I obviously can’t compete with the other events happening today but thought I could add a few thoughts about past coronations and how they have been celebrated in horticultural form.
In fact, until the 20thc, apart from occasional tree planting by private landowners, there don’t seem to have been that many garden-related celebrations! But when I tried to research more modern ones I often came up with a virtual blank, as very few of these coronation memorial sites have actually had their history well-recorded. But that’s never stopped me in the past so… read on to see what I have managed to discover…
Unfortunately council parks department webpages usually say very little about the history of their sites, and even Parks and Gardens UK is seriously lacking in useful information. So I take my hat off to those County Gardens Trusts, who, like the London Gardens Trust, have researched their local parks and made their histories available. I’m also delighted to report that there is more work going on, with many Friends Groups now not just effectively maintaining and improving their much loved local sites and campaigning for their future, but researching their history too. So this post is a bit of a tribute to them.
Creating parks and gardens to permanently mark major events really only seems to have started during the reign of Queen Victoria with, as I showed in an earlier post, the commemorations of her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. These were laid out by local authorities which had acquired the power to establish public parks in 1848, so the next opportunity to marking a coronation with a new public open space wasn’t until August 1902 when Edward VII was crowned king.
His coronation sparked several councils – or sometimes wealthy local philanthropists – to open their purses and get out their spades and establish new parks and gardens.
However, there weren’t that many since many towns had already created new public open spaces for Victoria’s jubilees, and so s there was less perceived need for new parks to celebrate the new king’s accession a mere four years after his mother had celebrated her sixty years on the throne.
Nevertheless, if they didnt create new parks they certainly added new features – everything from benches, fountain and bandstands to statues, bridges and even horse troughs to say nothing of specially planted trees and extravagant temporary floral displays. And on Anglesey a Coronation lookout tower!
Unfortunately Edward’s coronation had to be postponed, as he was suddenly taken ill with appendicitis. Surgery for the condition was then dangerous and not common, but his doctors took at the risk and succeeded in saving his life. The ceremony was then re-arranged for August.
Yet what is interesting is that none of the gardening magazines seem to have made a big thing of the event. Apart from Gardeners Chronicle‘s “Coronation Number”, there were no “special issues”, or much editorial coverage, other than the “coronation shows” held by many of the plant societies or horticultural groups and a few images of floral displays. The Chronicle had the best coverage with an account of the gardens at Sandringham, and brief coverage of the other royal gardens, as well as a free colour print of two new orchids named for the king and queen.
A coronation should also have been a great commercial opportunity. Apart from all the usual memorabilia and tat, nurseries anticipated huge demand for plants and especially flowers. Kelways, for example, expected to send out 100,000 peonies, gaillardias and pyrethrums for the Coronation festivities, although Cants the Colchester rose growers were not so optimistic and feared they would not be able to supply the demand for roses in June because of poor weather in May. But as Gardeners Chronicle reported “The confusion and loss entailed … not least among horticulturists and florists, by the sudden abandonment of the Coronation, cannot be estimated.”
And now a quick look at some of the Coronation Parks and Gardens themselves, although some appear to have been simply delayed jubilee projects rebranded!
One example of that is Coronation Gardens in Leyton, now part of the Borough of Waltham Forest, which is also one which has had its history well researched by the local history group. Land had been bought by the local authority in 1897, Diamond Jubilee year, for use as a recreation ground. Things moved very slowly, and even as late as 1899 not even a drinking fountain had been installed. It wasn’t until 1901 that plans were drawn up for an ornamental layout and estimates sought for a bandstand.
In those days, as I showed in the case of Ada Salter’s campaign to beautify Bermondsey, local authorities were severely constrained in what they could borrow and how much they could raise via the local rates. It wasn’t until 1903 that the government-controlled Local Government Board allowed the council to borrow the £1000 required to instal gravel walks, formal bedding, grass plots and shrubberies. Work was carried out by 50 or 60 of the local unemployed under the supervision of a foreman gardener, and the park finally opened in May 1903. The bandstand – one of Walter Macfarlane’s designs – costing £450 wasn’t finally put up until 1904. Amazingly it’s still there – apparently the only one left in the whole borough.
Another good case of delay can be seen at what is now Inwood Park in Hounslow. Originally planned to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee it was still not finished in time for Edward’s coronation. The original plan was to call it Coronation Park but when the king fell ill there were obviously fears that the name might be a little premature, so instead the new park became the rather more mundane Hounslow Recreation Ground! Work carried on for the next 2 or 3 years again using the local unemployed and ‘practically completed’ in 1905. After. describing its ‘lawns, flower beds and ornamental walks’, which offered ‘a blaze of colour’ the local paper reported that “Under the trees are rustic shelters where old gentlemen read their papers secure from the heat of the sun and nursemaids and tired mothers do their knitting while they keep one eye on the romping children” – Just what parks are for!
On the southern fringes of London, the growing village of Southfields became home what the local paper called “Wandsworth’s new lungs”. Sir William Lancaster, only the second Mayor of the new borough of Wandsworth (1901-02) gave the land for a small park. It had a formal layout of paths, a central ring of London planes, and an avenue of horse chestnuts. The rough-hewn granite drinking fountain seen in the photo above was donated by Sir William’s sister. These days the site appears to be in good shape and has a ten year management plan and a thriving Friends Group although it still doesn’t have any public toilets!
Another well documented Edwardian Coronation Park is at Ormskirk in Lancashire. According to the local history group it was paid for by a mix of local authority funding, public subscription and a large donation from the Earl of Derby, a major local landowner. It was laid out out on 20 acres of land close to the town centre and behind the town’s gasworks. Lady Derby was asked to open the park but she kept prevaricating about dates and so the council lost patience and went ahead opening it without any ceremony.
Apart from a lake fed from the local brook and 30 benches there was originally little by way of facilities and it wasn’t until the 1920s that a pavilion was added overlooking the lake with a public drinking fountain nearby. Toilets, Bowling Green, Putting Green and Tennis Courts didnt appear until after the second world web. It now has a lively Friends Group.
Not all of the new parks were specifically named for the coronation although they, were definitely associated with it. In last week’s post there was a section about Freeman Freeman-Thomas, the future Viceroy of India, and owner of the Ratton estate at Willingdon just outside Eastbourne. He agreed to sell 78 acres [32ha] including some woodland and a lake on the edge of the estate to Eastbourne Council to serve as their first public park, on condition that a new main road, Kings Drive, was built from Eastbourne to Willingdon. However, rather than calling it Coronation Gardens he asked for it to be named after his grandfather Viscount Hampden, and so it was opened on 12th August 1902 by Lord Rosebery as as Hampden Park although the former Prime Minister noted that “the opening of the park will always be associated with the coronation of the King”.
According to local paper in 1902 there were “coronation rejoicings” at the opening of the new Coronation Gardens at Dawley in Shropshire, now part of the new town of Telford. The park was created out of land donated by the local MP and other big-wigs, and the opening was the cause of much celebration and even another poem. However the name doesn’t seem to have lasted long and it’s now known as Dawley Park. [Wellington Journal, 31st May 1902]
I’ve found references to several other Edward VII coronation gardens but nothing much more about them so if you know anything about those at Bridlington, Tonge, Darfield or Tenby – or indeed others that I haven’t discovered yet – please let me know.
Edward VII died in 1910 and so George V ‘s coronation was only 9 years after that of his father. Given the short time gap perhaps unsurprisingly that once again there weren’t that many new gardens or parks laid out or named in honour of the event. Again some of those that were were “hangovers” from an earlier time.
One such was another London site that was originally offered by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to Hammersmith Borough Council for public recreation in 1903. Unfortunately it was 6 more years before the land was finally handed over and it took a further two years for the park to be laid out. London County Council contributed £1000 to the costs and the work was largely undertaken by the local unemployed. Wormholt Park was finally opened on 27 June 1911 as part of the borough’s celebrations to commemorate the coronation of George V, although one suspects that its naming was merely a convenient excuse to try and get a member of the royal family to perform the ceremony. In the end that proved unsuccessful and the mayor stepped in and did the honours. For a full history of Wormholt see the blog of the local library. Over the years since then facilities fell into disrepair, and maintenance was reduced drastically. Luckily In 2011 a major transformation was started [The landscape architects website has more details] and the park is once again a well-cared for hub for the community, with a thriving Friends Group.
There are, however, a couple of new parks that definitely seem specifically related to George and Mary’s coronation. One is at Prestatyn on North Wales, although I’ve not found its history written up anywhere, but by going through the local paper I discovered it wasn’t necessarily that popular because of the cost. It seems that the council decided to use a £200 legacy and money raised by public subscription to turn a ” triangular piece of land known as the Parish Ground into a park. Then they got more ambitious and wanted to borrow money for a grander scheme. Letters – and a long poem – objecting soon appeared: one said “the idea of spending £1000 on the Recreation Ground is outrageous. Those who want Bowling Greens should pay for them,”
Another was astonished when “The country around our little town is garden enough and to spare, surely, and our councillors could hardly expect to see the ratepayers spending their leisure time in the Coronation Gardens, vainly attempting to obtain some value for the money spent.”
A third argued “ The sum of £50 would furnish everything that is at present required at the Gardens, viz., a playground for the children, tidy paths, a few rockeries. and some scores of suitable trees and shrubs. The Gardens will never be used much by visitors, who naturally prefer the seaside.” In the end councillors backtracked [although claiming they weren’t] and only £400 was allocated.
Prestatyn ratepayers were clearly careful with money because in 1915 there was a decision taken to plant a dozen new trees in the park at a cost of 7s6d each. This led to complaints that “excellent trees” could be bought for just 1s or 1s6d!
However the good news is that, after falling in to a state of disrepair like so many other parks a new friends group has recently been formed and seems to be turning things around and they’re another one of the coronation parks celebrating the latest coronation.
Another new park was laid out at Helston in Cornwall, in a low-lying area which the local history society say “was little more than waste ground, often flooded and served little purpose apart from the grazing of a few donkeys ” A lake was dug out to form the central feature and the park opened in 1912. and was soon home to swimming and other water sports, a although that has long stopped, and instead the lake is used for boating during the summer months.
Perhaps though the most impressive of George’s Coronation Gardens was temporary. The event was the pretext for a range of public ceremonies of unprecedented imperial scope and there were two “rival” exhibitions. At Crystal Palace the grounds hosted the Imperial Festival while at the White City there was a Coronation Exhibition. There is little information on-line about the latter, not even a basic Wikipedia article however having looked ant some of the postcard images it looks like it too was a “hangover”, this time from the Japan-British exhibition the previous year. It was a vast undertaking featuring landscapes and buildings from round the empire, and several spectacular gardens and settings for the various pavilions, including the Garden Club. [Does anyone know more about it?]
Elsewhere , if there wasn’t a new park, there were, as for the 1902 event, plenty of commemorative trees planted or a new feature installed nominally in honour of the coronation.
However even If he didn’t inspire many new parks during his lifetime George V certainly did after his death in 1936. As a memorial it was decided to set up the King George’s Fields Foundation to provide playing fields for the use and enjoyment of everyone. By the time the Foundation was dissolved in 1965 there were 471 King George Playing Fields, all over the UK. They are now legally protected by Fields in Trust and managed locally by either the council or a board of local trustees.
So much for a short history of coronation gardens…As usual I’ve written too much, so I’ll have to continue the story in another post soon!
[Result-start] Great post! It’s fascinating to see how past coronations were celebrated in horticultural form and how local authorities and Friends Groups have researched and maintained these special sites. [Result-end]
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