Wicksteed Park’s park 99 year history

The park has been a feature of Kettering for almost a century

By Phoebe Radford
Sunday, 12th July 2020, 7:00 am
Wicksteed Park has been open for 99 years
Wicksteed Park has been open for 99 years

Wicksteed Park announced it’s operating company had gone into administration almost a month ago, and since then the Northants Telegraph has been sharing your memories of Wickys.

Local families have loved the park for generations and have happy memories from working at Wicksteed as teenagers, taking their children and later their grandchildren to the park they played in as youngsters and even going on first dates with their spouses.

We’ve been sharing your memories of Wicksteed, but what about the history of the park itself?

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The park’s founder, Charles Wicksteed, was born in Leeds in 1847. He first visited Kettering in 1871 and five years later he set up Charles Wicksteed & Co. Engineers.

It was in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, that Charles Wicksteed first tried to buy land for a park in Kettering. However, it wasn’t until 24 years later in 1911 that Mr Wicksteed managed to buy some land.

He bought Barton Hall estate in 1911 and started to draw up plans for a park. Between 1914 and 1916, during the First World War, the land was cleared and areas for a play park, terrace and sports pitches were levelled.

Over the next few years, the first playground was built along with a sandpit, lodge and tea pavilion.

In 1919, work began to dig out the lake which was officially opened on Whitsun the next year.

In 1921, the park officially opened to the public and so began Kettering’s long love-affair with Wicksteed.

Charles Wicksteed was still working hard to add to the park and over the next few years building started on the main pavilion, the rose gardens and the park’s famous water chute.

In 1931, a decade after the park opened, Charles Wicksteed died before seeing the completion of Wicksteed’s railway which opened that year on Whitsun and has been loved by visitors ever since.

The next 10 years saw big changes at Wicksteed including the addition of the aviary and monkey house, a motorboat house, lakeside boathouse, an extension to the souvenir shop and ice cream plant, a new bridge over the lake, a rowing club house and the water chute was rebuilt.

The biggest change came between 1939 and 1945 during the Second World War, when the pavilion was occupied by the military and the park was only partially open to the public.

US forces who used the pavilion during the war donated the Mayflower drinking fountain to the park in 1946.

In 1948, Wicksteed’s paddling pools were built and enjoyed by many on hot days but sadly the swimming pool was closed in 1970 after maintenance costs spiralled.

Charles Wicskteed’s daughter, Hilda, died in 1950 and the following year a brick entrance, still used as the main entrance to this day, was opened in memory of her.

Throughout the 1950s a number of big changes and improvements happened at Wicksteed. A cinema, pony hut and arena were built along with mini cars, pets corner and a larger golf course.

In the 60s and 70s, big changes included the bumper cars, a skate park and new attractions like the pirate ship, rollercoaster and bumper boats.

Throughout the 1980s, the railway track was relaid and a new free playground was installed. The cup and saucer ride was added along with a Hall of Mirrors and motor boats.

In 1990, Wicksteed’s monorail was opened and the following year a new, larger rollercoaster opened. The park continued with refurbishments and other small improvements throughout the decade and in 2000 the swimming pool and sandpit were demolished.

The free play park underwent a massive £250,000 renovation in 2001 and the following year the traditional carousel was opened on a trial basis along with a restoration of the water chute to its original specifications.

In 2003, Wicksteed Park’s long-term chairman, Robert Wicksteed, died aged 82.

The next year, Wicksteed saw more improvements as the train got more carriages and the track was refurbished again.

Sadly, the tearoom burnt down in 2005 and the golf course was closed the following year due to falling demand. The park opened up the space and added new rides and games.

In more recent years, the park has seen the opening of more eateries like the crepe and Cornish pasty stalls, more ride photography, new boats and more.

The people of Kettering and those from further afield attend many annual events like the Fireworks display every November, Christmas celebrations and open-air concerts in summer.

The park will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year and as its long history shows, it has adapted and overcome challenges in the past.

Since the sad news of Wicksteed Park Limited’s administration, the park has been supported by the public who have raised more than £130,000 for the park’s Trust.

If you have any memories of Wicksteed Park that you’d like to share, email us at [email protected]

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