Leopard Hill – and “Darwin Field”
The spike of the south western corner of our Parish Boundary encloses Leopard Hill. The name derives from the manor that lay on the site of the current pub, Lyppard Grange, often spelled “Leopard” and the hill formed part of their demesne. It is a corruption of the Anglo Saxon “Lip Perd”, possibly a deer-leap in a hedge.
The hill-top is the highest point above the city, providing panoramic views over the spires to the Malvern Hills. It played a part in the Civil War battles for supremacy; off Tamar Close is the Grade ll listed site of ‘Cromwell’s trenches’. This plateau was a vantage point and possible gun emplacement, where Cromwell’s men dug in as they besieged the Royalists in 1642; they would have marched along the ancient highway from Crowle, now called Newtown Road, and they used Leopard Hill for surveillance at the very least. An officer’s high quality sword with a pommel dating from that time has been found nearby.
After the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s, ownership of these lands had passed to the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedral who leased them to the farmers. The tenants paid tithes to the Dean and Chapter; the tithe records show that in 1834 some fields on the side of Leopard Hill were arable but most were pasture.
Leopard Hill was then leased to the Worcester City Golf Club which was founded in 1898, as an 18 hole course. That golf club folded in the 1930s and the course was taken over by Tolladine Golf Club until that closed in 2006.
The 18 hole site originally included Ronkswood Hill Meadows and stretched down to Newtown Road. Then in 1941, Ronkswood Hospital was built on part of the golf course, being opened under the Emergency Medical Services Act; the single storey ‘huts’ provided 450 beds for wounded servicemen during WW2. It became part of Worcester Royal Infirmary in 1952, operational until the new Hospital was opened in 2002.
The golf course was reduced to 9 holes after losing the land to the Hospital, although some of the old tees and greens can still be discerned in Ronkswood Hill Meadows when the conditions are right. Friends remember playing the 9th / 18th hole as a very steep descent from the top of the hill down towards the unpretentious clubhouse.
While Ronkswood Hill Meadows with their medieval ‘ridge and furrow’ field pattern are now a designated nature reserve, managed by the City Council, no such protection currently exists for the ‘Old Golf Course’. Nature has taken over many of the greens but the fairways are still visible; the conifers and oaks that deflected golfers’ drives have grown even more majestic. Wildlife abounds, including butterflies, owls, kestrels, buzzards, bats, and a profusion of wild flowers.
Recently, developers have begun building another block of houses off The Fairway, near the old clubhouse ruins, despite strong opposition from residents who were supported by the Parish Council since it was deemed ‘over development’; a vintage oak tree was eventually safeguarded. Other developers have sought planning consent to build a tightly crammed block of housing on ‘Darwin Field’, the section of the course that abuts Darwin Avenue. In the corner was previously the sixth tee, with the fairway running along the hedge that is now the boundary of the Stableford Development. Under the current South Worcestershire Development Plan, an allocation for housing had been made for the adjacent field that had belonged to Aconbury Farm, including the boggy area that was formerly the fifth green. Most of this allocation has been taken up by the Stableford Development but an allocation of 41 houses remains. The developers Bromford want to build 51 houses, after knocking down three on Darwin Avenue, by spilling over into the grassy area of the old golf course and removing all the mature (TPO) trees in the Field. This has been strongly opposed by local residents, again supported by the Parish Council as overdevelopment of the site; recently that ‘scorched earth’ application has been rejected by the City Planning Committee despite the recommendations of the Planning Officers. However, in September 2021, the application has been re-submitted.
The Neighbourhood Plan seeks to conserve our open land as amenity assets, encouraging people to take advantage of fresh air and the solace of nature, and seeks to have the old Golf course designated as “Local Green Space”, an important designation which provides a degree of protection broadly equivalent to Green Belt. Watch this space… !
By Jan Scrine, with input from Andy Taylor and Barbara Hopper.