Video & Gallery | Parking and Facilities | Entrance Charge | Usual Programme & Attractions | Sponsors | History of Event | Contacts
27th & 28th August 2023
For the last 41 years, not including a couple of revent cancellations for covid lockdowns, on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday of August the Suffolk village of Walsham le Willows opens its garden gates to the public as part of the quintessential English summer event, an Open Gardens Weekend.
The weekend is not just about the 30-40 gardens but also live music, art exhibitions, a farmers market, craft stalls and plant stalls and of course, delicious refreshments on both days in two venues, the Memorial Hall (behind bowling green) and the Priory Room (near St Mary’s Church) where delicious light snacks, lunches, homemade teas and cakes are provided by people from the village. In addition there is a Barbecue, Pizzeria and Bar on both days in Garden No. 9.
Visitors come not only for the gardens but also the appreciation of the calm and serenity that is created by the event over the two days.
The Open Garden’s Trust recently funded the refurbishment of the clock face on the north side of the magnificent tower of St Mary’s Church.
The original order for the clock was made on the 12th June 1877 and placed by A.J. Wilkinson Esquire of Walsham Hall. The clock is a 8 Day Gillett & Bland Turret Clock which strikes the hours upon the tenor bell which weighs about 14cwt.
The clock dial is a 5ft copper dial with gilded figures and minutes on a black background. The clock originally cost £94 which is about £11000 in today’s money.
The church sits at the centre of Walsham and is impressive by any standards, with a large clerestory and an interesting chequer work flint porch. It was gifted to Ixworth Priory around 1540 and, as is the case with many English Churches, was lavishly restored by the Victorians, although many of the medieval features have been retained. Of particular note are the ends of the hammer beam roofs where full scale carvings of angels would have been fixed but removed in the civil war and probably buried!
It is unusual for a village church to feature a clock; in fact St Mary’s sheer scale and grandeur puts it on the map as one of the stand-out village Churches in the county. Tradition tells us that you can stand on the roof of the tower of a Suffolk Church and see three other Churches and that is certainly true of St Mary’s.
According to a Bury Free Press article in 1877, the clock appears to have been a gift from Hopper Jnr. Wilkinson Esq, quoted to be an “esteemed and venerable gentleman of the parish”. It was noted that it was “Set going on November 13th 1877 by the Donor”. The stone surround was, according to the report, gifted by another local gentleman; “A very elaborate massive stonework moulding has been constructed for the new dial that is the gift of Thomas Golding Esq., Churchwarden”.
The dial was requiring some attention, due to weathering and inevitable general wear and tear, reflective of its long-term positioning on the church’s tower. The original copper dial has a 5ft diameter, so the first challenge was to remove the dial with care, to prevent any damage to the surround and mechanisms.
Back in the Michlmayr workshop in Norwich the dial was stripped back and repainted, with special attention given to the large golden, roman numerals that adorn its face. The company are delighted to have played a part in preserving this dial and reinstalling it to its rightful place, atop St Mary’s Church so that it can be used and enjoyed for many years to come.
“…we had heard about Walsham but never been. We will be back next year…”
A flavour of the atmosphere of the real event
“…we go to a lot of open gardens events and this is the best…”
Parking and Facilities
Car parking for the event is well signed and is immediately opposite the church. The main car park often fills up in which case you will be directed to a neighbouring field. Both car parks are well signed and attended. There is also ample parking for coaches on hard standing, although if you are planning a coach party we would welcome call in advance so that we can make suitable arrangements. There is no separate charge for car parking, the only charge being the entry ticket.
Parking for disabled people is available and clearly marked in the car park of the Village Memorial Hall.
Refreshments and toilets are available on arrival at the Priory Room, opposite the Main Car park and the Village Memorial Hall, next to the Bowling Green and in garden 5. There is also a separate toilet outside the Primary School.
The Gardens MiniBus Service travels around the village on both days. The service will run from 10:45 until 18:00 for those who would like a bit of help getting around all the gardens. The bus makes regular circuits of the village. It’s free and available to anyone – just wave it down and get on and then be dropped off at the next garden.
The entrance charge for the weekend is £8 per person with children under 16 free of charge and this will enable you to come on both days if you wish to do so.
The entrance fee includes copy of our detailed programme of events during the two days and:
• Entrance to all gardens
• Entrance to all other events
• Free parking and free travel on the village bus.
*To enable GIFT AID to be claimed the entrace charge includes a voluntary contribution of 10%. Please make sure you sign a GIFT AID form on arrival.
Alternatively, visitors can elect to pay the standard entrance fee £7.25.
Usual Programme of Events & Attractions
11 am to 6pm both days unless otherwise indicated
Events in the Church
- 11.00am to 6.00pm both days
- Art display and sale of local artists work.
- Floral display on the theme of ‘A celebration of the Garden.
- Bell ringing displays at the start and the finish of both days.
- Various guest organists will play the newly restored Porritt organ on both days.
- The Walsham History Group will present an exhibition in the Church over both days.
Music in the Village
- The Breckland Brass Band will play in the Memorial Hall car park on Sunday the 28th between 2pm and 4pm.
- The Gislingham Silver Band will play in the Memorial Hall car park on Monday the 29th between 2pm and 4pm.
- Our Own Patrick Foster will play his own brand of modern music at the Memorial Hall from 1pm on both days.
- The Larks will sing for us at the Memorial Hall from 12 midday on Monday the 29th.
- The Hoxon Hundred Morris Dancers and the Haughly Hoofers will be around the village on Sunday the 28th.
- At the end of both days there will be impromptu performances at the BBQ and Pizza experience in Garden no9. Patrick Foster and the Larks will join a local group of musicians and our very own Elvis. So don’t rush away.
- Walsham’s famous lunches and teas in and around the Memorial Hall.
- Tea, coffee, savouries, cakes and scones in the Priory Room.
- BBQ, Pizza’s and a well-stocked bar in Garden no 9.
- The Village Market will be operating in the Barn opposite the Church from 11am to 6pm both days.
- A guided tour of the Walsham Wildwood at 2pm both days.
- There will be bowls matches on both days on the bowling green adjacent to the Memorial Hall.
- Vintage cars on both days in Garden no9.
- There are tortoises in Garden no6 on both days.
- The Six Bells will be open over the weekend serving good beer. The Blue Boar is currently closed but will reopen in October and will incorporate a tea room.
“…the best meringues in Suffolk…“
“…we had a lovely lunch in the village hall and it’s such good value…”
“much credit must go to your entertaining staff. I haven’t enjoyed my lunch so much in years ! It’s lovely to see traditional values with a real ambience of a traditional summer fare!”
Open Gardens Sponsors
History of Event
The Walsham-le-Willows Open Gardens Weekend can certainly claim to be one of the best, longest running and most successful Open Gardens events in East Anglia and probably the country.
The idea for the Open Gardens in Walsham was first suggested by the then vicar of St Mary’s Church, the Rev. John Rutherford but credit for the ongoing developments of the Open Gardens event must be given to the late Hilary Russell, a plantswoman whose extraordinary energy and leadership is looked upon as being the reason why so many visitors now come to Walsham le Willows on the Sunday and Monday of the August Bank Holiday.
Over the years many people have dedicated a lot of time to organising the event but former chairman Robin Newell deserves a special mention for his untiring efforts and organisational ability. He has now handed the mantle to Collen Baker who has served on the committee for many years. The late Dr Alec Russell gave so much help to his wife and who was the original Chairman of the organising committee, also deserves a mention. But the weekend relies on the hard work of many people and every year there are over 200 are involved in one way or another to pull everything together.
Funds raised at the Open Gardens are for village causes and most importantly the maintenance of the fabric of St. Mary’s Church, a magnificent example of a typical 15th Century East Anglian Church and worth a visit in its own right. So far over £120,000 has been raised by Open Gardens for the church.
email John Stebbing (Secretary)
2 Vine Cottages
Walsham le Willows
Suffolk IP31 3AZ
01359 259 061 / 07831 325 610
Visit some other open gardens events, find more at opengardens.co.uk