"Wicksteed Park was like a wonderland": Memories from 70 years ago

Professor Alan Brookes has shared his childhood memories of Wicksteed

By Phoebe Radford
Sunday, 28th June 2020, 7:00 am
Professor Alan Brookes as a child on a pony ride at Wicksteed Park
Professor Alan Brookes as a child on a pony ride at Wicksteed Park

A professor of architecture who grew up in Kettering has shared his childhood memories of Wicksteed Park, dating back more than 70 years.

Professor Alan Brookes, 80, who now lives in Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, grew up in Exeter Street, Kettering, and attended Kettering Grammar School before later becoming an architect who designed the Singapore theatres on the bay and Federation Square in Melbourne.

He also taught at Oxford Brookes University, Aachen in Germany and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Writing to the Northants Telegraph, Professor Brookes said: "These are early memories of when I was around seven-years-old.

"My cousins Brian and David used to come from their council estate in Crewe and for them Wicksteed Park was like a wonderland where we could play in the sandpit and save our pennies to go on the water chute, where they always grabbed the front seat to get as wet as possible.

"I used to like riding the pony and going on the boating lake where one day I missed my footing and dropped my new dinky car, which I had just bought in Wicksteed shop. Maybe when the lake is dredged they will find a rather rusty standard Vanguard in the mud."

Professor Brookes said the highlight of a day at Wicksteed was riding on 'The Lady of the Lake' train.

He said: "While queuing for tickets we used to enjoy brandy snaps at Tilley's stall next to the station. As boys we were convinced that they were made from real brandy and if we ate enough of them we would get drunk!

"On the train journey we were told that in the jungle at the far side of the lake lived an alligator waiting to eat small boys if they fell off the open train so we all gripped the sides at that point."

When Professor Brookes was older and a student at Kettering Grammar School, he said the 'jungle' became familiar because it was part of the cross country route.

He said: "Those of us less keen on running could hide for a while in the bushes from the eagle eye of Mr Ashworth, the games master. It was rumoured that some boys used to hide in the bushes and then sneak off to get the bus from Barton Seagrave back to the market place."

Like many other teenagers in Kettering, Professor Brookes' first job was at Wicksteed Park. He said: "As a teenager, the park became a useful source of extra income which I could buy Observer books.

"My job was to walk around the park carrying ice creams in a coolbox around my neck for which I was paid one shilling an hour.

"Most teenagers worked in the park over summer."

While working in the ice cream shop, Professor Brookes was enlisted to paint edible colours of a mermaid on the rocks and won the UK Ice Cream Championships.

Reminiscing, he said: "Unfortunately, someone forgot that I was in the cold room carrying out my task. I was eventually found frozen on the floor. It was real brandy this time which brought me back to life."

The ice cream job was not to last, as Professor Brookes was demoted from looking after the ice cream cones after a fight with a fellow students over a young lady. Several boxes of cones were broken and Professor Brookes was moved into the factory to help make Wicksteed's own ice cream.

He said: "After an unfortunate incident with the new automatic chocolate ice-cream maker which started to wrap the paper in chocolate like an octopus out of control before dipping this mess into the ice-cream mixture, my services came to an abrupt end."

Professor Brookes continued to visit the park and recalls pretending to play tennis next to Wicksteed Park Tennis Club and being smuggled knickerbocker glories and peach melbas by friends still working in the ice cream pavilion.

Wicksteed Park holds lots of childhood memories for Professor Brookes, but also very personal life events.

He said: "When I met my future wife Jackie Taylor, riding on my Raleigh bicycle, on the library steps, our first intimate moment was in the Wicksteed park tunnel (when the trains weren’t running) where we kissed for the first time."

The couple held their wedding reception at the Orangery in Wicksteed Park and continued to visit once they had moved away from Kettering.

Professor Brookes remembers a Wicksteed different to the park we see today and said: "In one way, I regret the end of the old fashioned slides as we slid rushing down to the tarmac surface below, and looked in dismay at the introduction of the bumper cars and fairground wheel.

"Last time I was there at the Orangery, we stopped to buy the famous Wicksteed Park ice cream and were told that it was no longer made."

Despite the changes over the years, Professor Alan Brookes' childhood memories will sound very familiar to all those lucky enough to grow up with Wicksteed Park on their doorstep.