Thursday, 21 October 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS were given a talk on parks and gardens at the March meeting.

Chairman Peter Halman gave a presentation on the history of gardens, which date back to Babylon in 800BC and began in this country with the Normans.

Parks were originally a source of food, especially meat from cattle, pigs and hares, and there were 31 listed at the time of the Domesday survey in 1087, growing to around 1,900 by 1350.

Many parks were built during Tudor times and Henry VIII created a large one at Hampton Court to rival those of his French counterpart Francoise I.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne she inherited some 200 parks but in the Civil War period there was no park building and much royal property was sold off.

As country house parks were developed, the purpose of gardens and parks moved towards being a place for entertainment and social gathering.

In London, Hyde Park was enjoyed by the community for walking or riding but in cities in general there were few open spaces for the general population to enjoy.

In Green Park, the Prince Regent had a timber Temple of Concord built but fireworks at the opening ceremony caused the whole place to burn down.

The cheering crowd thought it was just part of the entertainment.

The select committee on public walks was founded in 1833 and public parks began to develop. Due to the American Civil War, the supply of raw cotton dried up and unemployed mill workers in the north of England were used to construct new public parks.

Public parks provided a wide range of activities including riding, archery, gymnasiums and funfairs.

Within many there were buildings put up, some to cater for maintenance of the park or as grand entrance lodges or botanical gardens.

One type of building was created specifically for the parks — the bandstand.

During the Second World War, iron gates and railings were removed from parks for the war effort, resulting in more frequent acts of vandalism.

Local government re-organisation also led to budget cuts, while the creation of country parks meant that many people used urban parks less often.

More recently, the Heritage Lottery Fund has helped many town parks be restored to their former glory, including Forbury Gardens in Reading.

The presentation was preceded by the society’s annual meeting, when the committee was elected and details of the 2018-19 programme were given.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 10, when Clive Williams, former Berkshire County Council’s county secretary, will talk about the history of Shire Hall.

On Tuesday, May 8, Dr Margaret Simons will speak about “Reading in the First World War”.

Meetings are held at the Old Pavilion, off Recreation Road, Wargrave, starting at 8pm.

For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit

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