A small wattle and daub garden shed was built close to the site in order to house electricity and water, which allowed locals to be able to hold community events, exhibitions and parties. The two metre square building was constructed of locally grown timber, hazel hurdles and mud. The building supports a 'living roof', a gravel garden, where beach plants are expected to grow, particularly Sea Campion (Silene uniflora). The shed, (built as a storage room and tea room), was constructed by the community in the Autumn of 2006, and funded by a lottery grant. It was made in the manner of 16th century wattle and daub buildings. The supporting timbers are Douglas fir from Bulbarrow; the wattle infills are of hazel from managed Dorset woodlands; mud from the garden's raised beds was applied with the help of local children and teenagers; and the final two coats of lime render by members of the Chiswell Community Trust. Every spring the carbon neutral building is freshly painted with a tinted limewash. The building became known as The Bat House when a pipistrelle bat was found roosting on an inside wall in November 2006.

During this time, research had revealed that there had been two fine stone houses on the site, which were dated to the early 17th Century. As a result, the volunteers dug up the rubble to find stone hearths, stone paving, stone drains and the other smaller treasures, sherds of glass, pottery and clay pipes. After the research discovery, certain members of the Trust came into conflict with the local authority who insisted on partial demolition of the historic wall. Although the Trust believed it to be an unreasonable demand, the planning authority was inflexible and the negotiations protracted. Eventually, to avoid losing the Green site, the management committee had to capitulate, and to further fund the project another grant was applied for and awarded, from the Local Heritage Initiative. The fund allowed restoration of the walls, and historical information to be placed on site. For the centre of the garden, volunteers carefully excavated the council-laid compacted soil, which revealed a large area of Portland stone paving from what appeared to be a third cottage. As a result, some of the crafted paving stones were relocated to form a path, whilst tons of gravel, pebbles and oyster shells were been spread either side of the stone walkway so that shingle ridge plants could colonise the area and provide a wild life garden, funded by a Breathing Places Lottery grant. Small birds have also used the site for roosting.[3]

At the southern end of the garden, a raised bed was formed from ashlars found on site. The bed is about a metre high and intersected by gravel paths. As Chiswell is built on shingle, and in order to grow trees and shrubs, tons of soil had to be imported to the raised beds. In December 2005, a local infant school supplied the new soil with worms bought on the internet, and an agreement was made for the creative teachers to help the pupils monitor the new garden for the next three years. A Doorstep Green sign in the village dedicates a Shakespeare line to the memory of the 28 people who died in the Great Storm which swept over the Chesil Beach in 1824, destroying more than 100 houses and causing a long slow decay to the community. The community also built a small tearoom made of the same lime mortar with which the four metre stone walls have been repaired.[4] The site was completed and the project came to an end in December 2006.[3]

The project was reported to be one of the smallest and most difficult of the South West's community greens.[2] Although one of the smallest Doorstep Greens in the South West (at less than half an acre), the site remained precious to the local community which has no community centre and no real stake in the regeneration process.[3]

Since completion, the Chiswell Community Trust have received a Green Pennant award for both the nearby Chiswell Earthworks and the Walled Garden – an award for the best community-run parks in the country. Judges had considered that both sites stood out and were impressed by the excellent facilities and well-managed green spaces, signs, amenities and dedication of local people. Upon receiving a second Green Pennant award, the walled garden was featured on ITV's Growing Places with presenter Bob Crampton.[5]


  1. ^ "Chiswell Walled Garden:: OS grid SY6873 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland - photograph every grid square!". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Chiswell Walled Garden". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Completing the Garden". Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Weymouth and Portland green gardens fly the flag (From Dorset Echo)". 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 

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Coordinates: 50°33′41″N 2°26′55″W / 50.5614°N 2.4485°W / 50.5614; -2.4485