Park was the perfect place for us to play

WITH fine spring and early summer weather the parks in our area have been busy.

David Kindred

WITH fine spring and early summer weather the parks in our area have been busy.

Ipswich has many fine parks for all ages to enjoy and former Ipswich man Rod Cross, who now lives in Botley near Southampton, recalls the fun he had on one of Ipswich's smaller parks when he was growing up in Ipswich in the 1950s.

Rod, a regular contributor to Kindred Spirits, said: “Ipswich is fortunate in having so many fine parks and while growing up in the town during the 1950s, I certainly made full use of them.

“Christchurch Park is the centrepiece with its Elizabethan mansion, arboretum and ponds teeming with wildlife. Holywells Park had the particular attraction of a paddling pool on hot summer days.

“There was a corner of Gippeswyk Park, which was even better for train-spotting than the platforms of Ipswich Station. Chantry Park hosted good quality cricket matches on summer Sunday afternoons; Bourne Park had excellent football pitches and for me Broomhill Park produced conkers like no other

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“The park where I spent the happiest hours of my childhood, however, went relatively unsung. Irregular in shape, occupying an uneven, sloping site and sandwiched between King's Avenue and the steep hills of Grove Lane and Back Hamlet, Alexandra Park didn't have a lot going for it.

“Maybe it was its unconventional and rather haphazard appearance that appealed to me. That and the fact that it was only a five-minute walk from my home in Clifford Road, and downhill all the way!

“Alexandra Park was originally part of the Hill House Estate, which at one time stretched from St Helen's Street, all the way to Hinds Avenue (now Fuchsia Lane) and St John's Road.

“The estate was owned by generations of the Byles Family, prosperous corn merchants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and prominent townspeople within Ipswich.

“The last owners of the estate, Jeremiah and Ann Byles were childless. Jeremiah died in 1886, but his wife continued to administer both the business and the estate right up until she died in 1902, at the age of 94. By the terms of her husband's will, the land was then sold off in lots.

“One lot was purchased by Ipswich Corporation for just over �30,000. It was to be used as a public park and named after the wife of King Edward VII.

“In June 1904, Alexandra Park was opened. At its centre was a wooden shelter. This was painted dark green and had a bay on all four of its sides with a bench seat in each.

“Although its main purpose was for protection in the event of a sudden rainstorm, the shelter also made an ideal base for children and lent itself to numerous games, mainly involving chasing round and round the outside or standing on the seats inside!

“The 'official' children's play area, unlike today, where it is prominently placed at the junction of the three main paths, was situated at the far side of the park, as far from civilisation as possible!

“There were only three items of equipment: a roundabout, which one either scooted round with one foot, or ran beside and attempted to jump aboard when unable to run any faster; a 'witches hat', which could be either rotated or bucked in and out; and a set of four swings with wooden seats.

“It was all very basic, but the different scenarios one could re-enact were infinite and entire afternoons would be spent here without ever becoming bored.

“Despite the park's undulating terrain, an area near the Grove Lane entrance was just about flat enough for football. Every Saturday morning during the mid-1950s, anything between 20 and 30 boys, mainly from the Woodville/Wellesley Road area, would pick sides and play an impromptu match.

“It was very much a 'jumpers for goal-posts' set-up, with the players entirely self-governing. No well-intentioned adults muscled their way in to form a 'team', depriving the keen but hopeless 'rabbits' of a chance to play with their mates.

“There were no budding Alf Ramsey figures barking orders from the non-existent touchline; no fanatical parents implored the referee to 'come on' nor threatened any opposition member should he dare win a tackle against their son.

“It was boys' football, as it used to be. One side of the 'pitch' was formed by the wall of Price's Bakery in Hill House Road. Every so often the ball would go over the wall and there would be a temporary lull in play as everybody yelled, 'Price's!'

“An unseen boot would then hoof the heavy leather ball back over the wall and play would recommence.

“At about 12.30, the game would cease and the participants would make their way to the ornate water fountain. This had been presented to the town in 1905 by Charles Henry Cowell, twice mayor of Ipswich, as a memorial to his mother Marianne Byles, elder sister of Jeremiah.

“On each of the four sides there was a bowl and a tap, though only one of the taps was connected to the water supply. A heavy iron mug hung on a steel chain beside it.

“Boys would take their turn at the tap, some using the mug provided, while others, perhaps more hygiene-conscious, just cupped their hands to drink the refreshingly cool water.

“Very slowly, with muddied knees and glowing faces, the tribe would then head for home, through the gates next to the former Victorian lodge in Grove Lane.

“This was where the 'parky' lived. His house was perched high up, overlooking the entire park and always had an immaculately maintained garden, with wallflowers and nasturtiums.

“A second set of gates opened into Kings Avenue. Long before the smaller single gate and set of steps near the Civic College were constructed in the 1960s, this was the entrance people used when the park became a short cut to and from town.

“The slope of the ground at this point may not have been conductive to walking, but it was just perfect for tobogganing when the winter snow set in.

“Few who gathered at the top of the hill had anything as sophisticated as a sledge, so tea trays, wooden boxes and flattened cardboard containers were much in evidence as their riders hurtled towards the steel railings at the bottom.

“Occasionally a child would be unable to stop and there would be a nasty accident, but that was considered an acceptable risk. Health and safety was not an issue in those days!

“Near the corner of Grove Lane and Kings Avenue, tucked in amongst the bushes, was a little blue police box. Occasionally, a 'bobby' would park his sturdy-looking bicycle and disappear inside.

“We'd no idea what he did there, but we always made sure we kept a low profile until he'd gone on his way.

“When it was time to leave we would often use the gates in Back Hamlet. The hill always appeared less steep here. Even so, we were usually so tired that it still took us twice as long to get home as it should have done!

“When I last visited Alexandra Park the shelter had been demolished and the police box removed; the water fountain no longer provided water; the swings and roundabouts had been replaced by something more modern and a wildlife area had been built to prevent anyone sliding crazily down the hill.

“It seemed that most of what I had remembered from my childhood had gone, all, that is, except the memories themselves.”

- Do the memories of Rod Cross remind you of your past or do you have a nostalgic story to share? Write to Kindred Spirits at the Evening Star or e-mail