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Review of Last Lecture

Great British Parks  by Paul Rabbitts.

Our speaker not only works in a great British Park, he is passionate about them!  Paul Rabbitts enthused us all with admiration for their parkitecture, as he called it, their design, and their very existence.

The park is open to all, no matter who you are.  Early public parks were mostly late Victorian and early 20th century, adding to those Royal Hunting Grounds which were made public parks at about the same time.  St James's, Regent's, Richmond, Hyde, all, like the New Forest, started life as a Royal Hunting Ground.  Slowly they were made accessible to the public at large and interest was paid to how they looked.

At the same time, people were becoming worried about the terrible life style of most of the town dwellers working for the results of the industrial revolution, and green spaces were thought to be a 'good idea'.  City after city, town after town, allocated space for people to walk about in the fresh air, well, fresher than in their crowded streets.  It had dawned on the powers that be that if one's only relaxation was the pub or gin palace, that would be where you went, but if there were a large open space, with possibly facilities to kick a ball about, and flowers to look at, and bandstands where music would be played, people would take advantage of them, and they did.

Paxton, of Crystal Palace fame, inspired Birkenhead, and even Central Park New York.  He designed Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow, the People's Park in Halifax and many others.  His proteges Edward Milner, Edward Kemp and John Gibson, went on to create many more.  Wealthy benefactors were inspired to donate land for the public good, Albert Park in Middlesborough, where the iron industry meant a lung was badly needed, Sefton Park in Liverpool and many more.  According to Paul the bandstand in Sefton Park inspired Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band!

During the twentieth century the National Playing Fields Association got involved, and many parks were given organised spaces for playing football, cricket and other sports.  Buildings were installed, to keep people there for longer, cafes, and toilets joined the bandstands, with ornamental clocks, fountains and statues.  Many a proud city placed its war memorial in the Park.  Lidos and paddling pools arrived and the municipal planting was a sight to behold.

Regrettably during the latter part of the twentieth century parks went in to decline.  Fortunately at the turn of the century things started to look up again.  Lottery money was used to restore many parks and their parkitecture, people started using them again.  The modern fashion for Park Runs has invented a new use for them, and despite austerity cutting the funds available to the councils responsible, many parks are much heathier now than they were.

Famously, John Nash changed Regent's Park (once Marylebone Park), for George IV, not only taking inspiration from Repton to lay out the vast space, but also building those magnificent terraces around the edge, making it one of the most desirable places in London to live.

By contrast, Victoria Park in East London, and Royal Victoria Park in Bath, were created as parks, with carefully thought out walks and planting.  This concept was finally accepted generally after many Acts of Parliament were passed, culminating in the Public Health Act of 1875, which finally meant things were done.

Kensington Palace from across Long Water