Monthly Archives: November 2018

27th November, 2018. History of Public Parks, 3.

Certainly the ascendancy of the Norman overlords hastened the creation of private hunting parks across great swathes of the English countryside, the king leading the way with the creation of royal hunting parks. Possibly the best known of these medieval royal hunting parks is the New Forest, mostly in Hampshire, this because it was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 (when it was very ‘New’) and because much of it survives to the present day albeit as an assortment of common lands rather than as any remnant of its original function. The New Forest, with its areas of broadleaf woodland, heathland, wet heathland (along river courses) and tree plantations (planted by the Forestry Commission soon after the Great War), was designated a World Heritage Site by U.N.E.S.C.O. and a National Park by the British Government in 2005. The semi-wild New Forest ponies (see above) are a particularly admired element of the open woodland.

Royal hunting parks, like those of ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries, needed clearly defined boundaries within which the Forest Laws applied and within which the bulk of the wildlife (game) remained. This would have been a most expensive and problematic element of private hunting parks. Wooden fences or earthen embankments, or both, were created. Although in practice these could not have contained all the game mammals and birds, if surrounded by cultivated open fields it would have been in the interests of the surrounding parish peasantry to drive back the game from their tender crops and to thereby avoid harsh punishment such as that meted out to poachers. The chase and the kill were perceived in medieval culture as manly, character-building pursuits as well as being a good practice-ground for the military skill of firing arrows from a long bow while riding a horse.

Over the following two centuries the number of royal hunting parks proliferated.

(To be continued).

24th November, 2018. History of Public Parks, 2.

The picture above shows the front cover of another good read for our current topic. Written by Travis Elborough and published two years ago it is a readable paper back, clearly thoroughly researched and, although not a ‘university book’ in the sense that the sources of facts presented are not often credited, it does have an index and a surprisingly comprehensive bibliography.

A familiar overview is that the notion of parks (as opposed to public parks) was brought to England by the Norman overlords of the late 11th century. In the sense that all the land of the country was now formally designated as being owned by the monarch (William I) and that by royal dictate the Anglo-Saxon landowners were replaced by Norman barons and lords of the manor so a situation arose whereby parks could be created across the landscape with relative ease. Such parks were hunting parks and anything but open to the public, with harsh punishments reserved for any such persons found there. Hunting parks were neither forest (in the 20th century meaning of the term) nor just open pasture but areas that combined patches of woodland/forest, areas of undergrowth and open grassland. Here deer (generally mostly fallow deer), hares, rabbits and game-birds (for those particularly skilful with a bow or sling) could live undisturbed until such time as the baron, visiting monarch or ecclesiastical big-wig should desire to engage in a formal hunt, at which time the carnage could be great (for example it is recorded that in later times James I delighted when a deer had been killed in dismounting, slitting open its belly and splashing around his feet in its entrails, possibly being some compensation for the fact that he did not possess a manly knight-like figure but was ‘seedy’ in stature and prone to ill-health).

(To be continued).

22nd November, 2018. History of public parks.

The picture above is of the front cover of Susan Lasdun’s standard text, published 1991 and reproduces part of a painting by William Hannan, c. 1745, ‘West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire’. The picture, if true to the time, shows some features of a typical ‘landscaped’ private park of the time; a lake (a model boat sailing on it), planted coppice to ‘break-up’ the standard edge of the lake, an Oriental looking footbridge, herd of deer, random (apparently) planting on the grazed hillside and the parish church on the hill-top (original position?).

Apparently St. Lawrence’s church is on its original site although the nave and chancel were redesigned in neo-Classical style and the tower completely re-built in the early days of the Georgian hall and park. Its visibility on the Chiltern hill would have dictated the orientation of the hall (the hall and park are now in the care of English Heritage and attract many visitors especially so as I is relatively close to west London).

Of course West Wycombe park was not a public park, not initially although it now is when open. Parks, of one form or another, have a long and interesting history, public parks, that is parks open to the general public, are a relatively late variety of ‘park’.

Classical historians reference some mention of private hunting parks across the Tigris-Euphrates valley during the times of the Assyrian monarchy and later in the walled gardens and parks of Persia (Iran).

(To be continued).

15th November, 2018. Personal issues around Remembrance Day (2).

Demobilisation of soldiers after the Great War was staggered. Sidney was to experience over another year of military service after November 1918. Doris in later life confirmed to me that Sidney, as a young dad, had spoken of being billeted to a German family in Aachen (Aix la Chapelle) during what became known as the post-War Occupation of the Rhineland. He apparently recalled that the German family were ‘good to him’.

Primary source material on the Occupation of the Rhineland seems to be in short supply so it is very difficult to access precise details. However, Sidney’s Tank Battalion diary (at the National Archives) records that they moved into Germany in August 1919, this following the signing of the Peace Treaty (the Treaty of Versailles) in June 1919. Between November 1918 and August 1919 the Battalion Diary records little except ‘improvement of billets’ (between Albert and Arras in north-eastern France) and ‘lectures, education classes and games’. There was piecemeal ongoing demobilisation, but not for Sidney who, anyway, must have faced an uncertain future. On 17th September 1919 his Battalion took part in the British Army of the Rhine sports day. On the 5th November 1919 Sidney’s Battalion was disbanded, the event being marked by a concert and regimental dinner.

Military service documents from the National Archives show that between November 1919 and March 1920 Sidney served in the ‘Tank stores’. I have not been able to discover whether he returned to London in the Spring of 1920, where he had been working as a delivery boy when conscripted, or whether he moved back to his home village of Boughton in south-west Norfolk where his parents lived – he may even have gone elsewhere for a while. Whatever the case on 20th September 1924 he married Annie Rix of Boughton in All Saints church Boughton. 24 years later I was born.

The picture above shows Sidney’s War memorabilia, the object top-right being a standard issue New Testament and next to it the top of his medal box on which was written information vital to my research.

13th November, 2018. Remembrance Day.

A short break from Public Parks, Recreation Grounds, Allotments and Civil Cemeteries.

On Sunday 11th last the centenary of the signing of the Armistice to end the hostilities of the Great War was commemorated by many respectful events across the country. One particular comment made on a radio programme by an ex-conscript (recorded many years ago) was to the effect that when their battalion was informed on that morning the troops gave no emotional or excited response but simply turned and returned to their billet. To us now this may seem strange, but maybe not.

Maybe the soldiers were too war-weary to celebrate anything, maybe they were preoccupied with thoughts of what was going to happen to them now (we know now but at that point they didn’t). Maybe the news came as no surprise as the British forces had been pushing-back the German army since May of that year, indeed so fast that some battalions were near the Belgian and German borders, poised to invade.

My father was a conscript to the Tank Corps from 1917 (see photo above taken on Hunstanton promenade – probably dated about 1955 – he was 49 years old when I was born). My research on his life and particularly his wartime experiences (see Family Studies, Sidney Walter Clarke, 1899-1987 in Publications and Articles section of this website) was just that after his death as, like millions of other combatants, he never spoke to me of his experiences.

Here a quote from my biography – ‘During August to November 1918 the 9th Tank Battalion was periodically entrained east to chase the German retreat. On 7th September 1918 the 9th Tank Batallion was again in Havrincourt Wood and by mid-month Bourlon Wood, Bourlon village having been re-captured. So Sidney was re-crossing the same land as when less than a year before he had first seen action at the Battle for Cambrai. By October 1918 Cambrai itself had been re-taken. By 1st November the 9th were in sight of the Belgian border. On the 11th November the Battalion diary simply records ‘Hostilities cease’.

(To be continued).

7th November, 2018. Recreation Grounds, continued.

The first session of the revised WEA short course (five weeks) entitled ‘A Place of Resort’ took place Monday evening. Eight students this time, so the course may not be allowed to continue, with illustrated introductory info. about public parks, recreation grounds, allotment sites and civil cemeteries. Very lively class discussions and a very enjoyable class.

Further research on the 1859 Recreation Grounds Act, which clearly initiated the development of playing fields seen today, showed the following;

  • Initially recreation grounds were to be run by Trustees, rather than a local government body, although the trustees had to come from dignitaries (not the term used in the Act) such as lord of the manor, members of the parish vestry, etc and if they fail in their duty to oversee the recreation ground then the Charity Commissioners would step-in and appoint temporary managers (sounds very familiar for our day-and age).
  • The managers should make and make known necessary byelaws. This became an inevitable factor of all public places of resort. Examination of Hull’s Committee Minute Books make reference to these often as related to public parks and cemeteries.
  • Some clauses of the 1859 Act relate to the acquisition of land for recreation grounds and set out the form of conveyance necessary. Municipal Corporations could donate land as could parishes through the good offices of churchwardens or local overseers of the poor, but the latter had to be approved by the regional Poor Law Board. A proposed recreation ground could receive any donation up to £1000.
  • Finally the 1859 Act was to apply to England and Ireland (no reference to Scotland or Wales?).

As to the answer to such questions as where were the first recreation grounds in the Humberside region? or when specific recreation grounds seen today were created I, as yet, don’t have answers.