The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 1 - October 1988

Before The Golf Course

The parkland surrounding Wollaton Hall has long been a focus for Keith Taylor's twin interests of local and natural history. For a number of years, Keith worked in the park as a part-time ranger. In his spare time he has sought out and interviewed a number of the estate employees who worked in the Park in the days when it still belonged to Lord Middleton or shortly after Nottingham Corporation took it over. In the article below Keith concentrates on the south east corner of the Park, where part of the Wollaton Golf Course is now situated - a portion of land much of which was once included within the parish of Lenton.

A view of Arbour Hill from the golf course. Photograph by Paul Bexon.

A view of Arbour Hill from the golf course. Photograph by Paul Bexon.

In the days before the golf course was laid out, much of the south-eastern side of the Park, which includes 'Arbour Hill' and 'Deerbarn Wood' was covered with bracken and rough grass growing on the bunter sandstone. Wilfred Widdowson, who was employed in the Park for over fifty years recalls, 'You had to be careful where you put your feet when you walked across Arbour Hill because there were so many rabbit holes you could easily twist your ankle if you put your foot in one'. Besides the mass of rabbit warrens the area was thick with pheasant and partridge. Arbour Hill was part of the original deer park at Wollaton and each year red deer hinds would gather here in order to give birth to their calves in the long grass and bracken.

In severe weather the deer would take shelter in Deerbarn wood, which is just to the west of Arbour Hill. Consisting mostly of Scots pine trees and rhododendron thicket, much of which has recently been thinned out, Deerbarn Wood was aptly named for certainly in the 1920s and for an unknown period before a three sided wooden barn had been erected there. During the winter swedes and mangolds, grown on the north east paddocks of the Park, were loaded on to a flat dray and taken to the wood where they were scattered around and also piled up in the barn for the red deer to eat and so supplement, their winter diets. If you look across the golf course I hope you will agree that the trees planted there in former times were well selected to enhance the natural landscaping of Arbour Hill. They include copper beech, yew, lime, blue Atlas cedar and of course oaks. I say 'of course' as oaks were always planted in deer parks because in autumn the acorns get eaten by the deer and so provide a rich source of calcium. The many pheasants that once could be found on the estate also relished the fruits of the oak.

A Lenton Parish Boundary Stone to be found in Arbour Hill. Photograph by Paul Bexon.

A Lenton Parish Boundary Stone
to be found in Arbour Hill.

Until my visit to Wilfred Widdowson (who confusingly was called Bill by his fellow estate workers), I was never terribly clear how the eastern side of the Park must have looked before the Corporation permitted it to be given over to housing. Wilfred was able to put me in the picture. The area around Sutton Passeys Crescent, he recalled, was a mass of silver birch, pine trees, rhododendron and bracken. It was known as Lenton Woods. Where Orston Drive playing fields is now situated was Dead Dog Wood. In the old days gamekeepers never permitted their spaniels and labradors to reach their dotage. Instead when their canine friends began to enter their declining years they were shot and buried in an out of the way place. It's feasible to suggest that Dead Dog Wood was the favoured place on Wollaton Estate - certainly it would explain the rather macabre name.

After Nottingham Corporation took possession of the Park the decision was taken to create a golf course on the south east side. Before any turf could be laid, all the estate workers were employed in ridding the area of its bracken. While gardeners and other estate workers raked up the bracken fronds and foxgloves, the keepers put ferrets down the rabbit warrens and caught no end of rabbits in purse nets. When other estate workers were not in the vicinity the keepers would also shoot rabbits as they raced across the slopes. The keepers' dogs very clearly had a field day.

As sections of the golf course were laid bare two golfing professionals, the Williamson brothers, were called in to supervise the contractors. While the bunkers and areas of rough were initially being planned out the golfing professionals and certain members of the City Council's Estates Committee assumed that the red deer hinds would change their breeding territories once people began to use the golf course. Billy Archer the deer keeper put them right. He knew that hinds retained 'home territories' and that the majority would continue to calve close to the wood or bracken bed in which they themselves were born. With this in mind and following Billy Archer's advice the 'rough' areas of the golf course were landscaped so that the deer and golfers could both share the site - a state of affairs, which happily continues to this present day.


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