Local History Wander

Central Park Wanders.

A series of themed monthly wanders around Central Park, led by a new person each month who has a specialism or passion on a particular topic or activity. The year’s line up looks like bird spotting, meditation, yoga, tree identification, local history and more.

The second of the wanders, led by local history expert Hazel Perry, was focused on the history of the park.


What did we learn?

Central Park and some the immediately surrounding streets (Huntly, Park Street, Broadway) was developed by the Peterborough Land Company in 1876, built to house the middle classes. 

Later on, streets were extended and built around, to house the workers (Vergette).

The majority of the surrounding streets are named after renowned gentry of the time, for example Huntly and Granville.

The park itself opened in 1877, and until it was taken over by the City Council in 1908 it was a private enterprise, and you had to pay to enter.

Where the willow tree now sits, in the centre of the park, used to sit a bandstand. Removed in 1964 for being expensive to maintain.

The sunken flower gardens was originally a pond, used as a boating lake by children to sail toy boats.

And, of course, we paid a visit to the grave of Jimmy the Donkey, the city’s First World War animal hero & mascot.

Jimmy, born in the between the trenches during WW1, went on to serve in the war, once old enough, in transporting wounded soldiers. When the war ended he returned to Peterborough where he live out the rest of his days, eventually being buried here in the Park. We learn Jimmy loved tinned milk and would beg for jam sandwiches on his hind legs…

A shout out was given to the history of Stanley Rec, our neighbouring Park, with a quite radical history: as site of Peterborough Suffragette rallies and, in its contemporary history, starting point for Peterborough’s first Pride march.

Reflections

It was good to get clarity on the reasons for why Huntly extends into Vergette and why the housing style differs so radically from one to the other. Huntly is comprised largely of semi-detached Victoria housing with substantial porches, and variation in terms of character, whilst Vergette contains uniform terraced housing, with front doors that see you spill direct out onto the street.

Today I am aware a great deal of the houses on Vergette are owned and rented out by private landlords, I would be interested to know what the situation in terms of ownership is on Huntley.


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It is a real shame they dismantled so many bandstands across the country such as the one in Central Park. Numbers falling from 1,200 to less than 500, with the majority dismantled between 1945 – 80.

Invention of the Victorians, Bandstands were established as the focal point for parks, primarily for musical entertainment. Funded by local councils at the time who at the time saw it important for peoples’ moral development and health to engage with music.

Beyond original intent, the bandstand is a piece of infrastructure able to showcase community talents, bring people together and a space for community networks to grow.

For those parks and communities lucky enough to keep hold of their bandstands, over recent years Heritage Lottery Fund has invested £800m in parks and gardens, including restoring and rebuilding bandstands, saving 110 of these structures from disrepair.

And on top of this, brand new ones have also been commissioned.

(See here for images of bandstands old and new, and here for more information about the recent investment)

Whilst the art world has identified a certain need for this kind of infrastructure too.

At Brighton Festival last year I enjoyed the use of contemporary designer, Morag Myerscough’s touring bandstand ‘Belonging’. Taking temporary residence in Hangleton community, as part Your Place (see here for programme), the bandstand acted as a venue for an intimate poetry workshop and later, as a stage for a local ukulele band to perform to a crowd of deck-chaired lounging local residents…

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I’ve always enjoyed looking down upon it as a sunken garden. It is quite unusual to have that all encompassing birds eye view of a garden, available for your eye and brain to consume as whole. I always enjoy a well timed glance upon it when walking by.

The unusual quality I identify now explained by its past as a boating lake now re-purposed.

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UPCOMING WANDER SCHEDULE:


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