Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Queen's Park


It is difficult to believe that this town centre parkland oasis was once a brown field site. Queen's Park is a twelve acre beauty spot with a Victorian industrial past, the site of builder Thomas Turner's brick works -  examples of his artistry stand close to the Drove Road entrance. Today the former derelict claypit, once popular with zoologist Desmond Morris and his girlfriend Diana Dors, is an award winning park and garden.

The park was developed between 1947 and 1962.  The first phase - a Garden of Remembrance to the fallen of the Second World War - was opened by Princess Elizabeth in 1950, the year of Swindon Borough's Golden Jubilee.  The second phase was opened by Sir Noel Arkell, Sheriff of Wiltshire, on May 30, 1953.

Unfortunately the glass Show House was dismantled following storms in the early 1990s.  Designed by Borough Architect J. Loring-Morgan and opened in 1964 a brick wall is all that remains of the structure that once boasted a pond surrounded by exotic plants.

Other garden features have also changed during the park's 62 year history.  Gone is the 1960s crocodile - created in homage to the Swindon Museum exhibit. Built entirely of succulents and measuring 16ft from prickly nose to tail the crocodile was carefully tended by head gardener Bill Wicks and filmed by Pathe News in 1961.

The long time resident gorilla took up his present position in 1994. The welded steel sculpture by Tom Gleeson was purchased by the Borough following an exhibition in the Theatre Square in the mid 1980s. Today he looked particularly fetching with a flower tucked behind his ear by an admirer.

In 2001 English Heritage awarded the garden a Grade II listing on the Register of Parks & Gardens and it is easy to see why. With birds gathered on the lake and a shy heron in the bushes, the park was a riot of autumnal colours, even on a damp and misty day like today.

The gorilla, the heron and a fairy all feature in drawings produced by local children for Tim Carroll's 2007 mural, a colourful backdrop behind benches overlooking the lake. Sadly the excellent volunteer run Park Cafe was closed today, the kiosk padlocked and deserted, but on other visits I have joined the regulars for a cup of tea and a piece of home made cake.

Queen's Park continues to be an area of remembrance with the Mesothelioma Memorial Garden opened by Mayor Stan Pajak in April 2003. The garden is a memorial to those railway men who have died from the 'Swindon disease,' caused by exposure to asbestos in the railway works. This beautifully secluded area is a peaceful place of contemplation in the busy town centre.


Mesothelioma Memorial Garden



Gorilla with recently repaired hand - and flower!







1964 view of the park



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