10) Who worked in our park?

10) Who worked in our park?

Who worked in our park?

1) Background information

The council, through an elected parks and gardens committee, oversaw all matters concerning the parks in the town. The committee met regularly and their duties included monitoring and approving expenditure.

The parks superintendent was responsible for all parks in the town or city and reported to the committee.

The park foreman managed the day to day running of individual parks through a team of skilled and unskilled labourers, which sometimes included boys. Their duties included propagating, planting and maintaining the flower beds, shrubs, hedging and lawns; tending to any animals; along with several routine tasks to maintain the soft and hard landscaping. All of this was manual work and often required a large labour force typified in the staffing of London parks table. Victorian invention created some new labour-saving devices to assist with park maintenance, such as the lawnmower.

The park keeper was the custodian of the park, opening and closing the gates, patrolling the park and keeping order. He represented the council and was always in uniform when on duty – a figure of respectability. He lived with his family in a lodge near to the park entrance. Lodges often had a bell, a clock and a notice board with park regulations. They were built in a variety of architectural styles, and since they were in public view, were often ornate.

Antisocial behaviour, theft and damage by members of the public made it necessary for some councils to employ additional men to act as constables to protect council property and ensure the safety of visitors to the park. At busy times some of the park labourers were also sworn in as special constables to assist.


Who worked in our park?

2) Sources of information

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Minutes of meetings show how the affairs of your park were managed.

Image: © Liverpool Record Office

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Documentary sources can reveal how a park was managed, what labour was needed, what materials were required and where the money was spent. This information can be found in accounts, minutes of meetings and letters.


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Photographs can show tools and equipment needed and the manual labour required to use them.

Image: © South Shields Local Studies Library


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Find a photograph of a park keeper and look at what he is wearing.

Image: © The Parks Agency


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Visit the park lodge to see what features remain. Talk about why they were necessary.

Image: © English Heritage/NMR


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Look at a census return - available from 1801 up to 1901 – for your park’s lodge to find out about the park keeper and his family who lived there.

Image: Census return - Sefton Park © Liverpool Record Office


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Read the rules of your park. How different would they have been when your park was first created? Why have they changed?

Image: © David Walmsley


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Read extracts from reports to find out what work was involved in looking after your park.

Image: © South Shields Local Studies Library


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Photographs can show tools and equipment needed and the manual labour required to use them.

Image: © Tyne and Wear Archive Service

Invite people into school who used to work in your park. Contact the ‘Friends of the Park’, the park manager, your local studies library, archives or museum for help.

Some might be able to put you in contact with staff who used to work in your park, or they may hold recordings of people who worked in it.


Who worked in our park?

3) Activities in school

Read the minutes of parks and gardens committees for information about the different tasks and responsibilities.

Find out about the people who worked in your park in the past. How many men, women and boys were there, and what were their duties?

Talk about what problems were faced by the people who looked after the park. Interview people who worked in your park. Some might be from the ‘Friends of the Park’ group. Contact your local council’s parks and gardens department for help. Two former gardeners, John and Dave, talk about a typical day’s work in the oral histories and interviews (numbers 9 and 10).

Find out who looks after your park now? How is their role different to the people who worked in the park in the past? Invite a representative into school to talk about the park in the past.

Look at a census return to find out about a park keeper and his family who lived in the lodge. Discuss what the park keeper’s duties might have been in your park. Why did he wear a uniform? What does that say about his status?

Contact your local museum to see whether they have a horticultural handling collection that you may borrow.


Who worked in our park?

4) Activities during your visit

Find the lodge where a park keeper lived. Why was the lodge built in that location? What clues on and around the building show what his duties were? Talk about the function of each feature on and around the lodge and why each was necessary - clock, bell, notice board. What is the style of the building? Are there any unusual details? What is the building used for now? Why might it no longer be a park keeper’s home?

Find the notice board with your park’s rules. Talk about why they were drawn up and how they are enforced. Compare them with the park rules from the past. Which have changed and why? Which have remained the same?

What would happen if people did not follow them? What do the rules say about the council’s attitude to how people should use the park and to its recreational facilities?