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Walton Hall - The Grotto

Click to enlargeAs it was in Waterton's time .....

From Dr. Richard Hobson's book.
"The grotto, a little earthly paradise, where the Squire and I, sitting in front of the larger temple, have beguiled many an hour in natural history pursuits, for upwards of five and twenty years, ever charmed by the varied music of the feathered tribe, in addition to our being deeply interested in silently watching the diversified habits and distinguishing peculiarities of the numerous birds in view, when nesting or maturing their offspring, or when temporarily sojourning here."

Engraving from a photograph in Charles Waterton, His Home, Habits & Handiwork, Richard Hobson, M.D., Cantab., Leeds. Published by Whittaker & Company, London, and John Smith, Leeds. 1st edition 1866.

Click to enlargeThe Grotto and the Small Temple or bandstand. Click image to enlarge. From "Wanderings in South America", Charles Waterton, edited by Rev. J.G. Wood, 1880.

The Grotto was 'a little earthly paradise', enjoyed not only by the good Squire and his friends, but also by picnic parties granted permission to enter the grounds. 'If the late Mr Waterton appeared, even at a distance, during these happy, rural, and festive gaieties, the Squire was always greeted by the bands playing, and the whole multitude joining in chorus. (1)

Click to enlargeA party in the Grotto. Possibly dating from the1850s or early 1860s.

The Rev. J. Brooke on the subject of the Grotto.
"After the one o'clock dinner, plain and substantial as before, at which the only liquid indulged in by our host was pure water as usual with him, we again sallied forth, going first to the pic-nic grounds, which he had so liberally provided for the public, never refusing any respectable party; and the only stipulation being that they should give him due notice in order to obtain a ticket of admission; and the only compensation required, that they should pay the woman who attends for washing the set of tea things provided by him for the purpose. This Pic-nic ground consists of a large grass plot kept nicely mown for dancing &c., and adjoining it a large clump of spruce firs, the underboughs of which are cut off to permit the people to walk beneath, sheltered at the same time from the sun or rain; here and there a swing suspended for the amusement of the youngsters. On the side of a bank facing this grotto we found a grotto, approached by a path through rock work, and above this again a Summer-house or Temple overlooking the mass of spruce-firs, &c., and in which the visitors are allowed to have their tea, &c., and shelter from bad weather."

Reminiscences of Charles Waterton, The Naturalist, From a Visit in 1861.
By the Rev. J. Brooke. Printed by Thomas Birch, Wigan, 1877.

As it was in 2011 and later .....

Click to enlargeOn the rocky summit of the Grotto, and on its brink, stands a large and circular temple, its roof being lofty and spherical, and supported by eight stone pillars. when picnic parties assembled here, which they did from a distance of many many miles, they usually availed themselves, if the weather should be unfavourable, of the larger temple for dinner, and for dancing.

On occasions when there was a band playing at a special function, the band would, on Mr Waterton being spied in the distance, strike up "The Fine Old English Gentleman", being joined by the assembled throng. (1)

As it was in 2011 and later .....continued

Click to enlargeThe remains after decades of neglect and, perhaps, plundering.

Click to enlargeAnother part of the Grotto quietly crumbling away.

Click to enlargePeace and tranquility not far from the golf course.
The remains of a small flight of steps are visible. The footpath to the steps has vanished.

Click to enlargeDrain Beck leaving the Grotto as it heads towards the golf course and Brooklands Estate on its way to join Oakenshaw Beck at the Walton Colliery Nature Park, the combined waters eventually reaching the River Calder near Lock 1 of the Barnsley Canal.

Click to enlargeThe Grotto remains are to the left, ahead is the golf course. A public right of way runs along part of this lane. [2014]

Click to enlargeThe larger of the two temples (the columns up above the precipice) at the Grotto was built by Jack Ogden, the keeper, and Charles Waterton. Jack was a mason by trade and was also a poacher turned gamekeeper. He served the Squire well over many years. Jack was proud to be "keeper for Mr Waterton", a post which he never disgraced, and the duties of which he discharged most faithfully.

Above, and behind the larger temple, in the wood, is an artificially prepared trunk of an ash-tree, set apart for the owl, a very favourite bird with the Squire; and, in a portion of this trunk, which was decayed, there was a cavity, in which an ox-eye titmouse yearly nested, hatched, and matured her young, for a long period. (1)

About the Ox-Eye Titmouse
It is possible that the bird in question was a Great Tit
(* see note below)
These were known in the North Riding as Ox-eye (also in the Midlands, Shropshire and Ireland) or Big Ox-eye (in Scotland). Other variations on this included Ox Eye used for Blue Tits in East Lothian (as well as Blue Ox-eye in Forfar), Black Ox-eye referring to Coal Tits in Forfar and Ox-eye Creeper being an occasional name for the Treecreeper.

(* Note. However, in Hobson's book, he mentions: "The Squire frequently alluded to his old favourite the 'Ox-eye', as if grieving for the loss of a valued friend ..." and then refers to blue titmice, suggesting that the bird was a Blue Tit rather than a Great Tit.
The Great Tit in the illustration is from A History of British Birds, by the Rev. Francis Orpen Morris.)

See the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for more information about the ox-eye titmouse.
Also: British Birds, Their Folklore, Names and Literature; Francesca Greenoak; 1997; C. Helm, an excellent book on the general subject of old bird names.

Blue Tit Nesting Box The titmouse is more commonly called the tit these days. Tits (or titmice) are common in these parts still; as illustrated by this blue tit nesting in a Walton garden.

Click to enlarge
Titmice by W.A. Blackston - Blue, Marsh, Bearded and Coal (formerly Cole),
clockwise from top

Click to enlargeBlue Titmouse c. 1797 by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).

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