The Secret Garden
Michael Hasted has belatedly discovered one of Cheltenham’s hidden treasures. crack
Edward Jenner is perhaps the least famous of Cheltenham’s famous sons, which is a pity really because he was the only one whose achievements affected the lives of virtually everyone on the planet. Actors, musicians and sportsmen are all very well but they don’t really contribute; they don’t change the world. Jenner did.
Edward Anthony Jenner was born in Berkeley 17 May 1749. From the age of 14 till 21 he trained as an apprentice to surgeon Daniel Ludlow of Chipping Sodbury. In 1770 Jenner continued his studies of surgery and anatomy under the surgeon John Hunter, and others, at St George’s Hospital. Jenner is widely credited as the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of Immunology’. It has been claimed that Jenner’s discovery saved more lives than the work of any other man.
He lived and practised medicine in Cheltenham from 1795 until just before his death in 1823, in St. George’s Place. He also, for a time, ran a clinic in a house in St. Georges Road, which is now part of the Spirex Sarco factory. He died in Berkeley on 26 January 1823 and is buried in the churchyard a few yards from the castle. Another graveyard, in Cheltenham, bears his name and is one of the town’s hidden and least known treasures.
The small graveyard, now known as the Jenner Gardens,
is easily missed. It is tucked away beside the old Methodist chapel, next to the bowling green, between Jenner Walk and the High Street, only few yards from Jenner’s house in St. George’s Place. It provides a useful short cut to those who know it but more than that, it is a quiet haven of wild flowers and tranquillity.
Jenner’s actual garden ran from opposite his house down as far as the chapel. In fact Jenner, with his friend Rev. Rowland Hill, acquired the piece of land at the end of the garden for the establishment of the chapel in 1809. A year later, needing a burial ground, the chapel’s trustees bought the bottom bit of Dr. Jenner’s garden for £450. Access was created, with what is now Jenner Walk, through the garden to link the chapel with St George’s Place, directly opposite the house. A vaccination clinic was set up and held in the chapel every Sunday, after the service.
The Civic Society first took an interest in the tiny plot of land in the 1980s when they undertook to clear the site which had become derelict and forgotten. Unfortunately nature reclaimed the graveyard and it again became overgrown providing a secluded spot for drug takers and n’er do wells.
In 2004 the Council stepped in, closing the area to the public and again clearing the site of unkempt vegetation. Subsequently the Civic Society became involved for a second time. In the intervening years they have laid new paths, installed benches and smart new railings and gates and wild flowers have been encouraged to flourish among the old, lichen covered grave stones. Numerous plaques were placed around the garden to provide visitors with information.
The restoration is now complete and the Jenner Gardens were formally opened by the Mayor of Cheltenham, Cllr. Lloyd Surgenor, in June 2009. However the cost of maintaining the Gardens goes on. It is administered from the Bowling Club and it is possible to become a Friend of Jenner Gardens for only a couple of pounds a year. Donations, of course, are always welcome. Their website is www.friends-of-jenner-gardens.org.uk