Retro: History of Kettering’s parks

The history of three Kettering parks which opened over three decades has been told in a book by historian Ian Addis.

Out to Play in Kettering is the first of two books by Ian, in which he tells the tale of the creation of North Park, Rockingham Road Pleasure Park and Wicksteed Park.

Wicksteed Park's miniature train passes the lake in the 1930s

Wicksteed Park's miniature train passes the lake in the 1930s

While Wicksteed Park’s creation, a philanthropic gift to the people of Kettering by Charles Wicksteed, is a familiar tale to many, Mr Addis said people are less likely to know how North Park and the pleasure park were created.

He said: “Of the three parks, Wicksteed has always been considered the most prestigious, but in some ways the creation of North Park by the working class entrepreneur William Catell is probably more interesting.

“William was a prolific sportsman who played for Kettering Football Club.

“He was a boot machinist who bought the land for North Park and transformed it into a sports arena in the 1890s.

Open air draughts at Rockingham Road Pleasure Park in the 1950s

Open air draughts at Rockingham Road Pleasure Park in the 1950s

“He later sold the park in 1900 to Henry Frederick Henson.”

North Park hosted a number of sporting events in the early 1900s and, notably, a visit by the entertainer Colonel WF Cody, better known a Buffalo Bill, who brought his Rough Riders to the park.

The park was again sold, in 1908, after Mr Henson’s death, to the Kettering Co-operative Society when it ceased operation as a sports arena.

It was eventually purchased by Kettering Urban District Council for £2,735.

Mr Addis said the idea for the book came about three years ago when a friend suggested a book about recreation areas in Kettering.

He added: “That was three years ago, and since then I’ve done an enormous amount of research.

“I’m particularly indebted to Kettering Library for their help, and a huge amount of the information came from historic issues of the Northamptonshire Telegraph.”

“In fact, I have amassed so much information that there is enough material for another book – so this is part one of two, effectively.”

As well as Wicksteed and North parks, the story behind Rockingham Road Pleasure Park’s creation is detailed in Mr Addis’s book.

The park was created in 1892 by the Local Board and was aimed at people who wished for rest and recreation – so the playing of ball games was prohibited.

During the First World War soldiers from the Scottish Horse Regiment were billeted at the park, and after the end of the conflict two captured German field guns were displayed there alongside a 28-ton battle-scarred tank.

The tank, regarded as a reminder of the human cost of the war by the council, was eventually broken up for scrap in 1930 while the guns were relocated to an empty patch of ground in Legion Crescent in 1930.

In the early 1930s, the Urban District Council installed a large paddling pool at the site, which Charles Wicksteed visited and reported his appreciation of only a day before his death in 1931.

Another long-lost attraction of the pleasure park was a large open-air draughts board.

Players had to pay just one penny to play and as a result it was never regarded as a money spinner for the authority, making just £2 in 1959.

The book also brings the pleasure park’s story almost right up to the present day, with the formation of the Friends of Rockingham Road Park in 1998, prompted by vandalism at the bowling green.

Mr Addis said: “I think the book has something for everyone.

“There is a lot of depth in there and there are hundreds of photos and maps which people may also enjoy.”

Where to buy the book

Out to Play in Kettering is 120 pages long, includes dozens of black and white photos and costs £12.

Copies can be bought from Seasons Garden Centre in Burton Latimer, Harrowden Books in Finedon or from Kettering Library.

You can also contact the author directly by email on or by calling him on 01858 467713 to arrange a purchase.