Thursday, 23 July 2009

Medicinal parks

A squirrel gathering nest material.

The clock tower, given by a late-19th century town mayor.

A flotilla of Canada Geese on one of the park's two lakes.

This is just one quarter of what is a wonderful park vista.

I could not resist this sign by the entrance to the park.

Last week Susan and I spent the day with friends who live in Longton, Staffordshire. I should really say Stoke-on-Trent, for the six towns which make up the city have been together since 1910 (the other four are Burslem, Fenton, Hanley and Tunstall). Normally I would, but our friends took us to Longton Park, which is a grand 19th century municipal park in every sense of the word, where we spent an enjoyable hour before the rain came and we left in search of a tea shop.

All the pictures in today's blog were taken in Longton Park. In his book, English Journey, published in 1934, J B Priestley devotes an entire chapter to The Potteries, despite saying at one point that 'This is no region to idle in… for nothing that you see or hear or smell in these six towns will raise your spirits'. However, he goes on to say that, to him, 'the Potteries seem unique (and) look like no other industrial region' and ends by wishing its 'ovens never grow cold'. I like Longton and what I know of the rest of the city, but then I like work-a-day landscapes and the communities they continue to support, albeit a shadow of what they once were.

In the midst of all the smoke that once poured from nearby kilns and factories, Longton Park truly was the a medicinal place, where children could run, parents promenade and older folk recline on generous park benches and remember when they, once, did those things too. And so it was for Lenton Recreation Ground, once surrounded by factories and smoking chimneys. A place where workers from Raleighs and other nearby factories migh dash for a quick lunch-time kick around, or just to lay on the grass and watch the girls go by. Whether it was quite like this I do not know, but it is how I image it. Of one thing I am sure, like all parks it was health giving, medicine by whatever name you choose to call it. They still are.

There in Longton, my thoughts were in Lenton and with parks. My friend Allan Brigham knows only too well about the life enhancing qualities of parks, as a recent posting to my website about a park in Cambridge illustrates far better this ramble of mine.

'The localist political dividing line is no longer between public and private or between taxing and spending. It is between faceless bureaucrates, public or private, and the small institutions who have kept their spirit of face-to-face relationships. Which still feel accountable for their mistakes. Which are small enough to make things happen locally. Which can confront the fake efficiency being peddled by the establishment'. From Localism: Unravellling the Supplicant State, New Economics Foundation, 2009.

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