The picture above is the walled garden prior to replanting having been used for grazing since the mid sixties the garden had become over grown once the cattle had gone. The garden like the rest of the farm hid it's affluent and designer history very well.
Fisherwick coming from the Old English for fisherman's dwelling was first recorded as a manor in 1167 but evidence has suggested the possibility of a Neolithic settlement, Iron Age activity and a Roman-British farmstead in the area, though it is not mentioned in the domesday book.
In the twelfth century Fysherwyck was in the possession of the Walter Durdent, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, it passed through the Durdent Family with one Roger Durdent living there in 1296.
In 1450 it was granted to the Skeffinton Family who built a 'very proper brick house' which was actually a fine Tudor Mansion. Members of the Skeffington Family resided in Fisherwick until 1756 when the mansion was sold to Samuel Swinfen of Swinfen. The mansion was sold again and had two further owners before Swinfen repurchased before selling in 1761 to Arthur 5th Earl of Donegal.
Arthur Chichester (1739-1799) an Irish Peer who would later become Baron of Fisherwick and Marquess of Donegal decided to use his income from tenanted land in Ireland to create a magnificent estate in England for his home. After only five years the Earl instructed Capability Brown to redesign and remodel the house and parkland. Brown took the Tudor house and created a larger Palladian Mansion, removed formal tree lined avenues, designed a natural parkland with the addition of a great lake and planted 10,000 trees. Browns plans also included stone lined Ha Ha's a feature he liked to include as they were less intrusive than fences and walls
This magnificent estate was unfortunately not to last with the Marquesses death in 1799 the estate pasted to his younger son Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester who sold it to clear family debt. Unfortunately the estate could not be sold as one piece of land and was divided up into nine farms with Woodhouse being one of them.
The walled garden at Woodhouse continued to supply produce to the Howard Family over in Elford for a short time but by the end of the 19th Century Maps show only an orchard in the garden and no formal beds.
In 1936 Woodhouse and other dwellings and land were given by Francis Paget Howard to Birmingham City Council for the healthful recreation of the people of Birmingham and so the Elford Trust was created. It was this one act of kindness that actually kept woodhouse and the parkland around it safe as most of the land which had once made up the Fisherwick Estate was used for gravel workings and agriculture.
Woodhouse has been home to many tenants over the years since until becoming the home of Edith and Trevor Stone and later to my husband Andrew. A small but beautiful farm, though the years had taken there toll on buildings and the people who farmed the land. Trevors death in 2007 brought things to a head and ignited once more the passion in Andrew and myself, we wanted to see the farm used as it had been intended for the healthful recreation of people.
2008 was a slow year Birmingham had other ideas they were thinking of auctioning off the farm, I wrote to our local MP Michael Fabricant towards the end of the year and he in turn kindly wrote to the Turst and Charities Committee.
2009 saw me address the committee and put mine and Andrew's ideas forward for a community farm at Woodhouse, these idea's seemed to be warmly received and work started on a proposal and business plan. Unfortunately things were not to go all our way with the loss of an important member of the committee, July 2009 saw Andrew and myself told the fight was over the farm is going to auction.
Bolstered by friends and family who told us we should not give up we set about organising a public meeting which took place in September 2009 along with a petition at the Whittington Coutryside Fair which bosted 800 names at the end of the day. From the public meeting a support group was created, new dialogue was sourced with the council and the petition was lodge in Birmingham.
2010 discussions with the council continued, the commiunity group formalised as a Industrial and Provident Society, the farm bosted Gloucester Old Spot Pigs, chickens, and Irish Moiled Cows and the walled garden was ploughed for the first time in nearly forty years. The garden was then divided up into four beds and trees started to be put back against the wall. 2010 had also seen Woodhouse host a project run by Staffordshire Care Farming and Development CIC working with people recovering from mental health issues called WELLIES.
2011 saw the full council meet and agreed a new tenancy could be given for Woodhouse, the members of the committee had worked very had to achieve this and finally things were looking promising. Annamarie and Andrew gave out there first community supported agriculture veg share. Work started on our community building with the removal of the pigsties and decoration.
2012 saw a change in members of the Woodhouse Farm Committee though focus was still on securing the farm and allowing people to enjoy the space, planting continued in the walled garden and the cider orchard was planted on a very sunny but cold January.
2013 Change yet again it seemed the idea of the commnity group being the middle men between Birmingham City Council and tenant in Andrew and myself was not working. The decision was made to close the IPS and create a new Community Interest Company with myself, Andrew, Allan Hayes (a long term supporter of the project and volunteer in the garden, working wonders with the fruit trees and bushes.) and Nick Platt (another long term supporter helping on a more policies and health and safety front but never happier then digging something up or cutting something down) as directors working directly with Birmingham Council.
2014 saw Woodhouse Farm and Garden CIC start it's first year of trading, projects such as Staffordshire Care Farming and Development CIC's WELLIES have continued to be hosted here, local Brownies, Guides, Cubs continue to visit and volunteer. It also saw a rise in visits from Garden Guilds, WI's and walking groups it is our hope as facilities improve we hope to share our little piuece of history with more people.
2015 saw an increase in corporate volunteering with work parties from British Gas, Lloyds Bank, The prudential and Central England Co-op, as well as securing funding from The Lottery, Severn Trent, Tamworth Council and Whittington and Fisherwick Parish Council.
2016 will see us hopefully complete the refurbishment of the first quarter of the community building (Project Pigsty) with the addition of toilets thanks to The Lottery, a new roof thanks to our own fund raising, funding from Severn Trent, Whittington and Fisherwick Parish Council and Central England Co-op. It also sees us being involved in the 300th anniversay elebrations forCapability Brown including special Heritage Open Days supported by The Heritage Lottery, Capability Brown Festival and The Landscape Institute. Here is to 2017 when I hope to be reporting we have raised funds to allow us to tackle the rest of the community building and that we have welcomed lots more people to our little farm.
All that is left for me to do is to thank all those who have been involved, visited, bought a packet of sausages or a cake from one of our fund raising stalls and here's to seeing you again soon.
Woodhouse Farm and Garden CIC
Fisherwick Wood Lane
Tel: 01543 432005
October may be turning cooler but we have lots of lovely produce to cheer you up including apples and blackberries for crumbles and pies, tomatoes for warming bowls of soup and sauces, plus all you need for a taste Sunday roast.