Leicester Frith House, built in 1870 for Thomas Swift Taylor and later used as a home for shell shocked soldiers of the First World War and subsequently part of Glenfrith Hospital for the mentally ill. The building still stands in the grounds of the present Glenfield Hospital.
- Brief History
A video history of Leicester Frith Hospital Mansion
- Walled Kitchen Garden
The size of the site is approximately 1 acre. The shape of the garden is a trapezium: the northern boundary wall is parallel with the back of the house, outbuildings and former stable yard.
Both the mansion house and the garden face NNW. The side abutting the house and outbuildings is longer than the northern boundary wall, hence the non-parallel side walls, which converge.
The site is completely flat. At present, access to the garden is through modern single-storey NHS estate offices and a new gate in the west wall. There is a modern double gate access in the northern boundary wall.
The garden is at present the subject of a project referred to as “The Secret Garden” which proposes to restore the former walled kitchen garden to provide a therapeutic environment for patients and staff. In the middle of the site, four themed gardens, for use by staff and patients, have been created as a result of a television programme filmed in 2018.
The remainder of the garden is gradually being brought back under cultivation thanks to charitable donations and the work of enthusiastic volunteers.
Notes of an interview with June Wallace, daughter of Jack Hyman, gardener at Leicester Frith.
These notes were made when June visited the garden on 28th August 2019. June and her daughter, Lyn, visited the site of the former walled kitchen garden at Leicester Frith and these notes were made as we walked round the site.
June was the elder daughter of Jack Hyman who was born in 1910 in Thrussington. He was a gardener at Leicester Frith from around 1934 till he retired in 1970. He served for three years in the Royal Leicester Regiment in the Second World War and was seriously wounded at the battle of El Alamein. He was in hospital in South Africa and was then shipped back to the UK where he was admitted to the Leicester Royal Infirmary.
Jack was one of three gardeners: Wilf Ward, who lived on a cottage on Groby Road belonging to the hospital, was head gardener; Jack Creasey was also a gardener. Subsequently he was replaced by Edgar Greenhall.
Before the War, the family lived in a rented bungalow on Groby Road but during the War, they moved away to Thurmaston to stay in their grandmother’s house as the bombing was bad in Glenfield. This was because of the proximity to Braunstone Park, where troops from the US 82nd Airborne Division were stationed. The family ultimately moved to a house in Brook Street, Thurmaston, which had been owned by June’s Aunt Alice.
June remembered particular elements of the garden as we walked round:
The lean-to glasshouse which was known as a “tropical house”. She remembers that a passion flower was grown there. The glasshouse still remains, in a derelict state.
The Apple Store, where she and her sister were allowed to go to turn the apples, which were in wooden trays. She remembered how lovely they smelt.
The peach tree which was trained on the wall just by the entrance to the glasshouse. The stump still remains.
A brick store for coke for the boiler.
Metal tanks located throughout the garden and used for water containers. A large number of vegetables were grown
An oil tank for fuel. This was located next to the west-facing wall. There is still a tap on the outside of this wall.
June remembered that her father occasionally had male patients working with him. He was paid an extra 2 pence per hour when this happened. She also remembered, after the War, coming by bicycle with her sister at weekends to help her father with his weekend tasks. The entrance to the garden was off the Groby Road.
Recollections of the Walled Garden at Glenfrith Hospital by Jenny Nuttgens, daughter of Jack Hyman, who was one of the gardeners.
“I have known this precious garden for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1937. My parents and older sister were living in Glenfield since it was in close proximity to Glenfrith Hospital where my father, Jack Hyman, was employed in the walled garden. He had previously worked for Admiral Lord Beatty in the gardens of Brooksby Hall where he had lived as a Bothy Boy since leaving school (and Thrussington) at the age of 14 years in 1924.
It was not until after the end of the War in 1945 that we were able to visit my father’s place of work. By this time, the family was living in Thurmaston and we were old enough to make the 14 mile return journey by bicycle.
My father worked a 5½ day week (as did many people in those days) having only Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. However, every alternate week, he returned to work on Saturday late afternoon to close the greenhouse ventilation, water plants and to stoke the greenhouse boilers. Sunday would not be a day off either, as the greenhouses needed tending too, again, opening-up in the mornings and a return journey to tend them again in the evenings. These journeys were always by bicycle.
Apart from the years my father spent in the Army after the outbreak of the Second World War, and subsequently recuperating after being wounded in the battle of El Alamein, he worked at the Frith from around 1935, faithfully tending the gardens until 1970 when he retired at the age of 60.
It was always a treat for us to be invited to join him on a weekend mission to tend the hothouses – some for propagating seedlings and cuttings and being shown some of the different ways that plants can reproduce and seed be dispersed. I especially loved a succulent which produced hundreds of babies along the edge of its fleshy leaves – when ready they dropped off into the welcoming warmth of the waiting compost and began again a whole new cycle of life. Another plant (I think it was the African Violet) could grow itself from a simple slice of leaf placed edgeways into the moist compost.
I remember the humid heat in the glasshouses where the tomatoes and cucumbers grew – almost too sweltering to breathe in there – and the rich mouth-watering scent of the ripe tomatoes smelling just as tomatoes should – but seldom do these days.
One glasshouse was full of exotic plants, the most impressive of which was the Passion Flower (Passiflora caerula) and of being shown how each part of the flower represented the Passion of Christ – the three crosses, the Hill of Calvary, the nails and the spots of blood.
In addition to the rows of beans, onions, leeks, cabbages and many other vegetables, there were also heavily scented herbs: mint, sage, fennel, thyme, lavender and lemon balm.
A peach tree grew against a south-facing wall and there were other fruit trees – pears and apples especially. Once we were allowed to climb the ladder to look at the harvested apples being stored there (this refers to the Apple Store)
Most of all, I loved the potting shed and, in the winter, the warmth from the coke- fuelled stove. There was evidence of the lunch break, when the gardening team of Wilf Ward (Head Gardener), Jack Creasey and my father, Jack Hyman, could spend some time chatting and relaxing, drinking tea from the random, tannin-stained mugs that mingled with the clay pots and raffia strands on the potting shed bench.
In addition to the regular team of three gardeners, some of the patients also helped in the garden.
Occasionally, the gardens were called upon to supply floral decorations for various events, including the Granby Halls, and for the Mansion House (the Victorian building which formed part of the hospital). The Abbey Park Flower Show was another occasion when they would be called upon to display their produce.
My sister, June, remembers chickens in the gardens too, but when it was decided to relocate these, one of them escaped capture. When it did reappear, it was too late to join the others and spent the rest of its life living with my family and being known as Dulcie.
Sadly my last memories of seeing the Glenfrith garden were not such happy ones. In 1995, my mother was taken ill. We took my father to visit her in the new hospital at Glenfrith. Whilst Jack sat with her, we took a drive around the back of the walled garden. Through the peepholes in the wall, we were dismayed to see that the area had become a builder’s yard. There were tears in my father’s eyes hearing this news.
My mother died in January 1996 and Jack in 1997 after over 60 years of happily married life.
It is such good news to hear that, like the Phoenix, the garden has once again sprung to life and has become the happy place that it used to be. Jack would be so thrilled.”
There is more information about Jack online in the Thurmaston Military Indexes website.
31st August 2019
Transcript of Interview with Jenny Waite, describing the creation of the Sensory Garden.
This interview took place in Summer 2016
“It was in 1987 that I transferred from working at Gorse Hill as a Housekeeper to work at Leicester Frith Hospital, Glenfield to support mental health patients who, in some cases, had never left their residential institutions, and people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. It was because of this move I had the opportunity to develop and manage an indoor sensory environment and it was because of this move that I first encountered the garden – a Victorian walled garden attached to a Mansion House.
At the time the Mansion House was a place where people with learning disabilities received support and further education opportunities in a caring environment. The sad part about that was that the garden could only be accessed by 15% of those who would have really benefitted from what it offered, or in reality, could potentially offer….
I couldn’t imagine how the garden once looked – not like it did in 1987 - a blank stretch of grass punctuated by one of few features – the old apple trees (which had stood for years and years and, if they could speak, could tell us a thing or too)! The garden had little to offer but such a great potential to give in 1987. And so, with the support of like- minded people I did something to change that and unlock the potential (I had a very supportive Line Manager).
The two things I wanted, 1) that it was to be designed to be accessible for all, a garden of inclusion, and 2) for the design to retain the history of the garden as it once was (the apple trees and the double row of tall conifers).
Walking down the pathway we created an entrance to the garden. An acorn symbol represented the entrance to the garden and meant that almost everyone could independently recognise the way in. A wind chime gave an auditory reference for people with a visual disability. It was surrounded by blackberry bushes and strawberry bushes and these bushes gave the garden its border.
The row of tall conifers gave us a natural sensory tunnel and a way to be amongst people but without having the threat of being amongst people. It also lent itself to seclusion for those who needed to be alone or to think. It gave shade in the summer. Looking down the garden, on the right hand side, (next to the rows of tall conifers) we created a sensory garden with lattice fencing with benches either side where people could sit and exchange conversation with the ‘safety’ of being behind a fence. We grew ivy on the fencing to give the sense of nature. Flowers were planted thoughtfully – some with smells like Lily of the Valley - and others planted because of no smell. We created small raised beds so that people could experience working in a garden (no plants with thorns) and a water feature under a pergola - offering shade on a sunny day and the sound of running water – so good – therapeutically speaking.
Along the other side of the row of conifers we created an area to grow things – to provide opportunities for people to grow their own produce and eat their own produce. A working greenhouse stood here so that people could see things grow from seed and nurture them as they grew – to be able to care for something else, for something else to depend on them (rather than perhaps the other way round).
Beyond the sensory garden there was a herb patch and sitting on the herb patch was a seat (a lay down seat) donated in memory of a patient so that other patients could lie safely and smell the different smells of the herbs and touch the different textures and shapes of the leaves. It invited people to linger a while.
On the way to the bottom of the garden there was a sun created in the ground with the rays of the sun created with fences with safe pathways to the centre (to the sun) and each section of the sun’s rays representing a faith – carrying out the ethos of a garden of inclusion. There is still an Acer tree overhanging the Buddhist segment although the different segments are, in 2017, no longer easily distinguishable – as is a lot of the garden of 1987 in 2017.
At the bottom of the garden was an orangery – a very old orangery which must have been there for some years (I am sure the history will tell). We used the orangery to grow tomatoes! The orangery is still there but in a very dilapidated state. Down the middle of the garden we built raised beds, again designed for inclusion. Somewhere underneath the now sad looking beds is a Victorian brick well – I’m not sure where it is but I know it’s there somewhere. On the left hand side of the garden, as you look down the garden, was a growing area bordered by fruit trees, apples and pears, (people were encouraged to take a few and leave a few) with bushes and roses and clematis. Along the right hand wall it was left as a grassed area with a path lined with roses - and somewhere there we buried a time capsule. I think that was in 1990. At the back we had small sheds for storing the garden equipment. Also along the wall we trained old pear trees and apple trees. By the side gate we planted lavender as a focal point and we planted roses so that the smell of the lavender and roses met anyone who entered the garden that way (and lavender planted near roses keeps aphids down)!
At the end of the garden is another old, old apple tree – it too could tell a tale or two…… and so……The garden gave people the opportunity to experience the outdoors, to experience new things e.g. music to the sound of water, develop new skills and, as was the vision, it created a garden of inclusion.
We also achieved our aim of being sympathetic to the history of the garden e.g. the old apple tress created a lovely boundary for the sensory garden and the orangery came back to life.
This is all now being lost. We have the opportunity to prevent this. We also have the opportunity of capturing the history of the garden from Victorian times. It would be amazing for some of the history and the more recent history to be captured for future generations and for the community in which we live – and beyond.”
See our full research report on the Walled Kitchen Garden here:
Leicester Frith (Glenfield Hospital)
- Access & Directions
Open for hospital staff and inpatients only.
- Official Designations
Leicester Frith Hospital Mansion Reference: 1376810 Grade: II