Thursday, 28 May 2015

Urban Green Spaces - Jephson Gardens, Royal Leamington Spa

On our strolls around town and city centres we often come across little gardens and green communal spaces. Sometimes these are just a strip of grass with a children's playarea in it. Other times they have a selection of flowers and trees and are usually maintained through a local community project. Just occasionally we chance upon something much bigger and grander and on a visit to Royal Leamington Spa we found Jephson Gardens.
The salty waters of Leamington Priors attracted wealthy people in the early 19th century with visitors coming from afar to test its reputed healing properties. In 1838 Queen Victoria showed her approval of the town by giving it the suffix of 'Royal' and it was renamed Royal Leamington Spa. Among the professional people who settled in Royal Leamington Spa was Dr Henry Jephson.
Originally from Nottinghamshire Jephson went through apprenticeships and medical training to become a fully qualified physician. Once settled in Leamington he became known for his treatments and his client list contained some of the period's richest and most influential figures. With his vast earnings he built a 20 bedroom house known as Beech Lawn. However Jephson also dedicated a proportion of his time and money to the poor of the town. For two hours each morning he treated the poor people of Leamington and any money he earned on a Sunday was then distributed amongst his poor patients. He also donated to many other causes and schemes to improve Leamington and the lives of individuals in the town.
Many of his treatments were ahead of their time. Jephson was an advocate of drinking water (naturally the fine spa waters), eating vegetables and taking walks. Such was his impact on Leamington that in 1846 it was decided that the local gardens opposite the Spa Pump House should be renamed The Jephson Gardens in honour of Dr Jephson's work. Three years later another tribute to Jephson was added to the gardens in the form of a Corinthian-style temple with a large marble statue of Jephson contained within it. Sadly for Jephson his exhausting work caught up with him and by 1848 with his sight completely gone Dr Jephson was forced to retire from medical work at the age of 50.
Over the next hundred years more work was done on the gardens and further memorials to notable persons added. However the start of the Second World War began to see the decline of the gardens. The tennis courts were dug up as part of the Dig for Victory campaign in order to grow vegetables. After the end of the War the responsibility for the gardens fell to the local council rather than the combined efforts of local individuals. By the 1990s the state of the gardens was such that local residents had started to complain. With it location along the side of the River Leam the gardens were also flooded during the Easter Floods of 1998. By 1999 however the future looked brighter when Warwick District Council were able to secure a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3 million in order to restore the gardens.
One of the main features of the four year restoration was the building of the new Glasshouse. Previously on this site was the nursery where all the bedding plants and flowers for the gardens were grown. The nursery had already closed in 1994 and the site was no longer used. Along with an indoor classroom and studio the main feature of the Glasshouse is the subtropical and temperate plant zone.
The collection of plants housed in the Glasshouse come from round the world. They have been picked to show plant evolution from around 500 million years ago to the present day. Many of the plants have been chosen for their medicinal properties, use as edible fruits or natural flavouring and for their uses in crafts such as basketry and woodwork.
Today Jephson Gardens is thriving with well maintained facilities and ever changing displays of seasonal municipal planting. There are more plans for this summer with the opening of the Sensory Garden and the completion of the East Lodge Garden project which started as a display at the 2014 RHS Chelsea Garden Show. I'm sure Dr Henry Jephson would have been proud of his lasting legacy.

How Does Your Garden Grow? Mammasaurus


  1. Such a lovely place with vibrant colors everywhere! I love the last photo. Carpets of whites is just the prettiest =)

  2. What a lovely legacy to leave and what a generous sounding gentleman, if only there was more of that sense of selflessness and community these days.
    The glasshouse looks stunning, so nice to get funding and keep Jephsons legacy alive.
    Thanks for joining in Jibbery Jabbery one, fascinating as ever x

  3. I like coming across green spaces in cities as they are often few and far between. The Glasshouse looks like a really impressive structure. I think Jephson would be proud too :)

  4. What a great story behind the gardens and such beautiful gardens. I love that with the connection with jephson and growing vegetables in world war 2 that this garden seems so nourishing.

  5. How interesting and I'm glad they restored it and built the glasshouse - one of my favourite places to explore. A vegetable plot instead of a tennis court sounds good to me :)

  6. This was so interesting to read, thank you for sharing! Gorgeous photos of the gardens, and the Glasshouse is beautiful x

  7. the glasshouse looks fantastic and I'm sure it keeps the visitors coming even when it's raining, it's great to bring the outdoors in

  8. I could sit and watch/listen to fountains for ages - so soothing and lovely to see them in full flow :) #hdygg


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