A hint of history – and a community legacy

richard marks' paddockDawn Angliss and fellow Newstead Historians passed on a collection of papers they think relate to the patch of land on which our community garden sits. It makes fascinating reading and gives meaning to the term ‘fine print’ – not only for the size and type of font, but because newspapers in the late 19th century had an eloquence, color and breadth (some might say verbosity) that’s rarely seen today. I wonder if 150 years from now the next Newsteadians will gain a similar sense of our 2012 community and its residents by reading their newspaper and media archives.

It appears that our garden sits upon the piece of land where Richard Marks built  “St Austell”, his large villa (I’m pretty sure that’s the very large foundation stones that Gen and I have been uncovering in our plot, causing the carrots to grow upwards) and the first windmill in Newstead. When we were ploughing the garden, laying out paths and digging, all sorts of household objects were recovered from the site. It’s nice to know they have an owner. We had also found the windmill site and were scratching our heads about what it might be.

Obviously weathly, particularly by Newstead standards, Richard also had an amazing, ornate organ made in Leipzig (11′ high, 6′ wide and 5’6″ deep, ‘made of ebonized wood, tastefully picked out with gold’ and ‘sounding like a whole orchestra’) and he would invite the townsfolk to recitals or concerts at St Austell. Later, he built a grand fountain ‘that threw water like rain’ and pond for ‘fancy fish’ for visitors to delight in.

Richard Marks came to Newstead from England (leaving behind his wife of 12 months) via Chile, to the Victorian goldfields and Yapeen, after gold. About to give up on a tunnel at Yapeen and return to Chile, his mates from Chile arrived with news that gold there was scarce and not worth seeking. Richard arranged for his wife to be brought out, went back to his Yapeen tunnel and found gold; enough to get out of the mines and go into something more lucrative – selling beer to miners! He leased and owned several hotels, including the Yapeen Hotel, Castlemaine’s Criterion and The Kangaroo Hotel at Maldon. He saved the Maldon Brewery from bankruptcy (eventually seeing it turn a tidy profit) before taking a lease on the -no longer standing – Newstead Hotel for three and a half years. In that time, Richard took a liking to Newstead, built his villa and remained there until his death some three decades later.

It appears that Richard Marks was behind the development of agriculture and horticultureapple in the district. Our garden site and down onto the river flats (the levee came later, in 1911) grew crops of astounding productivity – pears that weighed up to 2.5lbs, 94 pound pumpkins, huge crops of potatoes sown amongst his fruit trees of apples, plums and pears (he harvested 1,300 boxes of fruit one season). He always had the fattest cattle to market. The locals were scornful when Richard took up land along the river – it was considered poor farming country and covered in stones, rocks and logs (perhaps the remnants of dredging and flooding?) – but he cleared the debris, built levees and improved the land and soil and soon became a leading agriculturist in the district. Reports talk of the great care and expense in preparing the soil, ‘hundreds of loads of sand and manure’ and ‘fruit trees carefully pruned’.

UntitledNot only was Richard Marks a clever agrarian with a green thumb, he also seems to have been a decent man with benevolence and compassion. In time, Richard Marks owned large tracts of Newstead land and properties; he had considerable wealth. But the records show that he helped business partners and friends out of financial trouble on many occaisions.  A couple who were long term tenants of one of his houses were presented with the house, gratis. Richard’s funeral attracted ‘a cortege of 40 vehicles’ on a showery Tuesday afternoon in December 1989. The Marks’ had no children. His wife (there is no record of her name, nor herstory) erected a huge marble monument that is still evident at the cemetary (apparently the highly polished cedar coffin was enclosed in a hermitically sealed zinc casket and then bricked up, plastered over and a large slate slab placed over the top, ‘forming a sort of vault’).

A fascinating story and thanks to Dawn and the Newstead Historical Society (worth a visit for its wealth of information) members for uncovering and sharing it with us. It explains something of the positive energy one feels at the garden, and its productivity.

For more info on Richard Marks and his growing legacy, see the documents here – Richard Marks.

3 thoughts on “A hint of history – and a community legacy

  1. Saide of Sandon says:

    How fascinating and delightful to learn about the previous uses of our site and that it was a wonderful garden in an earlier incarnation. I was curious about why the name St Austell. When I google-searched, I found that St Austell is a ‘bustling market town’ in Cornwall often termed the capital of the Cornish Alps – a range of “ethereal white mini-mountains, the spoil heaps of the china-clay industry”, which lend an “eerie atmosphere to the landscape”. William Cookworthy discovered the clay in 1755 – a very rare commodity. With the opening of the pits to mine the clay ” the town expanded rapidly”. …St Austell now has a small astronomical observatory on a Camp Farm, an animal and bird sanctuary, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. There is also St Austell Breweries, established in 1851, an independent family brewing business that has become one of the largest private companies in Cornwall running pubs, hotels and traditional inns in the region. Blonde – a strawberry fruit lager, Admirals Ale and Smugglers Sample are among the beers the company brews! It seems beer making and selling makes good money in various places!

    But the highlight of St Austell appears to me to be The Lost Gardens of Heligan, which house a rather exquisite ‘sleeping’ statue in recline and covered with green moss. And it has a mystery ….a mystery that involves a brambly and ivy covered garden, restoration and the discovery, only recently, of a secret under all the rubble. I wonder did our Richard Marks have a connection to St Austell and the secret garden? I wonder if there could be a mysterious secret underneath the rubble in a corner of our community garden?

    For a little more information about Cornwall’s St Austell , the clay pits and the secret garden try:

    http://staustelltown.co.uk/2010/07/lost-gardens-of-heligan/

    • janet barker says:

      More recent conversations with Dawn (Historical Society) suggest the long lost building under the garden is more likely to be associated with the church, but we can always imagine….

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