Thursday, 30 November 2006

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

Or Viccie Park – as almost everyone in Leabank Square calls it – is a wonderful oasis of calm, peace & tranquillity just 5 mins walk from your door.

One of London’s best kept secrets, Victoria Park is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Inside the park's boundaries countless varieties of trees stripe the skyline: oaks, horse chestnuts, cherries, hawthorns and even Kentucky coffee trees. The park is split in two by Grove Road.

The smaller, western section contains the most picturesque of its lakes with a fully functioning fountain and the imposing Dogs of Alcibiades, two snarling sculptures. Retreat to the quiet of the Old English Garden, a floral haven brimming with flowers and shrubs. Have a peek into the deer enclosure and let the kids run off some energy in the children’s playground. In the 1830s, a local movement was formed to campaign for a park in the East End, one to rival the Royal Parks of the West End. A park - it was argued - would benefit the local population by making them healthier as well as helping to fight disease, an important social concern for Victorian society. The campaign was successful and Queen Victoria, an active supporter, gave permission for the park to be given her name.

The 218 acres of land for Victoria Park was purchased by the Crown Estates and James Pennetone appointed the designer. This area was known as Bonner Fields, named after Bishop Bonner, the last Lord of the Stepney Manor. Bonner Fields was spoilt land with brickfields, gravel pits, waste ground, market gardens and through it ran Grove Road.

Victoria Park started to be laid out in 1842. There was never an official opening! For even while it was being built, the Park began to be used by the public. By 1845 Victoria Park was in general use.

Magnificent Victoria Park from the start offered the public a variety of attractions: swimming, cricket, gymnastics, rowing, model yacht racing, a sandpit, aviary, athletic track, paddling pool, bandstand and dancing, just to name a few. The Park also had wide avenues, beautiful gardens, lakes, bridges, pagodas, aviary and a palm house, as well as two stone seats from Old London Bridge.

A magnificent gothic drinking fountain , with four clocks, green copula and purple slate roof, was donated by Angela Burdett-Coutts in 1862. In 1936 an outdoor art-deco swimming pool, The Lido, with blue and white tiles, was built on the eastern side of Grove Road.

Administration of Victoria Park passed through a number of hands: 1851 Board of Works, 1855 Metropolitan Board of Works, 1888 London County Council, 1965 Greater London Council, 1986 the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney.

Victoria Park from its opening became famous for its public meetings. In 1848 the Chartist rallied there. Then during the Great Dock Strike of 1889, the striking dockers were addressed by Tom Mann, Ben Tillet and John Burns. In fact, it was a tradition that whenever an important proposal was to be voted on local dockers would rally at the Park.

During the Second World War Victoria Park, with allotments, anti-Aircraft Batteries, Barrage Balloons and the Home Guard, became part of the Home Front. Also the land was used to fill thousands of sand bags. After D-Day it housed German-prisoners-of-War.

The Lido was closed and demolished in 1989 and is now a car park. In 1994 the whole of Victoria Park came under the administration of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Why not boost your constitution and have an enjoyable day out at the same time, as you explore the many attractions of this glorious park.

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