A house that is shrouded in mystery….. a house that seems to have all but dropped out of living memory, yet Nursery House certainly existed and Sue, who lived there as a child, shared with Heaton History Group’s Ann Denton her memories of living right in the heart of one of Newcastle’s most popular parks. Ann explains:
As an Ouseburn Parks volunteer guide, I am accustomed to many of the people who join us on our guided walks sharing stories and giving us additional snippets of local history.
However, during one recent guided tour of Heaton Park, I was really surprised to be asked ‘What about Nursery House?’ Despite having researched the history of the park, I had never heard of it. Yet, from the descriptions Sue shared with me about the house and her dad, the gardener, it clearly did exist. This called for some further research.
At first, I drew blanks – even some of our most eminent local historians hadn’t heard of Nursery House. My first task was to establish exactly where it was sited in the park. After poring over several maps, I identified the outline of a possible building. The location looked right, next to some large glasshouses but it wasn’t named as Nursery House. Then we had a break-through, one of my fellow guides found a map from 1950 that had the house clearly marked and named.
Nursery House was a gardener’s cottage situated just below King John’s Palace (Adam of Jesmond’s Camera). It probably occupied what is now the upper tarmacked car parking area which has a straight line of trees separating it from the Grade II-listed ruin.
The house had a garden with a fence around it dividing it from the public park. The orientation of the house was that it looked out towards Heaton Park Lodge.
These are the memories Sue shared with me over coffee:
Her dad was Edward Seymour who was a gardener/park keeper at Walker and then Heaton Park. The park superintendent was a Mr Hall who lived in Heaton Park Lodge (now the park rangers’ offices). Every day Sue’s dad would go off to work in the nearby glasshouses, cultivating the flowers and plants which would grace the many formal flowerbeds in the park. Remember those?
Sue has been researching her family tree and found that her dad and most of her half-brothers and half-sisters moved from Walker to Nursery House on 3 April 1944. She was born in 1956.
‘One of my sisters remembered going to see the house, with a close friend of hers. Upstairs they started “ballroom dancing” as the rooms were so huge and Dad told them off!
Upstairs there were three rooms: two large bedrooms and a third smaller one. Downstairs there was a room which was rarely used, also a living room, a kitchen with a bath under a bench – I remember my brother once closed the bench down when I was in the bath! There was a large walk-in larder, an outside toilet, a coalhouse and a shed. The garden was quite a size. It contained a statue called the ‘one-armed fiddler’ : the blue tits used to fly through its arm! Dad gardened weekdays and, one day in four, he was the park keeper.
I remember there was a clock on the pavilion that had a very tinny chime on the hour. And Mam used to help out at the ice cream hut at weekends. The people from the ice cream parlour on Heaton Road used to come down with supplies. They sometimes gave me the broken cones!
As no papers were delivered on Sundays, Charlie and Joey (other gardeners) would bring the Sunday papers and mam would make a bacon sandwich for them.
Mr Hall, the park superintendent, lived in the house near the pavilion. There used to be an aviary there and a grapevine along the wall near the steps. The flowerbeds down there had dahlias which Dad dug up and re-planted every year. We left Nursery House in 1962, as dad retired.‘
Sue also recalls finding tennis balls in her garden which had come over from the single tennis court below King John’s Palace. (This court was still there in the 1980s because I remember playing on it.)
Apart from a reference in Fiona Green’s extensive research on the Ouseburn Parks (carried out for Newcastle City Council prior to a Heritage Lottery Fund project}, there is very little trace of Nursery House. The reference she cited is to council minutes where ‘permission was sought to demolish Nursery House in 1963’.
So, we are very grateful to Sue for sharing her family history with us and drawing attention to a ‘lost house’.
Researched and written by Ann Denton, Heaton History Group. Thank you to Sue Barrett for sharing her memories and her photographs.
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