Children’s swing in Northamptonshire garden could be the UK’s oldest

An image of a Wicksteed swing from a 1926 brochure
An image of a Wicksteed swing from a 1926 brochure

A children’s swing in a Northamptonshire garden has been identified as possibly the oldest in the UK.

The 12 foot high, six pronged frame and thick wooden seat are located in the former garden of a Manor House which belonged to the family of Charles Wicksteed, the inventor of the modern-day slide and swing.

Its shape, size – and the lack of a tell-tale name plate, which went on all play equipment when its inventor began to sell it commercially in the 1920s, indicate it was a prototype, given by Wicksteed to his family as part of pre-production trials.

And the unique, ornate red mountings on top of a green frame – the sign of an early Wicksteed model – survive almost undamaged, apart from a little bit of peeling paint, to this day.

Wicksteed, who was born in 1847, opened Wicksteed Park after the First World War because he wanted to give something back to the town he loved.

His park allowed children to play freely and families to enjoy outdoor life together.

The swing’s existence was discovered after the park appealed for photographs and evidence of old Wicksteed play equipment as part of a project to archive the history of the park and enhance its historical significance as the home of children’s play.

The swing now sits in the garden of the manor house’s outbuildings, which were converted into the home of Ian and Debbie Wilkins.

The couple live in Barton Seagrave, less than a mile from Wicksteed Park, the 147-acre park opened by Charles Wicksteed in 1921 as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being.

They were amazed to hear of its historical significance. Mr Wilkins said: “The swing was here when we moved into the house 11 years ago and its height and the way it was constructed made us think that it was old and had been here for some time.

“We knew that the old manor house next door was where Charles’ daughter Hilda had lived for many years.

“But it was only when we heard about the park’s appeal for information that we made the connection and wondered if it was a prototype or part of an early production run.”

Wicksteed, an engineer by trade, initially made swings and slides for his park, then went on to sell them around the world.

Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, and Charles Wicksteed’s great grandson, said: “The manor house was in the family for some considerable time and I can remember talk of the place when I was growing up.

“But when we appealed for information about Wicksteed play equipment I never dreamed the search would take us back there.

“The swing is still painted green with red mountings, which were the traditional Wicksteed colours but significantly, there is no name plate, which went on all commercially-produced equipment.

“It is in remarkable condition. There is some minor wear and tear on the frame but the big, thick wooden seat is as sturdy as ever and the whole thing looks like it could survive another 100 years.

“We are very proud of Charles Wicksteed and the revolutionary way he changed leisure time forever. The Trust was formed after his death to continue his work and to keep his dream alive.

“He helped promote a healthier lifestyle by providing a wonderful open space and unique play equipment for ordinary, working class people.

“Wicksteed play equipment literally went to the four corners of the earth.”

Wicksteed Park, the first park of its kind in the UK, combines the tranquility of an historic Grade II listed country park with a nature reserve run by the Wildlife Trust.

The 147 acres of beautiful parkland also combine the largest free playground in Europe with some of the country’s oldest thrill rides and a lake, which is being returned to its former glory thanks to a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.