1873; The battle for Greenhill gardens;2013.

This is a very hot topic today in the local news…the local council seem to be stripping off all our best assets, and one that they are talking about selling off to a private investor are the renown Greenhill gardens. Not surprisingly this has a great many of the local residents up in arms.Image

These are prize winning grounds that contain gardening classics such as  the floral clock and flower beds. All immaculately maintained by the hardworking groundsmen and the Friends of Greenhill gardens, a voluntary group. Much of my childhood was spent wandering these grounds, listening to the cuckoo that sounded on the hour by the pretty clock.

My own kids when they were little would walk up here with my father to buy a packet of sweeties from the shop, and to watch that very same clock.


These are the jewel in the crown to our little seaside town, please don’t let us loose them, they also happen to be on a piece of land that could be considered to be prime real estate


These gardens have been fought over before way back in history in the beginnings of their life.

Before anything was built along this stretch of ground it was a stretch of cliffs that were constantly washed by the sea, it was considered as common land even then, but in fact it was owned, like vast areas of our town by the Johnson estate.

As far back as 1865 a grand scheme had been hatched for this area.


Southern Times.;1865 26 Aug



We wish most particularly to direct the attention of our numerous readers, especially our fair friends, to the advertisement in another column of the Manor Cricket and Archery Park Company (Limited), and right glad are we to find the name of our energetic and well-wishing friend, Mr. W J Compton, being associated in the management of it. That we wish him every possible success and patronage to develop such a grand feature for the town of Weymouth is but faintly expressing our ideas on the subject.

Let us, however, just hastily run through the programme, “Cricket and Archery”, and we think we hear one of our fair readers add, “Yes, and croquet too, and a club ground arranged on purpose for us”. Well, such is the case. Cricket for our rising young friends, to assist them in bracing up the nerves, developing the manly powers, and in spending many a happy hour in really good wholesome exercise, and which will bear reflection on many occasions in after life, for who is there among our more mature readers that does not remember, at some early period of his life, having had many a game at “ Cricket on the Common,” with the village blacksmith, the clerk, and the lads of the village, aye, and probably the rector and his curate also? For where is to be found a more thoroughly English and in every way beneficial game than cricket, and where the peer and the peasant may meet on friendly and equal terms? There has many a good sermon been read to the lads of the village by the presence of their pastor in an innocent game of cricket with them, and many a good example set not forgotten through life, for early impressions are those which form the after character of the man.

But to pass on to archery, one of the most fashionable and healthy accomplishments for “ the fair and beautiful girls of our island,” does this not also brace up the nerves, assist the carriage and deportment, expand the chest (much more so than reading the last “sensation novel of the day” on a reclining couch), and in every way improve the health by the walking exercise it necessarily entails, the gentle excitement it causes on the match ground, and the conversation it creates when meeting tête-à-tête in the drawing room? And there is croquet too, a very stylish pretty lawn game, and in a neat and comfortable alcove the ladies may be seated enjoying the pure sea breeze, with a distant view of the magnificent Portland Breakwater and the frowning hills of the island.

A refreshment room will be provided, where, tea, coffee, and general confectionary may be found. The band will also play at appointed hours. In the winter skating may be enjoyed on the lake, and which, by the plan we have had submitted to us, divides the park in half, thus displacing any fear that may arise in the minds of our fair readers as to any danger arising from the cricket balls; and where in summer our juveuile friends may amuse themselves by sailing their miniature Warriors and Royal Sovereigns, and arrange an amateur “battle with the breeze.”

We are pleased to find a rule to close the gates at sunset, which will ensure the respectability of the grounds, and a properly appointed park keeper will be on duty the whole day. The directors will no doubt frame such rules as will keep up the morale of their undertaking. And now a word to our readers and the public respecting the shares. We may commend the prospectus to their favourable notice and deep consideration, as looking at the 3rd clause we think with the economical management which will be pursued that a fair dividend may be annually paid, and the immense indirect benefit to be derived by our fellow townsmen, should induce one and all to put their shoulder to the wheel and assist in developing it, if by only taking a few, say five, shares each, which will ensure them a vote in the management, and we think 40 shares will constitute a director. The company is started on no political grounds. It is for the benefit and amusement of the whole town, and we therefore hope to see friends of all shades of politics join in the undertaking and bring it to a successful issue.

Sir Frederick Johnstone has in a most handsome manner offered the ground on very liberal and easy terms, and the adjoining portion of the estate is now being surveyed and laid out for villa building. We are authorized to state that one gentleman will become a director of the Park Company, if it is started this autumn (and that swampy, marshy piece of land below Greenhill is this filled up), and will erect a few villas adjoining, suitable for the reception of our resident gentry and those wishing to reside amongst us. But time and space will not allow us to say any more now, and we will refer to it again shortly; but let us again impress it on our fellow townsmen and all well wishers to the town of Weymouth.

Do not let such an excellent opportunity for raising the town f Weymouth to the most fashionable watering place in England be allowed to pass, for it is very improbable that facilities for consummation like those now offering will again present themselves. There is a good old saying “Strike while the iron’s hot,” and workers in iron find that there is force and reason in it. The present favourable position of affairs would seem to infer “Now’s the time, now’s the hour,” for launching the above scheme-limited according to act of Parliament, but not limited in the intellectual, to say nothing of the financial and all who honour our town with a visit or invest their capital in its shares.


Nothing seemed to have come of that previous scheme, but things went ahead for the grounds anyway, under the leadership of Sir Frederick Johnstone. By the year 1872 the gardens had started to be formed.

Southern Times.

1872 5th Jun


We have been favoured with the sight of a drawing of the contemplated conversion of Greenhill into pleasant walks and gardens. When the idea is carried out it will form one of the most attractive and picturesque spots belonging to our sea-side resort.

When Sir Frederick Johnstone, who owns the property, was here recently, it was represented to him how great an advantage would accrue to the town if the land at Greenhill was laid out as a place of public resort, and the benefit it would confer on a large number of men who were out of empty. With his usual generosity, Sir Frederick, in order to give employment to those who were out of work, consented to have the land laid out as public walks and gardens, and the works are now in full progress, affording labour to some thirty men.

The plan shows it is contemplated to extend the Esplanade wall about 500 yards northward. At present this will not be carried out, but it is hoped that some day we shall see our promenade prolonged nearly as far as the spot where the old ice house stood, and without doubt it will form one of its most attractive features.

The land at Greenhill will be laid out in wide undulating walks, following as near as possible the contours of the ground, and hereafter the slopes will be planted with pines and other hardy shrubs. Near the road will be a platform for a band, with seats placed around for the accommodation for visitors. The land will be broken up in places with a rockery. There will be croquet and archery grounds, prepared with consummate taste and skill. In various parts of the walks there will be ample accommodation for visitors to rest, chairs being plentifully distributed. It is only intended this year to lay out the walks, and when the proper times comes, to stock the slopes with shrubs. It is conjectured that the walks will be ready for the benefit of the public in about two months time. The land will be enclosed with a rustic fence, and when completed, it will prove a most charming spot.

Mr. G.R. Crickmay, the architect to the Johnstone estate, has been entrusted with the laying out of the ground, and his well-known artistic taste in this department will be sufficient guarantee for our having a resort which will reflect credit in his judgment and also on the town. The land laid out extends 340 yards in length and 50 in width, but the archery ground will be in addition. We should state that these walks will be entirely for the use of the town and its visitors, and will be open to the public without any charge, in fact it will be the “people’s park,”

One very important feature in connection with the laying out of Greenhill as a pleasure spot is that Sir Frederick Johnstone has determined that no houses shall be built near the newly-made gardens. Here away from the noise and bustle of the town, the inhabitant or visitor will find one of the most lovely spots with which to feast his sight. Before him lies our unrivalled bay, and then stretching out as far as sight reaches the English Channel and West Bay, whilst nearer are the noble cliffs of Old Albion on the one side and the rugged heights of Portland on the other. Then closer still that wonderful monument of man’s ingenuity and skill-the harbour of refuge, where during some period of the year are to be found our ironclad fleet and numbers of craft of all sizes. Then coming very near home, the beautiful sweep of the Esplanade, the sands, and the harbour, all combine to make Weymouth and its neighbourhood are to be seen to advantage. Here the delightful sea breeze refreshes the weary one with double vigour; here the eyes rests on a scene so varied in it’s character-an endless expanse of water at one’s feet, majestic cliffs and beautiful vallies, hill and dale, woodland scenery; in fact, everything which can gratify the eye and please the lover of Nature. Here is a spot on which a painter would like to linger, and which would be a theme of admiration with the poet. There is no doubt for the future Greenhill will be the “lion of the place.”


The phrase they used in the passage just about says it allWe should state that these walks will be entirely for the use of the town and its visitors, and will be open to the public without any charge, in fact it will be the “people’s park,”

Certain people at the time were concerned that this area should remain for public use, and questions were asked in the council meeting..


Mr. HOWARD , in adverting to Sir Frederick Johnstone’s improvements in laying out Greenhill, said this would be a great addition to the town, and a wonderful improvement to Sir Fredericks’s own property in that neighbourhood, and the only wonder was that it had not been done years ago, as then the houses in that locality would have been let over and over again. He wanted to know what steps had been taken by the Board to preserve the rights which the public had had for so many years over Greenhill.

It was explained that the public would have the same rights and privileges as at present.

By 1873 the gardens were nearly completed.


Visitors to our town who knew the Greenhill a year ago would now be at a loss to recognize the old spot, so thoroughly has it been altered.

Instead of its being as heretofore a place of humps and hollows and desolation, it is now, through the great generosity of Sir Frederick Johnstone, one of the prettiest places in the town, and is really a people’s park in miniature. The ground has been very admirably laid out under the direction of Mr. G.R. Crickmay, and now there are grassy slopes, artistic mounds, and pleasant walks. The gardens have been planted with trees, shrubs, and plants of various kinds, and when these have had a few years growth the appearance of the place will be considerably improved.


At the extreme end of the gardens is a well-formed piece of ground to be used for croquet playing. This site is surrounded by a rustic wooden fence, which gives it a very pretty appearance. Another important advantage is that owing to the construction of the gardens the Esplanade has been lengthened to the extent of several hundred yards. The gardens may now be considered nearly completed, only some fine gravel being required to finish off the walks. When the gardens are thrown open to the public, we are sure they will be greatly appreciated by the town, and the Greenhill will be a pleasure resort both to residents and visitors.


Things didn’t go too smoothly though, ructions began in the council, all was not what it had at first seemed. One particular councillor, Mr Wallis,  took it into his hands to try and rectify matters. He was a peoples man. He had fought for the Alexander gardens to be open, free for use by one and all, often standing by the gate with his cane, ready to threaten anyone daring to try to take money for entering the gardens. this man is my hero.


1886 29th Jul; THE TIMES





The hearing of this case, which has occupied the attention of this court on six entire days, was concluded this morning.

The dispute was a local one, in reference to certain lands near Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, in the county of Dorset, and the principle features of the case was the antiquity of the documentary evidence relied on by the defendants, one of whom conducted the case in person. The plaintiff, Sir Frederick Johnstone, was, it appeared, the principle owner of the land in the neighborhood of Weymouth. His predecessors in title enclosed the lands in question many years ago. A portion of the enclosed lands was built upon or laid out for building, and the other portion was dedicated to the public as a garden and recreation ground, which, it was said was maintained by the Johnstone family at their own expense. Recently, the defendant, Wallis and Mudd, accompanied by about 150 persons, broke down the fences of the public garden and of other land, and committed other various acts of trespass. The defendant Wallis sought to justify this trespass on the ground that part of the land was common land, being parcel of what was formerly known as Melcombe Common, and had been wrongfully enclosed by the plaintiff’s predecessors in title. As to the rest of the land, the contention was that it was the property of the Corporation of Weymouth.

Mr. Graham Hastings, Q C, Mr. Elton Q C, Mr. Hull, and Mr. Farwell appeared for the plaintiff, and called witnesses who proved the commission of the acts of trespass. The defendant, Wallis, conducting the case in person, referred to various old documents, including an entry in Doomsday Book under date A D 1087, charters, grants, & c. in the rights of Edward I, Edward III, Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and James I during the Commonwealth, and subsequently. He also called witnesses to prove the exercise by various persons of rights of common over the land, formerly known as Melcombe Common.

Mr. JUSTICE KAY in delivering judgment, said that no doubt the defendants, Wallis and Mudd, acted as they did in belief that they were doing service to their fellow townsmen, and were vindicating their rights in a proper way. But the law of this country is that if any person chooses to enter violently on land enclosed and in the peaceable possession of others, to break down railings and commit acts of trespass of that kind, that person is doing prima facie a wrongful act, and when he does so accompanied by a mob of 150 people, it is obvious that such proceedings are likely to lead to acts of violence which no law-abiding citizen of this country in his senses would think to be a proper way of vindicating his rights, what ever they might be. His Lordship then stated in detail the facts of the case. In particular he referred to an allegation in the defense that by a Royal Charter of Henry VIII a right of commons, of pasture and recreation over Melcombe-common had been granted to the free burgesses of Melcombe=Regis. It was admitted, his Lordship said by the defendant Wallis that ? ? ? person who had committed a breach of it. A good illustration of this was afforded by the case of “ Rothchild v Brookman” (5 Bligh N S 105) in which a purchase of stock by an agent was set aside.




A FICTITIOUS CHARTER-  In the Chancery Division, on Wednesday, Mr. Justice Kay granted an injunction against certain inhabitants of Weymouth, who, accompanied by a large mob, broke down the fences and committed other acts of trespass on land belonging to Sir Frederick Johnstone, near that town. The defendants relied on a charter of Henry III., purporting to give the burgesses certain common rights, but this charter proved to be fictitious, and Sir Frederick’s title was in other respects good.


Wallis, who had so valiantly stood up and acted on behalf of the inhabitants of the borough was now on the receiving end of the law, because of the court costs, sadly and unfairly, he was to become broke and ended living in poverty.


1890 19 sep

Wallis testimonial fund concert

Through the kindness of many friends a concert in aid of the Wallis testimonial fund was given at the Jubilee Hall on Wednesday evening. It may be recollected that some few years since, whilst Mr. Thomas Wallis was a member of the Town Council, he very unwisely involved himself in a legal action with Sir Frederick Johnstone, in his endeavor to wrest from him some property which he contended belonged to the town. In order to carry on the action he had to sacrifice all the property he possessed-at that time by no means an inconsiderable amount-but in the end was beaten, and had to pay the taxed costs. This, of course, simply ruined him, houses and home were sold up, and he left Weymouth, since which time he has been engaged in earning a livelihood as an artist. In response to an appeal made by the Mayor, a subscription has been set on foot in the town, in order to assist him, which has been liberally responded to, and it was in order to supplement this effort that a concert was arranged to take place, as it was hoped that by this means a substantial sum might be added to the fund. The concert was one in which amateur vocalists took part, the professional gentlemen of the town kindly giving their services. The attendance was nothing like so large as was expected, about five hundred persons only being present, so that the proceeds from this source will not be very large. The concert was of a rather tame character, and did not seem to be appreciated as much as usual.




Mr. Roberts asked if any communications had been received from Sir F Johnstone respecting the further enclosing of Greenhill as public gardens.- The Mayor stated he had received a very kind letter, but had mislaid it.


1891 8 Aug; THE GRAPHIC

The Greenhill gardens, the property of Sir F Johnstone ,Bart, are generously thrown open to the public, and maintained by the owner in first-rate-order. The roads and pavements have been much improved.


At a later date further land was added to the gardens;



Mr. A N M Jones moved that that portion of Lodmoor now belonging to the Johnstone Estate shall be required by the Weymouth Corporation to provide an addition to the Greenhill Gardens, also to carry out such improvements as may be thought desirable and necessary. -Owing to the protracted nature of the meeting, Mr. Jones consented to the postponement of his propositions.




In the continuation of beautiful weather visitors are flocking to Weymouth in large numbers and the summer season may now be regarded as being at its height.


The ready manner in which the Corporation cater for their patrons was again exemplified on Wednesday, when there were opened, with due formality, a number of bathing bungalows on the sea front at Greenhill, additional tennis courts, and a bowling green, with convenient dressing-rom accommodation. Above the bungalows is a sheltered promenade, which will no doubt prove a favourite resort. Tennis tournaments and competitions in bowls are being arranged which will provide much pleasure for towns-folk and visitors alike.


We may need to fight to keep our parks and gardens, just that “OUR” parks and gardens.


Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.


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32 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz Drake says:

    It is a disgraceful idea. This Council and Councils before them have done nothing but bad to the image of the Town. Instead of celebrating its history and beauty they have progressively torn it down. Soon there will be nothing left of Historic Weymouth. It will have been replaced with more modern blocks of flats and car parking. There will be nothing left here for visitors to come for unless they want a fast food, fast drinking experience in a run down tawdry seaside town.


  2. cannasue says:

    I know, it’s so sad to see.
    Other towns seem to manage things better…not sure why.


  3. Sue Bray says:

    we have to fight to keep Greenhill Gardens and Greenhill Play gardens


  4. cannasue says:

    I agree. What about starting up a facebook page to collect names for a petition to save our gardens?


  5. mr &mrs m thorne says:

    the council must never be allowed to develop this site as it is one of weymouths best features for views around the bay and a peaceful and restful place for residence and guests to relax and enjoy the gardens


    1. cannasue says:

      I totally agree, but it seems that nowadays nothing is sacred when it comes to profit.


  6. Jonathan Pullen says:

    How unobservant I am not to have alighted on this fascinating Greenhill chronology before! Congratulations on your presentation and research. I was aware of the Johnstone Vs. Wallis court case (the Greenhill ‘trespass’ in 1884 recalled to mind the later mass trespass of Kinder Scout), having read Maureen Attwooll’s encyclopaedic ‘Bumper Book Of Weymouth’ (Vols 1 & 2) but the press coverage was a revelation. One hopes that Thomas S.Wallis’s twilight years were spent comfortably in one of Sir Henry Edwards’ almshouses. Are there any photographs of him in existence ? Of course, the battle goes on as the Council intends to dispose of parts of our ‘jewel in Weymouth’s crown’ by a 125 year lease – a decision which is both misguided and contrary to the terms of Johnstone’s gift of this land (our land) to the people of this borough. (PS: I enjoyed identifying some of the personalities in the recent photographs!)


  7. cannasue says:

    Thank you Jonathan.
    I had researched about Weymouth’s gardens with the view to writing about them at some stage. People don’t seem to realise that once we loose these open public spaces, we won’t get them back again. Long gone are the days when some philanthropic wealthy benefactor will donate a piece of land for the general public to use, they are more likely now to grab it to make the biggest profit they can.
    Sorry, it seems the older I get, the more cynical I become! I,m turning into my Dad!


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