On this Day 26th May 1916

A Garden for the Empire; a Garden for the Future

Here is Empire Day come round again. Rarely has a community – a nation – been in greater need of celebratory diversion - for this is 1916, and who knows what lies ahead? But today’s ceremony will be unpublicised, at the insistence of Richard Foster Bolitho of Ponsandane, who has agreed to take part but made it clear that he hates a fuss. And so, apart from the necessary dignitaries, only a few passers-by will witness the opening of two seafront gardens - one of which, despite all that storm and tide can do, will remain a place of public enjoyment 100 years later. The other garden? Not so lucky.

Firstly, attention is focussed on the new Italianate (Bedford Bolitho) Gardens, on the site of the old Serpentine Works. And here is ‘Mrs Bolitho’ – probably the widow of site donor Thomas Bedford Bolitho, of Trewidden – to do the honours: although she seems to have been even more reticent than her relative from Ponsandane. Mrs Bolitho has arrived by motor car, and perhaps this garden has the edge over its counterpart in terms of dash. She opens the gates – designed by Alec Forbes, who is the only son of Stanhope Forbes and will not survive the war - with a silver key.

Penzance Italianate Gardens, all that remains is the boundary wall, photo Linda CamidgeAs a nod to the former use of the site, the gateway has been paved with polished serpentine. Although the seas will threaten, the designers have trusted that they will be merciful. “Age”, predicts the Cornishman, “ instead of crumbling and destroying will only give it an added beauty”. There are “little arched bridges”, a “castellated wall” along the road (the remains of which can still be seen), and 115 granite steps. Inside there are arbours and terraces, with plenty of seating to invite strollers to linger, and look out onto the Bay within the protective shelter of granite. Indeed, so much stone has been required that the material from the demolished serpentine works was insufficient, and extra supplies have been brought in.

Richard Bolitho Gardens plaque, photo Linda CamidgeAttention then passes to the other side of the Lariggan, just outside the town boundary. R F Bolitho has driven from Ponsandane for the ceremony in a brougham. He in turn opens the second set of gates, with a second silver key. It’s an extensive swathe of land, the Richard Bolitho Gardens. A long strip of sand and grass stretching westwards from the town boundary, it was originally gifted to the Borough to mark its tercentenary in 1914. The outbreak of war put paid to the original plan for the opening - but now there is a putting green and a tennis court, a bandstand and shrubs, and a raised bastion in the shape of a Maltese cross. R F Bolitho congratulates the surveyor on converting “a mere wastrel” – previously notable for its scatter of tin cans, bottles, rags and the occasional dead dog - into “a thing of beauty.” This pleasure ground may not look as exciting as its continental-styled counterpart, and may not have been opened by the Bolitho with the motor car. But of the two sites, it is this one that will survive all the sea can do over the next 100 years: this thing of beauty that has some hope of being a joy for ever.


Cornishman 27th May 1916 page 6; West Briton 1st June 1916, page 3

A collection of newspaper extracts on various members of the Bolitho family, available at the Cornish Studies Library, Redruth, has been very helpful in terms of identifying which particular Bolitho family members were involved. Many thanks also to Pauline Hope for collating a range of background information and providing a typescript of the newspaper account, and for giving us permission to use both of these.

Photo, which shows the gardens following storm damage in March 1962, courtesy of Morrab Library Photo Archive Bedford Bolitho Gardens, Storm damage.,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed April 28, 2017, http://photoarchive.morrablibrary.org.uk/items/show/14583.


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