Abbey Fields Play Equipment, 20th May 2020 (Vibes Facebook Lockdown Article, 118/30 likes/comments)
With its centenary imminent, today I have chosen the Abbey Fields children’s play equipment as the subject.
By the outbreak of the Great War, the recreational amenities provided in the park during its first 30 years amounted to an outdoor swimming pool and a bowling green that had been built by a club.
In July 1919, Kenilworth Town Surveyor Sholto Douglas submitted an estimate of £85 to buy ‘swings, trapeze bar, giant stride, etc,’, from Charles Wicksteed & Co to install in the park. The history of the equipment manufacturer states that its first items made were swings from old heating pipes to celebrate the ending of the Great War, and so with its order just 8 months later, Kenilworth was amongst the first towns to benefit from Wicksteed’s creations.
It was March 1920 that work got underway in the area between the swimming pool and the Barn; a sandpit was also planned but it is not known if it was constructed. The play area was opened 100 years ago in late May / maybe early June 1920; ‘The swings, etc, erected for juvenile recreation are in great demand and have been found very satisfactory’. The surveyor had been instructed to lay down tar around them.
The world was a very different place then, indeed, it was very different to the world of only 6 or 7 years before, and so using the new equipment was banned on Sundays; the instruction given to the Town Surveyor was to ‘lock them up on Sundays as their proximity to the Parish Church was liable to interfere with devotion’.
Vandalism is thought of as a modern trait, but in 1926, ‘Thoughtless and wilful damage’ to the children’s play equipment resulted in the police to be ‘requested to provide stricter supervision’ of the Council’s property with a view to prosecute. In 1933 four youths were prosecuted for breaking bye-law number 26, by using the swings at the age of 15.
The ban on using the play equipment on Sundays was partially lifted from August 1935; children could only use them between the hours of 2 and 6 p.m. When the Sunday restrictions were removed is undiscovered.
In 1951 the Carnival Committee announced that the funds raised at that year’s events would go towards new play equipment in the park, but they later retracted that in favour of helping the Scouts and Guides build a new centre; this was the hut at the end of Randall Road, opened in 1953, that was recently mentioned on Vibes.
In early 1953, a Coronation Committee was established and given funds to spend on worthwhile projects for the town, and some of this was allocated for new play equipment in the Abbey Fields. Installed in time for Coronation Day was a 30ft Safety Slide number BD471 for £118, a 10ft 6ins swing frame BD455 for £54, and a 10ft climbing apparatus with a tower number BD480 for £66. These are the pieces of equipment so fondly remembered in regular facebook comments. Also £350 was allocated for a shelter near to the children’s play area but this was not built.
Although described as a 30ft slide, that was its length; its height was more like 12ft but that is still a big fall for a young child and so a safety cage was added at the top, but not until 1968!
In 1967, an 8-seat horse-rocker was installed. In 1971 a small slide and roundabout were added; as far as is known all the original equipment was still there, although the swings had been upgraded. The Giant Stride installed in 1920 (a Giant Stride is similar to a maypole with handles on the end of long chains), lasted at least beyond 1976, its fifty sixth year, but its final demise is undiscovered.
The horse rocker lasted about 15 years and had been replaced by the early 1980s, the 1953 slide and climbing frame lasted until about 1995, and by 2000 all the old apparatus had been swept away and replaced with equipment that was referred to as being more user friendly; i.e., less dangerous! It was also aimed more at younger children. However, the materials used were far less robust and within a dozen years much was broken, removed or fenced off, and this led to a complete revamp of the whole area.
The new scheme, built early in 2013, cost over £120,000 and included play equipment on the former bowling green; workmen moved in 100 years to the month since the green was opened. How sad that with its centenary upon us, the equipment is by necessity fenced off and out of use.
I am still chasing some information about the play area; has any one a certain date for the removal of the 1953 climbing frame and slide, and does anyone have any photographs of the horse rocker?
The above is extracted from my book, The Abbey Fields.
1) The roundabout showing the giant stride in the background, (KWN 1976)
2) The equipment installed in 1953, the 30ft slide with the climbing frame behind, and the 1971 small slide extreme right. (Photo courtesy Leamington Art Gallery and Museum, and can be seen on WindowsonWarwickshire)
3) The play equipment in 2008; the see-saw on the left is on the site of the 1953 slide. All this was replaced in 2013 (Author)
More Abbey fields articles:
How the land was acquired Full details on how each plot became part of the park between 1884 and 1974.
The Covenants Each plot came with a covenant and restrictions
Abbey Fields Cycle Path Always under discussion, a complete record of attempts for cycling to return to the park
The Swimming Pool The history of the pool from its origins in the 1890s until the present day, with a number of photographs
Car Parking in the Abbey Fields How the car park came about
Bye-laws The non-observance of bye-laws is often discussed, here you can see them all
Abbey Fields Archaeology A guide to the many archaeological explorations of the Abbey and its surroundings from 1840 to the present day
Abbey Fields, 1947 A look at the park as it appeared in the national aerial record of 1947
Abbey Fields Timeline A chronology of the Abbey Fields starting in the ice age!
Return to Abbey Fields home page
See also my book: