Leechwell Garden


View Gallery | Visit the LGA Website

Project Overview

In the 1980’s, South Hams District Council acquired land in the Southern Area of Totnes, which had been a market garden. Having built a link road and car parks, SHDC drew up several plans for the further development of the site. The 2003 plan was opposed by a local community group (Save Our Space – later Design Our Space).

Following agreed parameters, a lengthy community consultation was undertaken by Design Our Space, supported by the Totnes, Devon County and South Hams District Councils. As a result a new concept design for the area was generated, including the creation of a new public open space, the Leechwell Garden.

The Leechwell Garden is on the site of an ancient orchard, and contains a Scheduled immersion pool, fed by water from the Leechwell. Working with the community DOS drew up a design for the new Garden with Landscape Architect Charlotte Rathbone. The garden was funded by monies from South Hams District Council, S106 money (from the developer) and a Lottery Grant. Totnes Development Trust became involved in the project in 2009, to assist in the preparation of the Financial case, negotiate with the local authorities and other professional bodies particularly on licence and legal issues as well as provide financial and project management support to the Leechwell Garden Association which was set up to deliver the project. The garden, with its wooden play structures, herb garden, pergola, shallow pools and specially designed gates and benches is managed, funded and run by the Leechwell Garden Committee.

History of the Gardens

A History of Leechwell Gardens

The present garden was an old orchard, part of the property of Leechwell Cottage, until it was divided and Leechwell Bungalow built around 1930. Before that the orchard was owned (or leased) by many different people, one of whom was William Bogan of Bowden House in 1656. Earlier still, the orchard was probably in ownership of the Church or one of the chantry chapels in the town. The orchard is bounded to the north by the distinctive stepped course of Leechwell Lane, said to follow the line of extra-mural burgage plots dating from the Saxon period. A survey of the garden dated 1873 (see below) clearly shows water from the Leechwell flowing through the garden into a pool and then along one side of a cultivated plot tucked behind a bend in the wall of Leechwell Lane. The watercourse eventually joins the stream running through the back gardens of Moorashes and hence to the river Dart.

The Leechwell Holy Well

The Leechwell was Scheduled as a holy well in 2003. It has been described as one of the most ancient and important holy wells in Devon (Faull) and as being a well of high antiquity (Devon County Monuments Register). Its substantial stone structure is built into a deeply cut crossroad site with a raised bench and walled and gated water source. The one source feeds three granite basins, which in turn empty into a large enclosed stone basin. The water is piped beneath the floor of Leechwell Lane but earlier maps (above) show that it once left the well via an open leat through the garden of Leechwell Cottage. From here it entered the pool in the Leechwell Garden.

The Pool

The pool, which is actually triangular, was identified as an Immersion Bath associated with the Leechwell Holy Well and scheduled as an Ancient Monument by English Heritage in 2005. Each side is about 13ft long. It is about 2ft deep at the apex and about 3ft 6ins deep at the base, is lined with stone and slate and has two steps leading into it. It is fed by water from the Leechwell, located higher up, 100ft above the garden. Today the water reaches the pool via a culvert or pipe which probably runs outside the wall of the garden, beneath Leechwell Lane.

The Maudlin Leper Hospital

The garden adjoins the grounds assigned to the Maudlin Leper Hospital on the slope above the garden in Maudlin Road. The Maudlin, like many leper hospitals, was established in the 12th Century. Like many, it housed about 12-14 brethren, not all necessarily lepers, and had its own chapel and well. Hospital rules generally required inmates to stay within the hospital grounds, so it is unlikely that they would have used the Leechwell or have been seen much in the town centre. Deeds record that the Maudlin grounds once included a ‘herbe’ or vegetable garden as well as an orchard. The Maudlin Leper Hospital gradually became redundant. It was pulled down and the grounds sold in 1719.

Leprosy was known in England from the 6th Century. It was incurable, and it is likely that from the first lepers would have sought any form of spiritual, magical, medicinal or cleansing relief, including the use of wells and springs, in their communities. Research suggests that leper hospitals were often built near or on such sites where lepers already gathered and that wells, like the Leechwell for example, were known and used for their supposed healing qualities long before specialist hospitals were founded in the 12th Century.

The Leechwell Stream

There is other evidence that the water from the Leechwell once flowed as an open stream from near the well to the pool in the Bungalow Garden. In 1864, the land that now forms the garden of Leechwell Cottage, the Leechwell Garden and the land on which the new houses on Heathway West have been built, was sold at auction. The poster advertising the auction, below left, contains the words: “and a perpetual Stream of the celebrated Leechwell Water runs through the Premises” The 1873 Survey, shown above, shows the path of this stream as a blue line. The 2006 design for the garden reinstated this stream and extended it down through the garden as an open water-course. Unfortunately when work began on the infrastructure in erly 2010 an open watercourse proved impractical for various reasons so the two new water features are instead joined by a conduit running under the lawn.

Future Objectives

Community run

The Leechwell Garden Association continues as the management committee to help care for the garden and its upkeep. The group is currently working on the restoration plans for the Immersion pool.

Opening Times

The Leechwell Garden is open from 8.30am until dusk (or 8.30pm if this is earlier). From mid-April until September the garden is open from 8.30am to 8.30pm. Closed on Christmas Day.