PUBLIC PARKS AND GARDENS
[See discussion of public parks in the middle ages]
In an industrialised and densely populated country there are few matters more important than the provision of public places for games and recreations. Modern nations realise that a “C3” standard in a large proportion of their manhood is incompatible with their obligations and aspirations [Editor's Note C3 was a grading used by the army in the First World War, to grade recruits of poor physical quality. Trying to raise standards was one of the main reasons for public funding of parks and playing fields.]
This view has gained ground rapidly in England since the Great War, with the result that there has been a strong movement in the direction of providing more parks and open spaces in or near existing towns, and also in the direction of regional town-planning in areas, such as parts of East Kent, where new towns are springing up.
The increase of playing-fields as such does not come within the scope of the present work, but in so far as public spaces embrace gardening (as the majority do in some shape or form) they have an undeniable claim to attention, and it will therefore be relevant to take note, even if briefly, of developments, alike as to area and manner of treatment.
We may begin with London. References are made to some of its principal parks in Chapter XVI., and figures are quoted showing that in 1889 the area other than royal parks was 2,656 acres, whereas in 1898 it had grown to 3,665 acres. These figures showed great expansion, as might be expected, considering that in 1889 the chairman of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee of the London County Council was so pronounced a believer in progress as the Earl of Meath. The expansion was continued, with the result that in October 1927 the spaces under the control of the Council comprised an acreage of 5,659.5. Large as it is, this area would probably have been greater but for the effects of the war of 1914—18, which checked development considerably. That great efforts were made by the Council to regain lost ground is shown by the fact that in the ten years 1918—27 further new parks and open spaces, with a total acreage of 570, were added. Most of these are situated in such densely populated industrial districts as Greenwich, Woolwich, Plumstead, Stepney, Poplar, Wandsworth, Southwark, Lewisham, Beckenham, and St. Pancras. Most of them, too, are in the Eastern and South-Eastern districts.
So much for area, what of treatment ? The first point to recognise is the inevitability of games and recreation grounds, as distinct from gardens, occupying by far the largest area of public spaces under the control of the London County Council, But public opinion asks, and rightly asks, that reasonable space shall be devoted to ornamental gardens. It asks more : it asks that as far as possible the gardening shall be modern. It has long been a reproach against flower-gardening in public places that it is conducted on the old-fashioned formal bedding pattern of mid-Victorian days, even embracing carpet-bedding. One must recognise that to a certain extent public flower-gardening will always be formal. To keep the cost of public parks and gardens in industrial districts within such limits as shall avoid unnecessarily oppressive local rates, entails the cultivation in bulk of a restricted number of amenable plants, and precludes elaborate schemes in which a considerable number of different kinds are associated. But that is not to imply an unchanging fare of tiresome bedding-plants, still less carpet-bedding.
To do the Parks and Open Spaces Committee of the London County Council justice, it has pursued an enlightened policy in this not unimportant matter. In the various properties which it has purchased that embrace informal grounds surrounding mansions, it has in many cases preserved the established amenities, as at Ravenscourt Park, near Hammersmith. At Ken Wood, comprising 121 acres in the borough of St. Pancras, it has retained cover for bird-life. At Golder‘s Hill, near Hampstead, an old English ornamental garden has been laid out in what was once the kitchen-garden. At The Rookery, once a private property, in Streatham, there may be seen a genuine example of typical landscape gardening. At Avery Park, Eltham, one finds a beautiful winter garden. Even in Battersea Park, with its plebeian surroundings, the visitor may see near the north-western entrance a delightful garden, with lily-pond, pergola and sundial. Standing in this garden from time to time both in spring and summer, the present writer has become familiar with its informal old-world charm, and earnestly impresses on other flower-lovers its undoubted claims to attention and admiration.
These remarks, brief out of necessity, may serve to show that flower-gardening under the London County Council is not hopelessly archaic and stereotyped, but on the contrary is imbued with the modern spirit of artistic treatment. Nor in those large areas in London which are not controlled by this body does the cultured visitor find himself constantly bored, and even affronted, by floral platitudes and monstrosities, Many important London parks are controlled by the Government itself, through the Office of Works. Such familiar places as Hyde Park, St. James's Park, the Green Park, Regent's Park, Greenwich Park, and Kensington Gardens, are under State management, equally with Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Park and Gardens, Bushey Park, Richmond Park, Woolwich Common, and other large areas which, with smaller places, comprise an area of about 6,000 acres.
During recent years the flower-gardening at Kew, in Hampton Court Gardens and in Hyde Park, always notable, has become of increasing beauty and importance. There was a time when the value of Kew lay almost solely in its work as a botanical station. Not less eminent in that respect to-day, it now enjoys the distinction of being a true and highly precious national garden, where plants are grown for their beauty and interest as plants, not exclusively as morphological objects. In fine, Kew is a place of outstanding interest to lovers of flowers as well as to botanists. The rock-garden, the azalea-garden, the bamboo- garden, the rhododendron-garden, the rose-garden, the herbaceous garden, the water- garden, not less than the vast collection of ornamental trees and shrubs, the greenhouses, the lakes, the lawns and the flower-beds (Fig. 653) provide between them beauty and interest throughout the whole of the year. One would be only too glad if space permitted of that detailed description of the principal features of Kew which they so well deserve.
The gardens of Hampton Court, whose history is so well described in an earlier chapter, claim increasing public attention every year. The flower-gardening is conducted on an ambitious and enlightened scale, and few garden-loving people visit this historic place, particularly in spring, about the time when the famous horse-chestnuts in Bushey Park are in full glory, without receiving agreeable impressions.
Similarly in Hyde Park, and to a smaller but not negligible extent in Regent‘s Park, the flower-gardening is conducted on bold, impressive lines, under the influence of which old-fashioned bedding plants have given place, to modern plants, more free, more striking, and yet equally full of colour.
The parks and open spaces of London do not end with those controlled respectively by the Government and the London County Council, Areas, most of which are much smaller, but collectively constitute a considerable acreage, are governed by the City Corporation and the Metropolitan Borough Councils. Thus, the former controls, amongst other areas, St. Paul‘s Churchyard, Finsbury Circus, and the famous burial-ground of Bunhill Fields, in addition to larger areas beyond the confines of London, such as Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches; while the latter administer a large number of small recreation-grounds, playgrounds, churchyards, greens, squares, triangles, commons, gardens, and parks of a few acres. These enclosures are spread over the whole of the principal London boroughs. The largest has an area of only forty acres, and many have the dimensions only of a small allotment-garden. All, however, serve a real purpose.
When one turns to provincial cities, one is almost embarrassed in presence of the large number which take a genuine pride in their public parks and open spaces, so impossible is it to do justice to them in the space available. It may be truly said that there is scarcely one town of importance in the United Kingdom which is not imbued with a healthy spirit of emulation in this matter, and seeks to increase its amenities to at least an equality with other large towns. We may take a typical Scottish and a typical English city as examples.
With a rise in its population from 329,096 in 1851 to 761,712 in 1901 and 1,034,174 in 1921; with an increase in its area from the original 1768 acres to the 19,183 of 1927; with a growth in its rateable value from £5,840,256 in 1906—7 to f 10,480,454 in 1926—7, Glasgow attained to a strength and wealth which are a legitimate source of pride, while entailing momentous responsibilities.
The city has not failed to fulfil its obligations, and in addition to providing the various services which are most vital to public health, has greatly extended its parks and open spaces—a task in which its corporation has been greatly aided by public-spirited citizens and neighbours. Thus, Mr. A. Cameron Corbett (later Lord Rowallan) not only gave the beautiful Rouken Glen Park of about 228 acres, but also the great Ardgoil estate, of nearly 15,000 acres, which lies about forty miles from Glasgow. Ardgoil, with its mountain ranges and its glens, presents perhaps the nearest approach which is to be found in Britain to the national parks of America, so graphically described by Professor Frank A. Waugh in Chapter XVIII.
Glasgow Green, the first of the great parks of the famous Clydeside city, was founded as far back as 1662, and with its area of 136 acres is still a source of enjoyment to the citizens. Several of the more modern parks are larger, notably Queen‘s Park, Bellahouston Park, the Linn Park, Knightswood Park, and Ruchozie and Frankfield Park. On the other hand, many are much smaller, including Springburn Park, with its beautiful winter garden; and Dawsholm Park, with its delightful beech walk (Fig. 654). In connection with the great attraction of Springburn Park just mentioned, Glasgow justly prides itself on its great strength in winter gardens. The London County Council has its Avery Hill Winter Garden, but in point of numbers has to yield precedence to Glasgow. It is gratifying to know that the corporation has a keen sense of natural beauty, and preserves the amenities of many of its parks with jealous care, while providing no stint of flower-beds in other places.
The thirty-two parks administered by the Parks Department of the City Corporation of Glasgow by no means exhaust its responsibilities in the form of open spaces, for it also has charge of small areas in various parts of the city to the number of over ninety.
In turning one's eyes from the greatest of Scotland‘s industrial cities in search of a thickly-populated town in the north of England one naturally looks towards Manchester. This great city was an early mover in the provision of public parks ; indeed, it claims to have been the very first town to provide parks maintained solely out of the rates. The year was 1846, the names of the parks were respectively Philips Park and Queen's Park. Twenty-two years later it acquired Ardwick Green and also Alexandra Park. Thereafter it rested almost supine for some twenty years, adding only forty-two acres in two decades. Then, perhaps in emulation of the progressive work done in London from 1889 onwards under Lord Meath and other public men, it set out in real earnest to increase its resources, with the result that in 1927 it was able to boast the possession of seventy-four parks and other open spaces with an area of nearly two thousand acres.
As in London and many other large towns, the greater part of the acreage at Manchester is devoted to courts, greens and courses for various games, the fees for which make a substantial contribution (in 1927 alone upwards of £14,000) to the cost of upkeep. But ornamental gardening is not forgotten. Thus, in Alexandra Park there are charming alpine, rose and herbaceous gardens in addition to a botanical garden; in Heaton Park there is a beautiful old English garden (not to speak of extensive spring flower-gardening); and at Platt Fields there is a Shakespeare garden.
An item in the gardening operations pursued by the Parks Department of Manchester which is not common, and might be imitated with advantage in other cities, is that of placing several hundreds of tubs containing handsome trees and shrubs in the principal squares and around the most important public buildings. Window-gardening and allotment cultivation are also encouraged and given concrete assistance.
The sister-town of Salford is also active. Thus in 1927 it sought permission from the Ministry of Health to raise a loan of no less than £28,076 for acquiring eighty-seven acres of land with which to provide playing-fields.
GARDEN CITIES, SATELLITE TOWNS, AND TOWN-PLANNING REGIONAL SURVEY
Proof accumulates year by year that those who look with apprehension on the extension of the great industrial cities, fearing that the nation will soon begin to suffer from the reduction of open country, have good cause for their disquietude. Especially is this the case in the south-east of England, where the influence of London is so powerful, and where that of the East Kent coalfields must exercise increasing pressure.
It is but a few years ago that a radius of a dozen miles covered the railway lines which served the metropolis and its suburbs, Already (1928) the radius has spread to over thirty miles, A few years hence it will have extended to sixty miles or more : in other words, the metropolitan suburbs will have spread to the vicinity of Reading, Guildford, Brighton, Folkestone, Canterbury and Whitstable. In case this should appear exaggerated, one may point to the national scheme for extending electrical power, and the provision which is being made for linking it up with the new mining towns of East Kent, The widening of old and the formation of new roads will supplement these influences.
It requires but a very brief spell of reflection to realise that the amenities of the countryside and the interests of garden art must be affected by such developments. And the influences might easily be adverse. Unless the establishment of new towns is conducted with due regard to the provision of adequate gardens and the reservation of ample open spaces, the interests of the nation must suffer, Garden cities and garden suburb trusts must be multiplied ; the National Trust must be strengthened in every possible way. There are many who would go farther, even to the extent of forming a department of the Government vested with the particular duty of scheduling and preserving large tracts of country, such as downs, woodlands and commons, as national amenities, safe alike from builder, manufacturer and farmer. There might be many worse objects, but the times are not propitious for the multiplication of State bureaucracies, and it will be well if an enlightened public opinion can be left to work out its own ways and means of attaining the end in view.
In this connection it is satisfactory to realise that much has been done during the past quarter-century. The mere fact that the present book is printed in a garden city carries its own significance. It is unnecessary to devote much space either to the objects or achievements of Letchworth. It has long been an accomplished fact. As it presented itself before the vision of Sir Ebenezer Howard and his supporters, so it stands to-day: a garden city in being, a town of decent dwellings, airy factories, flourishing gardens and reasonably large open spaces; a town where indoor work is carried on under conditions vastly superior to those which prevail in London; a town where life is lived on a higher plane than in the average provincial town with its petty social distinctions and narrow interests.
It is unnecessary, too, to describe at length such foundations as the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, of which Dame Henrietta Barnett became chairman at the age of seventy-six, twenty years after she had cut the first sod, A wider social outlook, a better understanding between the different classes, is implicit in the spirit which animates the trust. In Dame Henrietta‘s own words:
The houses are for persons of every class of income, from houses costing £10,000 at a ground rent of over £100, to single-room tenements with a patch of border at 4s. 6d. a week. I think a great many social troubles are caused by the ignorance of one class of another. The richand cultivated have always considered the poor as an object of pity. The ignorance of the disinherited concerning the wealthy has caused grave and dynamic consequences. In St. Jude‘s Church, the Free Church, and the Institute, at the Hampstead Garden Suburb people of all classes of thought mix together, thus enriching their lives.
Equally typical in their way are the garden towns, such as Bournville and Port Sunlight, which owe their foundation to broad-minded, far-seeing commercial magnates like the late George Cadbury and the late Lord Leverhulme. These places, with their roomy squares, wide streets, convenient and well-built houses, large gardens and spacious playing-fields, are also well known, and need only be mentioned as reminders that there are examples in the immediate past for the work which calls for accomplishment in the near future. Would that Bournvilles and Port Sunlights could arise near every great town, with concomitant destruction of slum areas, but short of that there are amenities well worth aiming at: as, for example, houses only in pairs and never in terraces, each pair with a good slice of ground. This must be claimed as the „ irreducible minimum.“ Such new London County Council estates as Downham, at Bromley, in Kent, and St. Relier, south of Mitcham, in Surrey, adding as they will within a few years of the time of writing something like 80,000 to the population of Outer London, have immense possibilities both for good and evil.
The fact is often overlooked that the housing problem is two-sided: there is not only a war-shortage to be made up; there is also a past heritage to be replaced. It is a question if the latter—so often entirely forgotten—is not the greater part of the problem. These lines are written in an age-old city which has attracted thousands of visitors (pilgrims, art-lovers and the merely curious) annually for many centuries, and attracts them still. It is doubtful if one per cent of these people take the trouble to observe that the immediate surroundings of the cathedral and other historic buildings consist of mean streets, where humanity is herded together in small, gloomy dwellings utterly subversive of the simplest standards of comfort.
Garden art can penetrate but slowly, if at all, to places where humanity lives under conditions so debasing; and when one wanders reflectively through the great industrial towns, and‘ sees the miles of dingy streets in which factories, small shops, smaller dwellings, and taverns jostle each other in their thousands, one can but marvel that culture is able to rear, however feebly, an aspiring head, That it does so is a tribute to the good instincts of large masses of the people, who seek, mainly through music and flowers, to quench the thirst of parched souls not wholly subdued by squalid conditions and gloomy surroundings.
Art gets its opportunities slowly in these places through the provision of garden suburbs and still more slowly through the elimination of slums. The building errors of the past were too gross and deep-seated for swift redemption. But the Town Planning Act of 1909, with the amending Acts of 1919 and 1923, all ultimately merging in the Town Planning Act of 1925, gave local authorities great opportunities, They now have such power over the land within and near the areas under their control which is not built on as can effectually prevent a repetition of past mistakes, by adopting under expert guidance schemes which make ample provision, not only for home gardens, but also for allotments; parks and recreation-grounds; and when equal powers are given to them of dealing with areas already built on, they can pursue schemes of replanning that are equally beneficent, although necessarily more difficult of accomplishment. Since the passing of the Act of 1925, local authorities have expedited the important work of town improvement, and hundreds of thousands of houses, each with decent provision of rooms and a useful piece of garden7 have been built in or near towns.
There is, however, still room for organisations such as the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association and the National Housing and Town Planning Council, not to speak of the younger Rural Community Council, which has made so promising a start in Kent. It must not be forgotten that Letchworth was launched under the auspices of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, a limited liability company being formed to raise capital, purchase a site, and found a city. Weiwyn Garden City was founded in a similar manner. Such bodies have the initial advantage over the local authorities with their existing towns that they have no commitments—no slums, no cottages on potential factory sites, no factories on potential cottage sites, They can start with a clean slate. And with vision and courage they can proceed on bold, comprehensive lines, Thus, at Letchworth, an area of 4,500 acres was purchased, although a large town was not aimed at, but rather:
A town planned for industry and healthy living; of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life, but not larger; surrounded by a permanent belt of rural land; the whole of the land being in public ownership or held in trust for the community.
As a matter of fact, the population was not estimated to exceed 30,000. Nor was it proposed that the area to be used for building, including roads and open spaces, should exceed one-third. Thus, out of the total acreage of 4500, less than 1500 acres was to be thus used, the balance of approximately 3000 acres being land to be devoted to farms and gardens.
With land unbuilt on, experts can choose the best sites for each particular purpose: public buildings, factories, shops, private residences, parks, recreation grounds, allotment fields, schools, and so forth ; at the same time making new or adapting old roads, Proper provision can be made for water-supply, sewerage, heating, and lighting. In this connection attention may legitimately be drawn to Mr. C. B, Purdom's valuable book, The Building of Satellite Towns, published by Messrs. J. M, Dent and Sons Ltd.
Town-planning regional survey goes beyond the work both of local authorities with town-planning schemes and of bodies such as the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association with schemes for new garden cities. It goes beyond the abolition of slums, the erection of council houses, the building of garden cities, and the establishment of suburban trusts, although in a sense it embraces all of them. It takes in not only the great town, with its surroundings and its manufacturing and residential requirements, but also the adjacent countryside. In special cases, as in East Kent, where a whole series of new towns seemed likely to grow up in the modern coalfield areas without regard to one another, or to the rural amenities, a large section of a large county was embraced in the purview. The present writer, knowing intimately as he did every village and hamlet in East Kent; knowing Nonington, Tilmanstone, Eastry, Woodnesborough, Staple, Wingham, Ash, Goodnestone, Northbourne and Betteshanger equally with Sandwich, Deal and Dover, was one of many who viewed with anxiety the future of East Kent under such a development as that which threatened. But the wisdom of her public men, happily shared by the mine owners, averted what would have been almost a national calamity. Professor Patrick Abercrombie of the University of Liverpool was called in, and a regional survey prepared by him with the assistance of Mr. John Archibald. This survey took in the whole countryside. It was not satisfied with considering the relation of its streets in one town, but it embraced the relation of each town to every other, and not only so but in relation to the whole of the surrounding district with its various amenities. There is now every hope that the foundation of a series of entirely new towns, housing in the aggregate more than a I quarter of a million people, will be accomplished without outrage and with due regard to the interests of all classes.
In East Kent Regional Planning Scheme (University Press of Liverpool and Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd.) the reader anxious that more and more opportunities should be provided for increasing rural amenities, including gardens, finds a masterly Report which arose out of a meeting at which no fewer than seventeen local authorities decided to join in a regional town-planning scheme. Broadstair‘s, Deal, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Herne Bay, Margate, Ramsgate, Sandwich, Walmer and Whitstable were among the number of adherents.
In its comprehensive survey the Report embraces:
Natural Features, including Rainfall, Topography, Surface, Underground and Economic Geology.
Agriculture and Vegetation.
Population, Health and Housing.
Coal, Ironstone and other Economic Minerals,
Open Spaces and Natural Reservations.
The Old Cities, Towns and Villages.
The Principal Resorts.
In its outlook for the future the Report includes:
Water Supply and Drainage.
Small Holdings and Allotments.
Social Life and Education,
In its broadminded survey of methods of realisation, it asks for:
A Regional Plan and a Regional Committee,
A Development Company or Public Utility Society for the new towns.
An Advisory or Civic Society.
An Art Advisory Committee.
In short, the Report aims at a great scheme embracing more than i86,g8o acres of land, a rateable value exceeding £ 1,797,644, an existing population of 300,000, an additional population consisting of miners, steel-workers, and employees in ancillary trades with their families amounting in the near future to 278,000, and a thirty years‘ increase of 100,000 A scheme so vast merits unbounded respect and the most careful consideration, more particularly in view of the fact that the minimum standard of open space within accessible distance, and not counting natural tracts farther away, proposed by Mr. G. L. Pepler, F.S.I., in the Town Planning Review, namely, five acres per thousand persons, is accepted.
The remarkable illustrations included in the Report are themselves a feature of inestimable interest and value.
Although East Kent is one of the greatest it is by no means the only comprehensive scheme of regional survey combined with town planning, and there is ground for hope that the next few years will see still more. The fear that there is insufficient land to supply largely extended schemes without robbing agriculture is ill-founded. In his very useful Town Planning Handbook (Messrs. P. S. King and Son, Ltd.), Mr. Richard Reiss points out that while the acreage of England and Wales is rather more than 37,000,000 the population is between 37,000,000 and 38,000,000, or an approximate average of one person per acre; therefore, with average families of 4.5 persons per house, little more than 1,000,000 acres would be required even if the houses numbered no more than eight per acre. As a matter of fact, town housing schemes allow fifty per cent more.
No purpose would be served by exaggerating the potential value to garden art of the multiplication of garden cities, satellite towns, town-planning schemes, and schemes of regional survey. Let it suffice to say that there would inevitably be a gain, and that it would probably operate at increased speed with every passing year.