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 idea for a public garden to be created each at Underhill and Tophill on Portland stems back to 1896, when the Councillor B. Comben proposed the idea to the Local Government Board. This resulted in a committee being established to consider the scheme. With Little Common having been selected for Underhill's Victoria Gardens, the Tophill site suggested at a Council meeting was a field adjoining the 1868 Volunteer Drill Hall at Easton Lane. However this site was soon selected by the government for quarrying Portland stone. Portland's Urban District Council attention largely focused on Underhill during the initial period as a result, with plans being created during 1897. However there were issues over proposals between the council and the Wood and Forests commissioners over the grant of the common land.
The garden schemes came to a halt for two years after the local authorities had their attention turned to the much needed installation of a piped water supply and new drainage scheme. However the project began moving again when the government passed the Commons Act in 1899, allowing the council to submit the scheme for Victoria Gardens to the Board of Agriculture. During October 1900, Councillor B. Comben became the chairman of the Recreation Grounds Committee. Once the scheme for Victoria Gardens had been approved in December 1901, further progress was made on Easton Gardens. It was decided during this time by the committee to transform the barren space of Easton Square into Tophill district's gardens. The site had been the location of the village's pond and water pump, which was no longer necessary after the piped water supply had been completed. While a sum of £1,800 from the local Ferry Bridge Fund was borrowed for the Victoria Gardens scheme, an application around the same time was made for a further £956 from the same fund to be put towards the Easton Gardens scheme.
While Victoria Gardens was being developed, the Local Government Board approved the scheme for Easton Square's transformation in August 1903. The engineer Mr R. S. Henshaw developed a plan of the proposed garden, and this was soon approved by the council. During November 1903, Mr F. J. Barnes began to enclose the gardens with a stone wall and iron fencing. Messrs Stewart & Sons, who had supplied the many shrubs for Victoria Gardens, were tasked with laying out the gardens at Easton. The work commenced on 14 January 1904. Messrs Hill & Smith supplied the bandstand, which was much used for weekly concerts, until it was removed in 1966. Within the enclosed gardens, ornamental lawns, flower beds and winding asphalted footpaths were laid out, with the ornate bandstand erected in the centre. The garden was designed with a path circling the entire outside of the gardens, forming an additional promenade.
The opening day of Victoria Gardens arrived on 25 May 1904, and was a success, with Mr Henry Sansom, Chairman of the Urban Council, opening the gardens. The council soon organised the official opening of Easton Gardens for 18 August 1904, where the ceremony was again performed by Sansom. The day was noted for its sunshine, and featured a large audience. At the time the transformation was described as: "The wilderness and the solitary place has been made to blossom like the rose." The gardens were also described as "exceptionally pretty and effective" and "superior in this respect to the Victoria Gardens". The overall scheme for Easton Gardens amounted to a cost of £1,307, while Victoria Gardens was considerably more at £2,339.
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 Sansom, who had opened the gardens a year before, made the suggestion of erecting a clock tower within the gardens, and in doing so he donated his Portland Fair money to begin the funding. Designed by R. Stevenson Henshaw, the clock was built by Wakeham Brothers by 1907, who had constructed the Portland Bill Lighthouse the year before. The Wakeham Whitbed stone used for the clock was worked by Mason Hibbs and Bower, and had been taken from Cottonfields Quarry. A ceremony in May 1907 unveiled the clock in front of a large crowd.
As a prominent feature in the square ever since, the clock tower has been Grade II Listed since May 1993. English Heritage's survey noted that the clock was a Jacobethan-styled structure with 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."
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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