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Who created our park and why?

Who created our park and why?

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.

Who created our park and why?

2) Sources of information

Official documents, such as this council report for potential sites for a new park, will reveal how your park was created.

MINUTES OF REPORT ON SITES 1866: Liverpool Record Office

Minutes of report on sites 1866: ©Liverpool Record Office

Newspapers will report on plans to acquire land for a new park.

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE 22June 1892 : Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Newspaper article 22June 1892 : ©Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Souvenir programmes will detail who took part in the opening celebrations or processions.

PROGRAMME COVER: Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Programme cover: ©Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Local newspapers reported the opening of a new park, usually in great detail.

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE 22June 1892: Wolverhampton Archives & Local studies

Newspaper article 22June 1892: © Wolverhampton Archives & Local studies

Local libraries, museums or art galleries will be able to help you with images of park benefactors.

SIR ALFRED HICKMAN: Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Sir Alfred Hickman: ©Wolverhampton Archives & Local Studies

Things to look out for in your park: inscriptions, plaques and busts.

Statues or commemorative busts will record the deeds of people involved in the creation of the park.


Henry Bolckow, industrialist and later the first Mayor of Middlesbrough recognised the need to create a park for his workers who worked long hours and lived in cramped and conditions. He spent £20 000 of his own money to create a free park, opened by Prince Albert in 1868.

Bust of Henry Bolcklow: David Walmsley

Foundation stones and dedication inscriptions will commemorate the gifting of the park to the town


Dedication Plaque Jesmond Dene: ©David Walmsley

In 1857, 3000 working men petitioned Newcastle council for ‘a space for health and recreation’. This bust commemorates one of the aldermen who took up their cause.


Bust of Charles Hamond:David Walmsley

Who created our park and why?

3) Activities in school

Research the origins of your park and when it was built. Where did its name come from? A local benefactor, geographic feature or a royal commemoration?

What was the land used for before it was a park? Common land, waste ground, disused burial ground, quarry, marsh land or an estate garden?

Who donated the park? Look for images of them in your local library, museum or art gallery. How did they make their wealth? What other benevolent acts did they do for the community? Use documentary sources to find out how the council acquired the land.

Who designed your park and where did he or she come from? Where did the labour force to build them come from? Some parks were built, extended or improved as initiatives to aid unemployed workers from industries suffering a setback.

What was the park’s location when it was created? On the outskirts of the town, in the centre, near a residential district or close to industry?

Who created our park and why?

4) Activities during your visit

Look for commemorative plaques or dedication stones. Record the information on them. Talk about what you might need to research further back at school. Photograph statues or busts of benefactors or people connected to the creation of your park. Use these as a focus for research. Before your visit, make a note of places mentioned in accounts describing the opening of your park. Look for them in the park. Discuss where different events in the opening celebrations might have taken place. If the park or the land for it was donated by a benefactor, is there a large building nearby that may have been his or her home?