Monthly Archives: December 2018

30th December, 2019. History of Public Parks, 11.

A very significant figure in the evolution of public parks was John Claudius Loudon, the etching reproduced above is from the frontispiece of An Encyclopaedia of Agriculture, 1844 (compiled by Loudon) and scanned from Travis Elborough’s A Walk in the Park, p.64. Loudon was the pioneer of a number of horticultural publications in particular as editor of the Gardener’s Magazine and it was here that he promoted the idea of public parks.

By a compulsive regime of study he raised himself up from relatively humble origins in Scotland to become a student of agriculture and botany at the University of Edinburgh. As a young man he moved to London and courted the acquaintance of leading scientists and thinkers of the day. In 1803 he published his first article promoting public parks for London and later he also campaigned for ‘sanitary burial grounds’ (new cemeteries) as opportunities for thoughtful lay-out plans and planting enabling them to be places of resort.

With his income from painting and as a landscape gardener he toured Europe and gained much inspiration from progressive parklands seen there, particularly in Germany. He was also afterwards able to publish his Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture and Furniture (see in Publications and Articles my MPhil. thesis on early rural council housing).

J. C. Loudon was able to succeed in gaining the commissions to plan a number of early local authority parks into the 1840s.

28th December, 2018. History of Public Parks, 9. Metropolitan Pleasure gardens.

The picture above (taken from Wikipaedia) is of Vauxhall Gardens, c. 1751 and was painted by Samuel Wale (another bird’s-eye view). Vauxhall Gardens was a for-runner of the element of later public parks that might be described ‘entertainments’, an element that the concept of ‘Walks’ (s.p.b.) didn’t really embrace, and today is replicated by such park-based activities as; seasonal fairs, music events, sports events and children’s play areas and equipment(?).

Vauxhall Gardens, a name dating from the 1730s when the previous pleasure garden, New Spring Gardens created following the Restoration, was taken over by new management, was a place of resort for fashionable Londoners located on the south bank of the Thames roughly opposite the crumbling Palace of Westminster and accessed either by the ‘Old London Bridge’ or by boat. As may be seen from the above picture the ‘Gardens’ were park-like with promenades for walking and trees and shrubs, although this sylvan area was more noted for extra-marital assignations than ecological appreciation. Mostly the attendees gathered around entertainments in, or under, purpose-built structures with one objective to see, or be seen, by others of one’s class or above. George Fredrick Handel was one such patron with some pieces of his compositions first performed in the Gardens.

Over time growing pressure on south-bank land and changing social habits led to the decline of Vauxhall Gardens although the site limped-on until the 1850s.

On the north bank of the River Thames Ranleigh Gardens, 1742-1803, competed with Vauxhall for customers and held lavish entertainments in a vast ceiled and seated amphitheatre called the Rotunda (painted by Canaletto in 1754).

However, like Vauxhall, with the coming of the age of steam it ran out of steam.

(General theme to be continued).

26th December, 2018. History of Public Parks, 9 (The Walks, Kings Lynn, Norfolk)

In the centre of the Walks public park in Kings Lynn stands a surviving 15th century pilgrims chapel standing on a surviving section of the Medieval ramparts. This pilgrim’s chapel is related to the significance of the pre-Reformation ‘pilgrim trade’ to Walsingham, east-north-east of Kings Lynn (then Bishop’s Lynn). After many years of neglect it is now occasionally open to the public (see Friends of the Walks website) and comprises two chapels one on the ground floor, the other on the second floor. This second floor chapel is embellished by a very fine, ornate rib-vaulted ceiling in the high fashion of the 15th century. Thankfully this fine piece of late-medieval architecture is now much valued, much more so than a few decades ago. Yet again in eastern England it is an example of late-medieval brick making and building, hence its usual local name is ‘Red Mount’.

Government acceptance of the value of public ‘walks’, although whether they should be open to ‘all’ the public or just one section continued to divide opinion, forms the early 19th century section of the evolution of public parks. In 1833 a parliamentary committee was created to consider ‘the best means of securing Open Spaces in the Vicinity of populous Towns, as Public Walks’. A key figure in this movement was John Claudius Loudon (of whom more later). One angle on this was that an opportunity for working people, otherwise constantly in factory conditions, to get fresh air and basic exercise would improve productivity. Kings Lynn’s Walks were initially perceived as a facility for the ‘chattering classes’ rather than an open to all provision. So, as stated at the beginning of this section The Walks park at Kings Lynn is particularly significant.

(Next time the era of metropolitan ‘pleasure gardens’).

23rd December, 2018. History of Public Parks, 8 (The Walks, Kings Lynn, Norfolk).

The Walks, Kings Lynn has been designated by English Heritage a Grade two historic park and is ‘the only surviving 18th century town walk in Norfolk’ (quote from the homepage of the Friends of the Walks website). The 42 acre site has benefitted recently from a thorough restoration funded by the Heritage Lottery.

The western part of the Park (nearest the town centre) was until the early 19th century a cultivated area between the beginning to expand town and the surviving (then) town defences. These took the form of an elongated rampart (earthen bank) interrupted by three entrance ‘gates’, South Gate, a castellated square-block tower through which traffic still travels, survives, as does Gannock Gate (see poor image above) with late medieval brick and car-stone and briefly taken down in the early 19th century but then rebuilt to create a ‘picturesque’ folly near the centre of The Walks. Such features have parallels on Humberside as Beverley also had earthen ramparts broken by seven built gates, North Bar surviving and through which traffic still flows. Barton also had earthen ramparts but no evidence of built gates while Hollar’s ‘birds eye’ view of Hull dated 1641 shows fields between the then town and its 14th century brick walls incorporating four large brick-built gates (s.p.b.).

Daniel Defoe wrote in his Tour through the Eastern Counties, published 1722, that Kings Lynn’s ramparts (these massive earthworks had been heightened by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s) were still in-tact as was Cannock Gate.

The eastern section of the Park between Cannock Gate and Tennyson Avenue (B1144) was still mostly wetland in the parish of Gaywood in the 1840s. In the 19th century the main promenades were extended across this land bordered by alternating lime and horse chestnut trees.

A more thorough historical perspective on The Walks may be read from the Friends of the Walks website.

2nd. December, 2018. History of Public Parks, 7.

Years ago public parks were often characterised by the sign ‘Keep off the Grass’. The reasons for this rather disappointing instruction were clear – in either very dry or very wet weather the grass could be so trampled that when the weather improved the grass was unable to grow again. Also discarded items might damage the park’s grass-cutter. The provision of benches would mean that here the visitor could rest without any need to sit on the grass. Such signs, in my experience, are rare today with park’s discipline becoming more liberal.

In fact the ‘keep off the grass’ attitude reflected an historical feature. Early parks, not necessarily fully public parks, were often referred to as ‘Walks’, the expectation being that the area would be used for perambulations, not only for the health benefits of fresh air but also to see others in your community and, indeed, to be seen by them, in other words an activity one would dress-up for. At such times signs might be unnecessary as the walkways were often fenced off from the grass areas, these often used for grazing.

As parklands evolved to municipal public parks the nomenclature of ‘walks’ fell away. However, one public park today (that I know of) retains the name ‘The Walks’, this standing between London Road and the B1144 in Kings Lynn, west Norfolk. The Park’s history reflects exactly the general point made above so I will return to it next time.

20th December, 2018. Fitz Park, Keswick, Cumbria.

Fitz Park, Keswick stands either side of Station Road and alongside a section of the R. Greta. The River flows across this section of the floor of the glaciated valley on land above the glacial lakes to the north and south, Bassenthwaite and Derwentwater respectively. ‘Upper’ Fitz Park is the larger of the two sections and is mostly given over to playing fields (the picture above shows the main pavilion with the valley-side rising up just beyond the town as well as a classic post-glacial V-shaped valley carved into the mountain side). On the other side of Station Road the ‘Lower’ Park is mostly a fine arboretum with winding surface paths and benches as well as a small putting green, bowling green and grass-court tennis courts. It struck me as being so neat and tidy with every patch of soil covered with wood chippings carefully edged – then a notice explained this. In 2015 the park was completely ravaged by flood-water from theRiver and the restoration process is ongoing although seems near completion. Apparently much of the work has been done by volunteers and much of the necessary funding raised by private subscription.

Although I was not able to visit them (although clear with excellent views it was bitterly cold) there are two other public parks in Keswick, Crow Park on the banks of Derwentwater this linking to Hope Park nearer the town itself. Crow Park is described as an expanse of grass whereas Hope Park is more characterised by formal planted beds these, if viewed from the south, with he dramatic backdrop of Skiddaw.

Keswick Museum stands beside Station Road in the ‘Upper’ Park. Did not go in as dogs not allowed.

Seeing the water tumbling over the rocks of the River Greta’s bed and to imagine that volume increased a hundred fold is scary – like a primeval post-glacial melt-water deluge.