Dedicated to the care and conservation of
the designed landscape of Staffordshire




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(The Chairman's Report to the 2014 Annual General Meeting - Friday July 4th)

This year’s Annual General Meeting took place at Blithfield Hall, the home of the Trust’s new President, Charlie Bagot-Jewitt, who has accepted the Trust’s invitation following the resignation of Lord Cormack.
Mr. Bagot-Jewitt, who may be best known to members as the former Chief Executive of the National Memorial Arboretum, has provided the Newsletter with the following introductory profile:
“You asked for a few lines about my background. I’ll keep it focused towards Gardens and Parks, which I have always enjoyed even as a young child. My first degree was in Economics and Social History and Geography, and I came to this through my enjoyment of historic landscapes fostered by reading “The Making of the English Landscape” by W. G. Hoskyns as a thirteen-year-old. Indeed, this also led me to study at Exeter University, Hoskyn’s alma mater.
I was lucky enough to attend Exeter as a Naval Cadet scholar, but through my time there (close to many wonderful gardens in the South West, and where, at the time, a friend of my father, Michael Trinick, was running the National Trust in Cornwall) and during my subsequent Naval Career I have always enjoyed visiting as many gardens as I could. When living in various naval married quarters, I also tried my best to create gardens out of almost uncultivable plots of land – giving myself a budget of £100 to spend!
Of course, coming to Blithfield has been wonderful, and I spend about six hours each week in the summer cutting and trying to keep on top of the Pleasure Gardens at the back of the Hall. In the winter I spend almost as long cutting up fallen wood for the fire. We are thrilled with a project that has now started to restore Blithfield’s magnificent orangery, one of only a few remaining creations by ‘Athenian’ Stuart, and are very grateful for the support of Mr. A. Taylor too!
It was also a huge honour to be Chief Executive of the National Memorial Arboretum for nearly seven years. It was a rare opportunity to be one’s own ‘Capability’ Brown and have a small part in developing a young planned landscape and, even more exciting, to plan and re-plan some plots, groves and memorials. Producing a new ‘Landscape Master Plan’ was definitely my favourite part of the job, and Paul Kennedy and I spent many happy hours on this task. Many others in Staffordshire had a hand at various stages, including Mike Walker, Gardens and Estate Manager at Trentham, who introduced me to Tom Stuart-Smith. Many other famous gardeners visited, too.
It is a huge honour and privilege to be President, and I will endeavour to use the opportunity to help the Trust where I can and to learn some more about our country’s wonderful formal and informal landscapes and gardens”.
In tendering his resignation the outgoing President, Lord Cormack, wrote: “It has been a privilege to be your President, and I do hope we can keep in touch on a regular basis. I would be delighted to welcome members to the House of Lords again and to Lincoln, and I do hope the Trust will continue to flourish”. He concluded by sending the Trust every positive wish for the future.
Chairman’s Report
Below is the report by the Chairman, Alan Taylor, slightly edited, which was presented to this year’s Annual General Meeting by the Acting Chairman, Sarah Ashmead, in the absence of the Chairman through illness:
“I start as I always do by looking for new talent to help us on Council or in other ways of running the Trust. We are a voluntary body and depend on active members to help us carry out the Trust’s educational, planning and member-support activities. As you will have gathered, we are currently in need of a Treasurer – a vital post in any organisation – and also have vacancies on the Council of Management where colleagues have stood down…I have now been Chairman for seven years, and, as I say every year, if anyone else fancies a shot at chairing the Trust, please don’t be shy, and step forward.
On our business front I am pleased to report that the Trust has enjoyed another active year in 2012-2013. The financial report to this meeting has indicated that our finances remain sound.
Our membership numbers are holding steady, but we would always welcome new members. Please do encourage your friends and others with an interest in Staffordshire’s gardens and parks to join and help our work in promoting the conservation and understanding of the county’s rich heritage of designed landscapes.
The Trust’s website is now entering its fourth year, having gone live in January 2011. It remains free to the Trust. It contains information about the Trust and how to join, and our current and future activities. Council intend that it will play an increasing rôle in how we communicate with members and the wider public in future years, both because that is the way of the world and also because it is a useful way of keeping our costs under control.
We have been recording statistics on the website’s traffic since September 2013. This shows that in 2012 the average number of Unique Visitors (that is, individual visitors, not repeat visits or search engines) was 256 a month. In 2013 this rose to 305. For the first six months of 2014, this figure is 535 – traffic has more than doubled in two years. In fact, we reached a record in April this year of 583 visitors in one month. The top countries visiting are (in order) the USA, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Mainland Europe, France, China and the Czech Republic.
The online SGPT Newsletter download is becoming increasingly popular, and other Trusts are mailing their own Newsletters to us for inclusion, but nobody is ‘broadcasting’ each other’s at the moment, probably due to restrictions on web-space – this is certainly the case for us - , but we may agree ‘guest appearances’ in future if the Council of Management agrees.
We are one of the few Trusts who actually make their Newsletter available on the web, or, for that matter, an archive or even a list of sites. Email to the website is monitored daily, and there is certainly a lot more electronic communication these days, with several communications each week to various Trust officials. The site is also receiving much more ‘commercial’ mail – ‘special offers’, book launches, etc. How we handle this will have to be reviewed by Council in the near future. Trust email addresses will have to be re-structured in the coming weeks to better manage the traffic.
Encouragingly, Web Browser statistics indicate that a lot more smart phones and tablets are accessing the site. Also, we can estimate that one third of all visitors are adding the site to their list of ‘favourites’, although this can only be an estimate. Plans to re-vamp the site is a medium-term goal, but with all the indicators so encouraging it is not a high priority.
As you will gather from this brief report, the website is a vibrant and growing area of our work. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Richard and Jackie Moseley, who have put the website together for us and manage it impeccably, with Jax as “mailbox” and Richard as designer and editor. A reminder of the site address:
On the planning side, the Trust has been consulted on a number of planning applications throughout the year, both in present-day Staffordshire and in the Black Country. One member of Council has specific responsibility for this work now, and we will be able to focus our comments more sharply. The Trust has also responded to the HS2 public consultation, objecting to its potential impact on several parks, including Ingestre and Swynnerton. Unsurprisingly, we have not received an acknowledgement.
On the Activities side, the 2013 programme was again designed to offer members the opportunity to appreciate the variety of approaches to garden and landscape design to be found within and immediately beyond our County. We visited the Georgian orangery under restoration in the grounds of a Jacobean mansion at Ingestre; a rare example of an early eighteenth-century garden at Melbourne Hall, in Derbyshire; an early nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts house and grounds on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, Wightwick Manor; an eighteenth-century landscape under restoration at Hagley Hall, in Worcestershire; and a six-acre garden less than twenty years old and already being compared to Hidcote, Wilkins Pleck, near Newcastle-under-Lyme.
In the autumn, as a contribution to a nation-wide commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the Trust also embarked on a programme of research into Staffordshire’s war memorial gardens to which it is hoped members will feel able to contribute.
Two issues of the Newsletter were published, both of which benefited in presentation by the introduction of colour. Every member receives a copy, and a copy is also sent to every public library in Staffordshire and to every other County Gardens Trust. The Trust is especially grateful to Colin Fletcher, of LGD Solutions, who type-sets the Newsletter and oversees its production.
The Trust continues to identify gardens likely to be of interest to members; this can be a protracted and sometimes frustrating experience, and we have reason to be particularly grateful to Joe Hawkins, Ann Brookman, Francis Colella, and Richard and Jackie Moseley for their support in organising the programme. We shall continue to strive to provide members with visits to places of interest and would welcome any suggestions.
Finally, it I always my pleasure at the AGM to thank many people for their commitment and hard work in supporting the Trust and its activities over the past year. As always, our thanks extend to our Company Secretary, Hayden Baugh-Jones, and his team at South Staffordshire District Council for all their quiet work behind the scenes running the day-to-day administration of the Trust; to the District Council for allowing them the time to do this and for continuing to host our company address.
We also thank our out-going Treasurer for her work in managing our finances and ensuring that we remain solvent and prudent in our expenditure. My special thanks are due to all my colleagues on the Trust’s Council of Management for their continued input and support; and also to yourselves, our members, without whose interest and encouragement we would not be able to continue. I offer my special thanks to Bryan Sullivan, who organises our Council meetings, takes our minutes, produces the Newsletter and organises our varied and always interesting programme of events.”
At the conclusion of the formal business of the evening, members were given short talks by Mr. Bagot-Jewitt and by Mr. Jonathan Hyde, owner of Cloister House, part of the now-divided Hall, before being taken on a guided tour of the grounds.
Members can now look forward to a study day at Blithfield Hall next October.