Monthly Archives: May 2019

29th May, 2019. Plants in ‘places of resort’.

As far as I know the only remaining formal flower beds still maintained by the Hull Council Parks Dept. are at the western end of Queen’s Gardens in the town centre (see above). Bedding plants are regularly planted or replaced, these, I am sure, propagated by the Parks Dept. In the early days of Hull’s municipal parks and cemeteries ornamental flower beds were a singular feature, maintained by the staff and following the annual inspection by members of the Parks and Cemeteries Committee it was usually minuted that they were very impressed with the ‘floral displays’. This is in no way an implied criticism of today’s Parks Department as they are (inevitably) starved of cash for everyday maintenance and councils now have a wider spectrum of responsibilities.

The early development of these municipal parks involved discussion of tenders to have built conservatories and greenhouses. The former were large expensive structures with heating apparatus enabling the cultivation of plants too tender for the outside climate and with an internal access path for visitors (public) to see at close quarters. As with plants, shrubs and trees in the park proper great efforts were made to name and give some details of the plants seen, this perceived as being part of the Parks and Cemeteries Committee educational responsibility. Greenhouses were generally for the parks staff in which to propagate the plants which would be on display in the park or cemetery once weather permitted. There is even evidence of a greenhouse being provided in Castle St. disused burial ground. A knowledge of horticulture and interest in it was a prerequisite for working in the municipal parks and cemeteries.

In the 1890s West Park benefitted from the demise of the Botanical Gardens across the Scarborough rail line in that the Trustees of Hymers College, whose building and grounds replaced the Botanical Gardens, offered for sale the conservatories and heating apparatus that they had inherited.

23rd May, 2019 Birdsong in Places of Resort 2.

When considering birdsong a distinction needs to be made between ‘song’ and ‘call’. The former is more complex and often has melody, whereas the latter is usually more strident and monotonous, an alarm signal warning of an approaching threat. Blackbirds have a particularly loud alarm call which, in my experience, is recognised as such by other birds and mammals, a form of species interaction. Male (cock) pheasants also have a loud alarm call given out when they take to the wing to escape (evolution hasn’t yet accepted that this puts the species at a singular disadvantage if the predator has a gun). Generally, in my experience, it is the blackbird that is the last to stop ‘singing’ at dusk and the first to be ‘singing’ before dawn which means that in May, June and July they are giving themselves only about five hours rest, and yet their hard work pays off as they remain one of the most common garden birds.

The song of the skylark (‘the lark ascending’) doesn’t seem to comply with the ‘song’/’call’ distinction. When hovering above ground their ‘song’ is initiated in response to a threat and yet is sweetly melodic, perhaps a strategy to divert the attention of the threat away from its nest on the ground. Incidentally skylarks are unlikely to be a bird of the municipal park as they nest on the ground usually on arable land, if on grass they would quickly be made extinct by the grass-cutter. Picture above copied from Collins Complete British Wildlife, p. 108.

Some birds have non-vocal methods of communication, a cock pheasant ‘thudding’ its wings, woodpeckers ‘hammering’ tree trunks or branches. Charles Darwin referred to this as ‘instrumental music’. Sound waves from a woodpecker’s ‘drumming’ reverberates across a long distance. I used to hate heading the ball when playing football, surely it could do harm, and now the pendulum is swinging my way. The woodpecker’s skull has so evolved as to prevent his drumming causing brain damage.

One more comment on birds audible communication is that some species keep in-touch while flying in the dark/migrating. Particularly noticeable in the Humberside region in this respect are geese.

19th May 2019 Birdsong in ‘places of resort’.

The cuckoo’s distinctive call as a harbinger of spring is welcomed by those persons visiting parks, recreation grounds and cemeteries especially now as apparently migrating numbers have declined greatly, the call then being evidence that some still exist. Although this positive aspect to the cuckoo’s life cycle is most welcome, a negative aspect was always that it would hijack other species nests leading to the sort of situation shown in the photo above, this leading in turn to the almost certain death of the mother’s other fledglings. No-one likes to be taken advantage of. Apparently on a global scale most bird species in the same ‘family’ as our cuckoo build their own nests and do not necessarily migrate. Is this then another example of a European imposition on Blighty? (elections to European Parliament this week!).

I can remember as a child, and later, hearing the call of the cuckoo for the first time was a topic of excited conversation, almost a competition, and indeed often it was possible to hear a number of different individuals calling in the same vicinity.

The term ‘birdsong’ is potentially misleading especially, it seems to me, for young children. People sing to create/join in a melody that may be pleasing, or disturbing to the psyche/soul. ‘Birdsong’ has melody but usually a more everyday function such as to attract a mate or to re-affirm personal territory, the latter probably more commonly throughout the year as most birds only reproduce seasonally.

The ‘Father of Evolution’ Charles Darwin was particularly interested in birdsong and how it was produced, as well as why.

One aspect of bird’song’ that always strikes me is its power. Birdcalls can often be heard at a great distance from the bird itself, this in relation to its size. To achieve, it seems to me, an equivalent call across a distance relative to our size would be impossible – thank goodness.

(To be continued).

15th May, 2019 Sound in ‘places of resort’.

An interesting idea was followed-up in an article in the latest edition of Landscape History (Vol. 40, 2019, Issue 1), the Journal of the Society for Landscape Studies, in an article entitled ‘Sound in the Landscape’. In fact this is the first of three articles with the sub-heading ‘A Study of the Historical Literature’ so in this article the writers, Della Hooke and Michael Bintley, examine evidence in writings of the sixth to the eleventh centuries.

Two interesting quotes from the Introduction to the article are, ‘While many landscapes have made an impression upon people more through visual impact other senses might also be involved, one of which was that of hearing’. Secondly, ‘While peace and tranquillity are considered an essential help towards promoting a sense of wellbeing in a busy world this does not necessarily imply the need for total silence’.

The second quote seems to me to be very true of municipal parks and cemeteries as places of resort. The fact that sitting on a bench in such an environment means that one can hear the bird-calls, the rustle of the wind in the trees, the hum of insects etc. is beneficial and calming but the fact that in the background can still be faintly heard the hum of traffic is also reassuring in that one is not troubled by a feeling of isolation.

(To be continued)

The photo above shows a view in Baysgarth Park, Barton on Humber (apologies if I have used this before), the left hand bowling green shown has, since the picture was taken, been transformed into a commemorative garden highlighting the valuable work of the late Chad Varah who had been born in Barton. The perimeter hedge has been retained but the path across the site takes the form of a capital S, Chad Varah being the founder of the Samaritans charity. In the centre is a canopy up which climbing plants will grow while the S path separates areas of lawn and perennial beds.

2th May, 2019 Recreation Grounds 2.

A minute of the Parks Committee of Hull Municipal Corporation in 1906 refers to a plan to upgrade the Cannon Street Recreation Ground with perimeter planting and fence and further improvements to ‘meet by-laws’. These improvements were still being discussed in December of that year.

Such references evidence an important point, which is that the Municipal Authority was seeking all opportunities to manage green areas within the town boundary for the benefit of the inhabitants. The Authority was prepared to invest an increasing proportion of their income from public funds on this public resource and by doing so showing that, in this context, the great Public Health debate of the late 19th century was being respected. At this time (1906) the benefits to the population of municipal parks, recreation grounds and civil cemeteries were viewed in the same light. Green spaces were important and not to be neglected.

In the minutes for 1907 there are references to a cycle parade (see above) being held in Dansom Lane Recreation Ground and to a ‘horse parade’ on another occasion. There are also references to meetings (presumably open air), religious services and concerts being requested to be held in the recreation grounds, these usually coming from religious groups or from specific chapels.

In 1908 it was recommended a sand-pit be installed in Cannon Street Recreation Ground as a play facility for young children. Later in that year, and on a more negative note, the owner of a property adjacent to Dansom Lane R.G. had sent the Authority a letter stating that ‘lads and young men’ were throwing stones, climbing on his fence and using offensive language. One might then worry as to the future of the sandpit!

An interesting reference at the same time referred to a recreation ground in Stoneferry, the minute also referencing a ‘village green’ and ‘pinfold’ in the same community. Clearly Stoneferry as a satellite rural community was beginning to be swallowed-up by urban sprawl, this fostered by linear industrial development along the east bank of the River Hull.

In June 1909 three ‘extra’ swings were installed in Cannon Street Recreation Ground.

8th May, 2019 Recreation Grounds.

A reference to ‘Cannon Street recreation ground’ appears in the minutes of the Parks Committee, Hull Corporation in the summer of 1891. It appears that the land of the ‘rec.’ was leased from Hull Municipal Hospitals and that this 21 year lease was coming to an end, the Committee recommended renewal. So it seems that this recreation ground had existed since 1870, if not earlier (see analysis of 1859 Recreation Grounds Act in blogs last October/November). Cannon Street today runs east-west  north of Freetown Way and in 1870 would have been on the edge of town (further map evidence needed). The late John Markham tells us in Streets of Hull, a History of their Names, (Highgate Publications, 1987, 17) that the street took its name from the nearby foundry of Todd and Campbell which made cannons for use in the 18th century Anglo-French War (Seven Years War 1756-1763).

Early recreation grounds in Hull only get infrequent mention in the minutes of the Parks Committee. For example, in the summer of 1895 it was reported that anti-social (my phrase, not theirs) behaviour was a problem at Cannon Street recreation ground. Up to this point there seems to be no evidence as to any facilities at the recreation ground.

Coming forward to 1906 there is a reference to a recreation ground at Stoneferry, and it had a ‘caretaker’. Also early in 1906 it was proposed that land between Lee Smith Street and Hull Goal (north side of Hedon Road) be made a temporary recreation ground (Markham tells us that the former was so-named after John Lee-Smith J.P., twice mayor of Hull in the 1840s). Also by this year we get references to a recreation ground beside Dansom Lane, east Hull. Here and at Cannon Street sites three benches were installed. Also at this time the Primitive Methodist congregations and  the Hull United Temperance Council were asking to ‘assemble’ (presumably for open-air services) at these two recreation grounds.

The photo above shows some tree-tops in Oak Road playing fields over the River Hull bank.

(To be continued).