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3) Who created our park and why?

Article Index

  1. 3) Who created our park and why?
  2. Sources of information
  3. Activities in school
  4. Activities during your visit
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Who created our park and why?

1) Background information

The Industrial Revolution resulted in millions of people flocking to Britain’s cities to find work in the burgeoning factories and mills. Densely-packed, cheap homes were rapidly built to accommodate them. Conditions very soon became cramped and squalid, and the lack of poor sanitation often led to deadly diseases and epidemics of typhoid, cholera and small pox.

Recognising the appalling conditions in which many people lived and worked, local councils began to create parks – healthy open spaces in which workers could spend their leisure time. These would provide an essential ‘green lung’ amongst smoky, polluted and built-up environments in which millions now lived and worked.

The influential Temperance movement also encouraged the creation of parks. Their members recognised the social damage caused by many workers spending their hard-earned money and time in public houses and gambling dens. They actively supported the creation of parks where, together, families could enjoy healthy recreation.

Councils, at the time, were competing with each other for the most impressive public buildings and amenities, and did so with their parks, which were seen as a demonstration of civic pride, a symbol of wealth and an investment in the welfare of their townspeople. Committees were set up to find the most suitable land, which was either purchased by the council, raised through public subscription or donated by rich individuals. Parks, like museums, libraries and art galleries were the council’s attempts at reforming people by raising their physical, intellectual and moral standards.

Many rich industrialists also showed concern about the living conditions of their workers. Some used their wealth, accrued through the Industrial Revolution, for public projects, including the creation of parks. Others donated land for the park, either during their lifetime or as bequests, often with the condition that the park was named after them.

Further benefactors included wealthy landowners and the aristocracy, who donated the grounds of their town homes for public parks. Many had previously been on the fringes of towns and cities, but were now being rapidly enclosed by the ever expanding urban sprawl. After WWI and WWII some of these large homes proved increasingly expensive to maintain and were bequeathed to the town for civic or administrative use. Others became hospitals, sanatoria, schools, museums or galleries. More recently, owing to their proximity to the park, some have been converted to apartments or hotels.   Parks were often designed by borough surveyors, engineers, nurserymen and park superintendents, usually as a result of public competition. They created places of beauty and civic pride - neat, colourful and well ordered. The products of careful planning and hard work; virtues that would inspire the working classes. 

New parks were usually opened with a great deal of pomp and ceremony to which local dignitaries, officials and councillors were invited. Following this there might be celebrations that included fairs, parades, fireworks, music, sporting competitions and events for children.

In coastal areas the seaside air was already the town’s ‘green lung’. However, owing to the expansion of railways, their councils still created parks for the increasing number of tourists and working class families who came on holiday and thus brought wealth to the town. These parks usually offered a greater range of attractions, novelty features and entertainments – many of which people payed for, and which provided local employment.

Significant events that led to the creation of urban parks

The 1875 Public Health Act enabled councils to acquire land and borrow money from the government to build new parks. This accelerated the pace of park building.

The 1881 Open Spaces Act and the1884 Burial Grounds Act enabled towns and cities to create smaller parks in inner city areas using disused burial grounds, churchyards, waste land and enclosed squares. These proved very popular with the very old and the very young who could not travel far.
In 1887 and 1897, Queen Victoria’s golden and diamond jubilees were commemorated by councils by creating new parks. In many existing parks, commemorative features such as statues or fountains were commissioned and used as the focus for civic celebration. Similarly, the coronations of Edward VIII, George V and George VI were marked by the creation of parks.