GROVE GARDENS, WHEATLEY: A tribute to David Gagg (1934-2012).

Prior to moving from his home in Ferrers Road, Wheatley, to the Nursing Home at Wyndthorpe Hall, Edenthorpe, David Gagg came across two ‘snaps’ of a rookery, (now long gone) in the trees of Grove Gardens, Wheatley Hills. These had been taken during the mid 1940’s and conjured up memories of the idyllic childhood David spent encountering the wild birds, animals, plants and habitats around Grove Park, Chat’s Pond, the land now dominated by the Royal Infirmary, the expanding housing estates of Intake and Sandall Beat Wood beyond.

Who put the Hills in Wheatley Hills
In the wedge of land between Thorne Road and Armthorpe Road, elevation (hence Wheatley Hills) is provided by the low Sherwood Sandstone ridge being capped by a deposit of glacio-fluvial sands and gravels. Road names such as Sandcliffe, Hillcrest, Oakhill, Thornhill and Rowan Mount all derive form this local topography. This coincidence of geological land-form and glacial action gave rise to a rash of commercial sand quarries and perversely led to the presence of steep roads like Greenhouse Road, on which generations of Doncaster’s terrified learner drivers practised hill-starts.

Links with the Past
The gravel pit which subsequently became Grove Gardens was part of the Green House estate. Mr Cockhill, the occupant of Green House (now the Cumberland), was a keen and accomplished golfer and managed the rough undulating sandy land under his ownership as an 18 hole Golf Course. It was here in 1894 that under Mr Cockhill’s captaincy the Doncaster Golf Club was formed (Hardcastle 1994). A report in the Doncaster Review for April 1894 gave the following account –
‘Doncaster Golf Club – The Easter competition took place on Easter Monday in the form of a handicap contest by strokes over 18 holes. The links were in good condition and the weather very enjoyable but for a somewhat high wind. The first prize was won by Mr Mathews, who played a fine game throughout; Messrs Cockhill and Young tied for second place’ (Anon 1894).

In later years, the Golf Club’s activities moved to the Race Course Common and in 1911 transferred to their current location at Doncaster Warren (Hardcastle 1994).

A Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear
The series of 19th century and early 20th century Ordnance Survey maps show the presence of a gravel pit which by 1906 had become populated with trees and was known as Gravel Pit Plantation. The development of Wheatley Hills as a major suburb of Doncaster between the wars is illustrated by the map of 1937 which shows much of the present built environment already in place. The 1937 map also shows that the gravel pit was not built over, but nestling between Armthorpe Lane, Armthorpe Road, The Grove and Hillcrest Road, it was developed as the attractive amenity of Grove Gardens. About this time it was bequeathed to the People of Doncaster as a public park, becoming well known for its bowling green and bowling club.

… and a Nightingale Sang!
The area was also known for its natural history. In the Doncaster Review for 1895 (vol.II (13): 3) a correspondent signing him/herself ‘W.B.G.’ appealed for confirmation that nightingales could be heard singing in various places around Doncaster including “the woods near Wheatley.”

A reply was quick to come (Doncaster Review vol.II (15): 27) with someone signing themselves ‘A.C.’ noting that in the month of July last year (1894) “the sweet songster first attracted the attention of the public on Thorne Road. It took up its quarters in a plantation at the extreme end of Mr Cockhill’s park [Grove Park] and what is very unusual with its habits, close to a fair amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The warbling could best be heard – even as early as between eight and nine o’clock in the evening – in the lane (Armthorpe Lane) leading from Thorne Road to Armthorpe Road but owing to boys disturbing it, the bird penetrated deeper into the plantation and then the best coign of vantage was from Armthorpe Road … it could be heard on and off for some two or three weeks. It was responsible for several parties visiting its retreat and lingering all night to catch the beautiful notes, and some were rewarded, whilst others caught nothing but colds”.

On the Vapourer Trail
One of Britain’s rarest insects, a small day-flying moth known as the Scarce Vapourer was recorded here by a Mr E.B.Tomkinson in September 1907 (Hewett 1907). This curious creature, the female of which has the singular disadvantage of being wingless, was an indicator of sandy heath and wetland habitats, its presence indicating the kind of wild landscape which prevailed in the area prior to urbanisation. In effect Grove Park was an outlier of Wheatley Wood which featured on pre-war Ordnance Survey maps and which during the 19th century was celebrated by entomologists across Yorkshire particularly for its Lepidoptera. Interestingly a fragment of Wheatley Wood still survives in the form of the majestic, if beleaguered, oak trees on the green spaces adjacent to Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of Intake Housing estate.

References
A.C. (1895) Doncaster Review Vol. II (15): 27.
Anon. (1894) Doncaster Review Vol II (17): 58.
W.B.G. (1895) Doncaster Review Vol. II (13): 3.
Hardcastle, D.A. (1994) The Doncaster Golf Club: Centenary 1894-1994.
Belton, Gainsborough.
Hewett, W. (1907) Notes on the Lepidoptera of Yorkshire. The Naturalist
32: 144-146.
Howes, C.A. (1984) And a nightingale sang … Lapwing 15:16-18.
Howes, C. A. (2000) The Scarce Vapourer moth (Orgyra recens Hubner) in and
adjacent to the Humberhead Levels natural Area. The Naturalist 125:
121-135.


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