Walsall has a number of parks and open spaces close to the town centre, such as Reedswood Park, Hay Head Wood and Park Lime Pits. The most famous of them all must surely be the Arboretum.
The Walsall Arboretum stands on the site of an old limestone mine, but following the closure of the mine, the area was landscaped and the resulting park was opened to the public. The story of how this came about, however, is a very long and complex one.
The site on which the Arboretum now stands was formerly the estate of Reynolds Hall. Originally the home of the Reynolds family, Reynolds Hall was passed down, via a series of marriages, firstly to the Walker family and then to the Persehouse family in the 16th century. It then remained in the possession of the Persehouse family for about 200 years. In 1771, the last of the Persehouse family, Richard (whose children died young), bequeathed the Hall and its estate to his godson, John Walhouse.
Reynolds Hall was demolished, along with much of the land, around 1800 (the exact date is not recorded) in order to mine the limestone deposits which lay beneath it. The lakes1 which now adorn the Arboretum are flooded limestone mines.
John Walhouse died in 1835, leaving the remaining estate to his nephew, Edward John Walhouse. Edward had inherited the name and estate of his father's uncle, Sir Edward Littleton, in 1812, and, on inheriting the Reynolds estate in 1835, he became the first Lord Hatherton. He died in 1863 and his son, Edward Richard Littleton (born in 1815) became the second Lord Hatherton, who owned the estate at the time of its transformation into the Arboretum.
Work Begins On Arboretum
In 1870, the Walsall Arboretum and Lake Company was set up, under the auspices of Lord Hatherton, in order to turn the land into a public park. The grounds were extensively landscaped with trees, shrubs and flower beds. Plans were made to include features such as a bandstand, facilities for boating and fishing and other activities, such as archery, croquet and athletics.
The formal opening ceremony, with Lady Hatherton as guest of honour, took place on 4 May, 1874 and was a great success. However, by 1876, the Arboretum Company was beginning to experience financial difficulties.
The public were objecting to the admission fee (2d) and the fact that there were no facilities for children. In 1881, the park was - after some initial reluctance - taken over by the town council on a three-year lease, and the admission fee was waived. The council eventually bought the land outright from Lord Hatherton in 1884.
Additions and Improvements
A number of improvements and extensions were made to the park between 1890 and 1900, and further extensions and alterations took place throughout the early part of the 20th century. In 1900, waterfowl were added to the lakes, and peacocks and flamingoes were also introduced to the park. By 1902, tennis and bowls facilities were established. In 1904, stocks from the High Street were erected in the park as an historical feature. In 1924, a putting green, children's playground, and a new bandstand were added.
In 1925, a glacial boulder - thought to have travelled from North Wales during the last Ice Age - was discovered in Fullbrook and was installed in the Arboretum beside the main lake, near the bandstand. It still stands there today, as an oddity more than anything else, and is easily missed. It would probably be more at home in the town museum.
A Sensory Garden for the Blind was added in the late 1950s, which included plants noted for their scents and textures, rather than their appearance, and labels in Braille. This was refurbished in 1992. The mid-1970s saw the addition of a miniature railway (not presently in use) near the Children's Area on the northern boundary and, in 1999, a rare species of crayfish was discovered in the lake. So there really is something for everybody!
In September and October of each year, the Arboretum is home to Walsall Illuminations, a spectacular light show which is second only to Blackpool's display. The first illuminations were staged in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. Its success encouraged the Corporation to make it an annual event and it has improved each year since.
More About The Arboretum's Facilities
The word 'arboretum' is a bit of a misnomer. Don't go there expecting to see a collection of rare and unusual trees. It is called an Arboretum because, at the time of its instigation, the word was quite popular. It is, however, simply a public park.
In addition to the illuminations, a number of other events are held throughout the year, including music festivals, guided walks and children's activities.
The original plan to create a park for the people did not fall by the wayside. The results are there for everyone to see, and improvements are continually being made. Restoration plans were recently proposed and consultations with the public resulted in a prioritised set of criteria for development.
The list of improvements included a new youth play facility, resurfacing of footpaths, restoration of the boathouse and reintroduction of boating on the lake, upgrading the CCTV coverage and new plantings.
You obviously can't please everyone and there will always be some difference of opinion as to what takes priority (given that funding is limited) but whatever new improvements and additions take place in the future, Walsall Arboretum will remain the flagship park of the town. The Arboretum will continue to offer enjoyment for the people of Walsall and the West Midlands, as well as visitors from further afield, for a long time to come.