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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
8 - Brighton Park - for a chemical spa, off-sync clocks, and a slider-friendly ice rink
Brighton Park, as it was originally known, was laid out in the 1820s in open countryside beyond the town's then residential areas. At around the same time, a 'German Spa' opened on the south side. The nearest naturally-occurring spa water was too far away on the west of town, so a German chemist named Frederick Struve had been invited to develop his techniques for reproducing the chemical characteristics of natural mineral water. In the 1830s, he won the patronage of King William IV and renamed his business the Royal German Spa. The park itself, which had been acquired by a solicitor called Thomas Attree, was renamed in honour of King William IV's Queen (Adelaide). Attree had grand plans to build an estate of exclusive villas, but only constructed two. For most of the 19th century, the park remained a private place, open to invited guests only. However, in the early 1890s, the Race Stand Trustees bought the land, and gifted it to Brighton Corporation for use as a public park. After various improvements, including construction of a central pond, the park was formally opened in August 1892.
On entering, the first thing I notice on my right is a one storey pavilion, painted white and dark green, with a few seagulls perched on top, and some tennis courts. Even though it's cold today, there are people with rackets hitting balls, much as they might have been doing just before the First World War when courts were first laid. In that same period, the park was given its first children's playground and a croquet lawn. Nearby, I notice with my eyes (but not my nose) a 'Scented Garden'. This was created in 1995 at the instigation of The Friend's of Queen's Park with help from American Express, apparently for the elderly, disabled and partially sighted - although why it can't be for everyone, I'm not sure. It is supposed to contain over a thousand scented shrubs. The Friends of Queens Park, I discover, is a group formed after the storm in October 1987 felled over a 100 of the park's trees.
I continue walking west across the park in a diagonal direction keeping, I hope, fairly close to my east-west line (the 450 northing). There is a bowling green on my right, this was laid in 1909, even before the tennis courts. On my left (towards the east) is an open area of grass, and on the other side of it, a handsome bold red brick tower with a clock, and a copper green roof. As I don't carry a watch, I've no idea if it's telling the correct time or not. But Andrew Bradstreet (who has written an interesting and accessible history of the park on the BrightonandHove website)
says it has a reputation for always being a bit too fast or a bit too slow. In 1892, at the park's opening ceremony, so the story goes, the mayoress, Mrs Ewart, suggested it would be nice if the park could have a clock tower like the one in Preston Park. Twenty years later, a local tradesmen, William Godleye, left a £1,000 for such a tower to be built - because, when visiting the park, he'd always been pestered by children asking him the time.
I pass a strange bench made of large wooden spheres topped by wooden discs. Below me, is a fenced off area, heavily planted, which leads down to the pond, busy with ducks. Apparently, the pond leaked for many years. This may have been because of damage caused by military vehicles that ran across the lawns during the Second World War. Long before then, though, in the first winter after the park was opened, the pond froze over. For several days, it was considered strong enough for skating, but was divided by a rope, half for skaters, and half for sliders! Around 1,000 people used it each day, and for one night at least it was lit by lanterns. Again, many thanks to Andrew Bradstreet for these colourful snippets.
My route takes me close by another striking red brick structure, a sort of squat tower, with terracotta carved tiles and marble plaques. It's a drinking fountain, and a memorial to the Race Stand Trustees for their donation. One plaque says: 'Borough of Brighton. Queen's Park. This park was purchased at a cost of £13,500 and presented to the town of Brighton by Alderman Henry Abbey, Alderman John L Brigden . . .'. I'm not sure how well it's being looked after at the moment, since there's a substantial shrub growing out of its roof. Above me, beyond the drinking fountain, in a grassy area, I notice a group of people, all with dogs. I wonder if they are part of a dog-training class. Close by, on my left, there's signs for keeping dogs out and a fenced off area leading down to the pond. Bradstreet says this was created in the 1970s, after an anti-dog campaign that went so far as to place flags in dog poo piles to draw attention to the problem.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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