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5) What was in our park?

5) What was in our park?

What was in our park?

1) Background Information

The Industrial Revolution led to the cheaper production of cast iron, which could be shaped into intricate forms for use in parks such as bandstands, seats, shelters, urinals, clocks, gates and railings. Glass, too, could also be more commercially produced, and was used in glass and palm houses for showing exotic trees and plants.

The designs of structures and buildings in parks were sometimes influenced by other cultures, at a time when Britain’s empire was at its height. They included Indian and Chinese motifs, then later, Japanese. Decorative elements from past civilisations such as ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt were also used. The Gothic and Italianate styles, popular at the time with many councils for their civic buildings, were also used for park buildings and structures. In some parks, rustic features were built to create more romantic and picturesque landscapes, as part of the desire to help people escape from their grim home environment.

Iron and glass were used extensively
for park buildings and structures.

stanley park palm house 1906

Stanley Park Palm House and railings circa 1906:© Liverpool Record Office

What was in our park?

2) Sources of information

Old photographs and postcards will show you what was in your park.

These are some of the common features that you might see in your park. You park may have many more. Descriptions of others can be found in the Illustrated Glossary.


Bandstand at Roker park

The bandstand was a focus for ‘civilised’ musical entertainment. The concerts were free but the audience had to pay to sit on the rows of deck chairs around the bandstand. The music was provided by town, industrial, colliery, mill or military bands, and then in the early twentieth century by bands from the scouts and the British Legion. Some parks eventually permitted dancing. Bandstands were usually highly decorated, painted cast iron structures. Their designs were based on domed and pillared pavilions from India, China and the Islamic world.

Image: Roker Park © Tyne & Wear Archives Service

Palm houses


The Victorians were keen collectors of the natural world, including exotic plants, trees and palms. These were displayed in heated palm houses and conservatories and appeared more and more in parks towards the end of the nineteenth century. They also provided a warm social space to meet and listen to performances, especially in cold and wet weather, though there was usually an entrance charge.

Image: Palm house © Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies


terraces at mowbray park

These were level areas of stone or concrete, usually elevated to give a viewover the park. Edged with balustrades and adorned with statues, they were a social place, for meeting, dancing and staging festivities

Image: Postcard of terrace ©Sunderland Council/Mowbray Park


children around fountain

Fountains were installed in public parks at a time when most working class homes did not have indoor plumbing and whole streets relied upon outdoor communal taps for their water supply. They provided safe and free drinking water, necessary if the authorities wished people to stay for long periods in the park. Many were erected by donations, through bequests and public subscription, and were usually celebrated by large and elaborate commemorative structures.

Image: Fountain © Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Tea rooms

Tea Rooms

Tea rooms supported the social function of parks by encouraging visitors to spend longer periods in parks. Alcohol was never served, since this went against the principles behind creating the park. There would be toilets nearby, for which there was usually a charge, payable to an attendant or operated by coin. Tea rooms disappeared in many parks, but survive today in some as cafes or kiosks.

Image: Tea rooms © English Heritage/NMR

Tennis courts & bowling greens

tennis court

Parks provided a variety of different sporting activities. The most common, such as bowling and tennis, needed specially prepared surfaces. These were seen as healthy and civilised pursuits, and were encouraged through the creation of clubs and tournaments. For casual use, the equipment could be hired from a pavilion with the proceeds contributing towards the upkeep of the park. Other, more genteel pursuits included croquet, archery, shuttlecock, quoits and skittles.

Image: Tennis court and players, 1907 © Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust



Public parks were places to erect statues. They could be of the reigning monarch, the park benefactor, a local dignitary, an industrial entrepreneur or a local celebrity.

Image: Statue © Sunderland Council/Mowbray Park

What was in our park?

3) Activities in school

Look at a current plan of your park to see what is in it. Compare it with an old plan to see if anything is missing or has been added.

Design symbols that represent past activities or features in your park and place on a large blank plan.

Talk about the function of different features, and why they are, or were, in your park.

Work out why they might have been sited in that position.

Look at photographs or postcards to see what people are doing.

Research what instruments a band might have played in your park’s bandstand. Listen to the music that bands might have played. For which special occasions or concerts might they have played?

Where did the bands come from? Who sponsored them and helped pay for their instruments and uniforms?

Research what might have been sold in the tea room. How is this different from today? How do prices compare?

What was in our park?

4) Activities during your visit

Take photographs or sketches of important features or buildings. Record any special detail of historic importance.

List what materials they are made from.

Have any features been repaired or replaced? Do they still look as they did when first built?

Have any buildings or features changed their use, and if so, why?

Has access to any of them been visibly changed?

Are there any disused features or structures in your park that remain only because of their historic importance or for their ornamental value?

Take copies of photographs and postcards and stand in the place where they were taken. Talk about what has remained, what has changed and what is there now. Suggest reasons for changes.

Photograph or record information on parks signs to show what is in your park. What would have been shown on similar signs in the past?