Sunday, 1 July 2018

Boys And Girls Come Out To Play

When I was a small child, living in Bishops Stortford, I'd go to the park with my parents and grandparents. I loved the slide and the seesaw and the roundabout and epecially the swings. As I climbed to the top of the slide, there were words on the metal steps- alternately it said 'Wicksteed' and 'Kettering'. I was intrigued- what did that mean?
Dad explained that Charles Wicksteed was a generous man, who wanted to make playground equipment for children. He used his knowledge of metals [he was an engineer who had a factory making farm machinery and suchlike] but just before the WW1 he had bought an area of land, in Kettering, where he lived, for the sole purpose of building a Park with a Playground in ity.
He had been inspired after going with his family to a Sunday School Picnic, where they'd made a "Plank Swing" across two trees, with ropes. Why not build long lasting proper play stuff.
"I came to the conclusion the great mistake so many private benefactors and public bodies make is this: they lay out a beautiful Park to sit in, and look at, but they do not realise that the people want more than this, they want something doing. And those who cannot play themselves, enjoy looking at those who can. The Play Ground should not be put in a corner behind railings, but in a conspicuous and beautiful part of a Park, free to all, where people can enjoy the play and charming scenery at the same time; where mothers can sit, while they are looking on and caring for their children. My Play Ground is not confined to boys or girls, or old or young, it is open to all. I have seen a dozen women of forty years of age on the Plank Swing together, and enjoying it as much as the children. I have also seen old ladies of 80 go down the slides. It is a good thing to have plenty of variety and then no one tires."
Wicksteed Park was an instant success- but I doubt he would get away with it now- he saved money by skimping on safety rails, and put up equipment on very hard surfaces. I remember a lovely Church Outing there in about 1961.
I still enjoy visiting playgrounds- especially when I can take Rosie and watch her climbing the slide, or giggling on the swing. I often cycle past the playground next to our local council offices. 
The equipment there is all Wicksteed kit - nowadays much more safety conscious [but there is still a zip wire!] and inclusive- with rides with provision for disabled children and wheelchair access. I parked my bike near the Hungry Hippo rubbish bin and took some photos one day last week when there were no children around.
I'm glad Charles' vision remains - play is so important in childhood [and beyond- I hope I can still go down slides when I am 80!]
I am grateful too for people like Tom Gill, Steph's friend from schooldays - who shares Wicksteed's vision, and has set up a charity which builds playgrounds in Africa.
Jesus called a little child to his side and set him in the middle of them all. “Believe me,” he said, “unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven."


  1. This post brought back memories. We always used to go to Wicksteed park for our Sunday School Outings when I was a little girl in the late sixties and early seventies. I knew nothing about the history though!x

  2. What a lovely story and what an insightful man! Thank you.

  3. So interesting! I love it! We go to the parks all around us and they are surely a gathering place. I went down a slide with James and it sort of hurt my wing. Ouch. Oh well, it was a fun zoom!

  4. Oh what a wonderful story! So lovely to hear about this kind man!


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