SP3166 : The Dell from the south, spring 2012

near to Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, Great Britain

The Dell from the south, spring 2012
The Dell from the south, spring 2012
The view from Warwick Place on a spring morning. Not long to go until the Opening party to celebrate the completion of the lottery-funded improvements. The equipment is in; the flowers are coming into bloom.
The Dell, Royal Leamington Spa
The Dell is a small public open space below street level in the Leamington suburb of Milverton. It is bounded by Warwick Terrace, Beauchamp Hill, the rear of Albany Terrace and Warwick Street/Warwick Place, opposite the venerable Star and Garter public house.

It was originally a steep-sided brook valley through farmland. Before the development of Leamington’s New Town north of the River Leam the guide books for visitors to the spa promoted it as “a fine romantic dell”. The back road to Warwick, a muddy track, crossed the brook by a rustic bridge until in 1821 the landowners Edward Willes and Bertie Greatheed built a stone bridge across the ravine to carry a new toll-free road to Warwick that would stimulate speculative house-building. A wealthy incomer, Thomas Comber Raybould, had a villa built for himself (cost £6,000 in 1827) and soon acquired the land that would extend his grounds to take in the brook.

In those days sewage and waste of all kinds found its way into the nearest watercourse. By the 1840s the brook was an open sewer and of great concern to campaigners who were petitioning for improvements to public health. Panicked by the advance of cholera the local commissioners had the brook culverted in 1849. Too little, too late, although a positive outcome was the application of the new Public Health Act to Leamington and its suburbs. But the character of the dell had been irreversibly altered by the culverting.

Tom Raybould died in 1849. His widow later moved away and let the house. After she died it changed hands twice, houses were built on some of the grounds, leaving the area of the present Dell as a detached private garden and a small orchard. It’s possible that soil excavated for house foundations was tipped and spread in the Dell to raise the level. The owners grew old and died while the dell reverted to nature: “Just so wild and the gate kept locked”. Two further owners let it become an unofficial open space but the Corporation ignored repeated requests by local people to acquire it. Roland Salt, the next owner, a councillor and Rotary Club member, secured planning approval to build over the entire site. Only the outbreak of war in 1939 saved the Dell; Salt sold it on at a profit but the approved cinema, conference hall, shops and underground car park never materialised. The Dell once again became a disreputable jungle in the heart of this charming Regency suburb.

Towards the end of the war public sentiment demanded a better quality of life for the homecoming troops. The corporation persuaded the owner to give the Dell to the town as a public garden. Intensive work transformed it into a formal arrangement of flowerbeds, grass and paths. “Dedicated as an open space for ever” it was opened on 12th May 1948.

By the late 1960s the town centre, the iconic Parade, was afflicted with traffic congestion. The Borough Engineer, Mr Druitt, took his cue from Professor Buchanan’s ‘Traffic in Towns’ report and proposed traffic management measures together with a dual carriageway relief road west of the town centre, the North-South Link Road. It would vaporise the Dell and other cherished spots. Protests welled up against this and other developments proposed by an arrogant council, delaying their plans as the compulsory purchase bill mounted. Meanwhile a regional planning exercise came down against the scheme in the light of the bigger roads picture and affirmed the intent of the conservation area that had been created under the new Civic Amenities Act. Besides, the county roads budget was mainly going on links to motorways.

After reorganisation a new council took over but budgets were cut. Parks and public open spaces everywhere went into decline as the standard and frequency of maintenance was reduced. The Dell once again acquired an undesirable reputation but a local resident, Pearl Braddock, determined to reverse the decline, raised funds, formed the Friends of the Dell, and lobbied the council for improvements. She couldn’t be resisted. New play equipment was installed. In 1998 the Friends celebrated the Dell’s 50th birthday with a community party in the Dell on a glorious Sunday in May.

Since then the Friends have secured further improvements with a lottery grant, supported by the council and the all-female volunteers of GALS (Gardening Around Leamington Spa). The party is a much-enjoyed annual event.
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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2012
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SP3166, 320 images   (more nearby)
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Geograph
Date Taken
Sunday, 22 April, 2012   (more nearby)
Submitted
Wednesday, 26 September, 2012
Geographical Context
Lowlands  Park and Public Gardens  Suburb, Urban fringe 
Place (from Tags)
Royal Leamington Spa  Milverton 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SP 3129 6614 [10m precision]
WGS84: 52:17.5504N 1:32.5591W
Photographer Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SP 3129 6607
View Direction
NORTH (about 0 degrees)
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Play Space  The Dell 

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