13th February, 2019. History of Public Parks, 27.

Oak Road Playing Fields (see picture above) is one of my favourite areas in Hull and leads me into my final ‘features’ of public parks section, that being Recreation Grounds/Playing Fields. It must be stated at the outset that the southern end of the site has been, and still is, one of intense police activity following the disappearance of a Hull University student in very suspicious circumstances.

A study of the relevant Committee minutes for Hull Corporation Parks Dept. suggests that initially (that being late 19th century) the two terms were identities for two different things. The term ‘recreation ground’ occurs in the minutes certainly by the 1870s and it seems then there were two in Hull, Cannon St. to the north of the then town and in Dansom Lane, east of the River Hull. There is no clear evidence as to what was provided at these sites, whether there were things to climb, swing from etc., whether there were hard-surface paths or whether they were little more than grass-fields for the children to make of what they would. In 1891 it was recorded that the Cannon St. site was coming to the end of its 21 year lease so it had presumably been so since 1870 (the lease was renewed by the Corporation). By 1906 it was being called a ‘playground’, suggesting that some facilities were in place. Also by 1906 Drypool Green was being termed a ‘Recreation Ground’, in fact this was the site of the disused burial ground of St. Peter’s church (to be demolished later in the century and the site now a small green park/enclave). Also in 1906 three benches were fixed in Drypool Green, today there is one!

In the following year Dansom Lane recreation ground was to host a ‘cycle parade’ and soon after a ‘horse parade’ (it is as well to remember that in 1907 the transport of people and goods in a given locality still largely depended on horse-power).

Playing fields.

(To be continued).

12th February, 2019. History of Public Parks, 26.

Thomas Hayton Mawson (s.p.b.) published his autobiography in 1927 (by which time he was suffering from Parkinsons Disease), this cataloguing his 50 year career as a garden, park and town designer. The book was entitled The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect. This self-taught gardener was, in 1923, to become the first President of the Institute of Landscape Gardeners. The Royal Horticultural Society, ‘the world’s leading gardening charity’ had been formed back in 1804 so the two organisations were to run in tandem (the picture above, from the internet, shows the cross-section of a greenhouse design for the R.H.S. by J.C. Loudon, s.p.b.s). I am not clear as to the story of the I.L.G. but today the design element as well as the horticultural element is presented by a proliferation of professional organisations such as; the British Association of Landscape Architects, the Professional Gardeners Association, the Society of Garden Designers, the Association of Professional Landscapers and others.

Mawson amassed a great deal of archives across his long career, these now held in the Cumbria Archive Office, Kendal (Lake District) where, I understand, the cataloguing is proving to be a very big task.

Two other books written by Mawson were The Art and Craft of Garden Making, 1900 (this title reinforcing a point made in my previous blog) and Civic Art.

One of the many public parks designed by Mawson is Sidney Park, Cleethorpes (North-East Lincolnshire), 1904. Despite many visits to Cleethorpes I have tended to keep to the Promenade and foreshore south of the Leisure Centre as well as the area around St. Peter’s church so have not been to Sidney Park, although I know local people speak fondly of it and I have seen a video of the Model Boat Club in action. Model boat clubs became a feature of many public parks with lakes, East Park, Hull being another example. Victoria Park, east central London (s.p.b.s), claims to have the oldest model boat club with a continuous history.

10th February, 2019. History of Public Parks, 25.

The picture above shows the ‘Tea House’ at Belle Vue Park, Newport, S. Wales. It reflects the Park’s designer’s fondness for rustic structures in public parks, the designer being Thomas Hayton Mawson, 1861-1933. Mawson became a well-respected park designer (despite having left school in Lancashire at the age of 12) 50 years after Loudon (s.p.b.s) and other early pioneers were promoting the first public parks. By Mawson’s time public parks were a standard yardstick by which municipalities were judged – Hull’s East and West Parks were up-and-running by the late 1880s and before the Great War Pickering Park was to follow. Mawson was working at the time when the Arts and Crafts Movement, personified by the life and work of William Morris, was in the ascendant and when Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement was becoming influential (Letchworth the first purpose-built new town was completed in the first decade of the 20th century while in 1905 T.H. Mawson played a key role in the lay-out plan for W.H. Lever’s model worker’s community at Port Sunlight on the banks of the Mersey Estuary). Other key figures in this burgeoning model communities movement were Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker who, amongst many other initiatives, produced model house designs for the Homes for Heroes initiative from 1917 onwards. So Mawson was one strand of contemporary initiatives to improve the urban environment.

As a young married man Mawson designed a number of gardens in the Lake Windermere area of Cumberland, mainly for wealthy Lancashire industrialists and was to be later buried in Bowness Cemetery. In fact Mawson may have planned the excellent caravan site that I stayed at in Bowness in Windermere as the Fallbarrow site was originally a landscaped garden for a lakeside Edwardian period house.

Before the Great War and immediately after Mawson gained commissions to design public parks not only in Britain but on the Continent and also in Canada.

(To be continued).

6th February, 2019. History of Public Parks, 24.

The picture above shows part of the ornamental pond located in Pearson Park, Hull with the Victorian conservatory in the background, closed now for a long time and without the sub tropical plants it once housed although, hopefully, it may be restored to its former glory if the park authorities can achieve funding for an up-grading of the Park.

Water bodies were perceived as a vital feature of public parks from their early days, this, probably, related to the precepts of landscape architects that had previously created private parklands. Later on it becomes clear that some of these public park water bodies were quite deep (the one above in Pearson Park is shallow but has a concrete floor) as one incentive for creating them was to provide a washing opportunity for the poorer classes. Later in the 20th century health and safety priorities sometimes resulted in the ponds being drained but many have held-on, indeed in about 1907 a young boy was drowned in the Pearson Park pond, shown above, although it was later decided that he had suffered an epileptic fit while sailing his toy boat on the ‘lake’. A large ornamental/recreational lake survives in East Park, Hull but the ones in West Park and Pickering Park are no longer.

Two ‘elements of public parks’ remain in this part of my study; (a) animals and birds in parks and (b) organised team sports in public parks.

A study of the relevant committee minutes housed at Hull History Centre reveals that literally hundreds of birds and animals were donated, particularly to Pearson and West Parks, by private citizens. Often these donations were made by sea-faring men who had clearly acquired them abroad. Not only is this evidence of a flourishing ownership of exotic animals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but also reflects the support these relatively new parks were receiving from the public. Clearly the Parks needed to have aviaries and enclosures to house the animals. Again these have often become victims of cost-cutting or, more recently, animal right’s issues.

5th February, 2019. History of Public Parks, 23.

The bandstand (s.p.b.) at People’s Park, Grimsby stands to the right off the above picture. Travis Elborough in his book A Walk in the Park (s.p.b.s) is of the opinion that ‘the common park bandstand’ was inspired by ‘the raised-platform kiosks seen in Turkey and across the Ottoman Empire’, these being encountered by British diplomats and soldiers during the mid 19th century support Britain gave to the vast Ottoman Empire especially during the Crimean War.

He also argues that the great age of municipal park creation from the 1880s to the early 20th century was a response to the economic recessions of the era, the logic being that beneficial public provision would dilute the impact of recessions on the population and thereby, might, stave-off civil unrest. This seems to predict a Keynsian logic as opposed to the early 21st century response of cutting-back all public provision. Certainly it was during this era that municipal authorities came to compete with each other over the physical extent and diversity of public park provision, also, to work for the ‘Parks Department’ became a measure of status and worker satisfaction.

Another aspect of the way public parks developed was the general policy that should dictate features provided in such parks. Initially public parks were perceived and designed by landscape gardeners (see early blogs re J.C. Loudon) focussing on open grassland peppered with native and exotic tree species. By the third quarter of the 19th century the creation of flower-beds was becoming a priority, thereby the horticulturalist becoming more important than the architect. Conservatories and greenhouses became a must, not only to educate the people in sub-tropical flora but also to facilitate propagation for the flower-beds. The policy of ‘carpet bedding’ could be controversial, that was planting masses of plants (usually annuals) to create a mass of colour. Public events such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897, encouraged some park super-intendants to oversee carpet bedding which portrayed some relevant thing e.g. the national flag. One argument in favour of horticultural priorities in public parks was that many labouring families had little or no garden area on which to work themselves, a factor that is becoming increasingly the case again today and not just within the poorer classes.

3rd February, 2019 History of Public Parks, 22.

Another feature of late-Victorian parks was the bandstand. Despite having a similarity with market crosses such as the one in Beverley Saturday Market Place purpose-built bandstands have a relatively short history, the first, allegedly, built in the Royal Horticultural Gardens, South Kensington in 1861. By the late 19th century, however, bandstands were an almost indispensable feature of any substantial public park. As in Hull’s parks many have been demolished since the 1940s having fallen derelict with declining local authority budgets, with changing musical taste and with competition from other forms of entertainment. The one shown above is sited in Sefton Park, Liverpool (taken from the Internet) and examples the fashion of the time for things oriental.

Despite the fact that most bandstands were built on a raised dais evidence from the Hull Municipal Minute Books, Parks and Cemeteries Committee shows that here they were best slightly ‘sunken’. Also it was resolved in 1907 to re-locate the bandstands in Pearson and West Parks as with the increasing popularity of park visits and with greater diversity of park provisions their site was considered inappropriate. It was resolved to move the one in Pearson Park first and to site it near the statue of Queen Victoria. The statue survives but not the bandstand, nor do the bandstands survive in other Hull parks. However, there are plans to build a new bandstand on the same site in Pearson Park. There is a relatively modern, small bandstand in Queen’s Gardens, Hull, but is decorative rather than functional.

A fine bandstand exists in People’s Park, Grimsby and is currently used for musical presentations on Sundays during the summer. In Valley Gardens, Withernsea a modern bandstand was incorporated into up-gradings in the late 20th century.

The rise and fall of bandstands corresponds with the phenomenal rise in enthusiasm for brass-bands in the late-19th century.

(To be continued).