Historic playground attraction revived at Kettering park

Children enjoy the new ride.
Children enjoy the new ride.

A playground attraction is back at Kettering's Wicksteed Park almost 30 years after it was removed.

The Witch's Hat, a 12ft-high ride invented nearly 100 years ago by park founder Charles Wicksteed, gradually disappeared from playgrounds across the UK as increasingly stringent health and safety rules were introduced.

A previous Witch's Hat.

A previous Witch's Hat.

What was believed to be the last one in Britain was removed from the playground at Wicksteed Park in the mid-1980s. But now a new version - created by Wicksteed Playgrounds - is back as part of a £1.78m National Lottery funding boost.

Experts have used modern design and construction methods to comply with safety rules without taking away from the thrills and enjoyment the attraction creates.

Oliver Wicksteed, chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, said: “All the exciting work we have planned for the park builds on the extraordinary legacy of Charles Wicksteed.

“The play equipment that he devised and created has been enjoyed by children across the world for generations and bringing back the Witch’s Hat is all about giving children the chance to enjoy good, old-fashioned thrills and spills and have fun.

The ride has not been seen for more than 30 years.

The ride has not been seen for more than 30 years.

“The new version is a great piece of British engineering and is typical of the play equipment invented by Charles to encourage sharing and social play."

Charlie Howard, vice chairman of Wicksteed Playgrounds, said: “The Witch’s Hat as it was fondly known by the general public has been brought into the 21st Century with advanced engineering making it as safe a structure as it is exciting.

“I am extremely happy that the first one to be produced is ending up exactly where Charles would have wanted it to be.”

The six-figure sum awarded to the park will fund the @play project, which will also include the restoration of the park’s Rose Garden, retaining its original character, and the upper floor of the pavilion (the Captain’s Lounge) will also be refurbished to create a new learning centre and events venue with views across the park from a restored veranda walkway.

Charles Wicksteed.

Charles Wicksteed.

Among other changes at the park there will be annual innovation awards and a new activity plan programme will build on the park’s current educational and community work, incorporating new staff posts, training, an expanded volunteer programme, an enhanced archive project and further engagement with the community.

There will also be an annual festival of play and volunteers will serve as park ambassadors to provide information on the park and its history, which will be told using traditional and digital methods of interpretation.

Sculptures located throughout the park will showcase its heritage, interactive interpretation points around the park with online links will help visitors learn about its heritage and there will be a permanent memorial to Charles Wicksteed.

In recent years the park has successfully completed a £3m project to restore its lake, aided by a £1m National Lottery grant, and its £2.5m Historic Heart scheme to transform the elegant Edwardian pavilion, central piazza and precinct.

The ride gradually disappeared from UK playgrounds.

The ride gradually disappeared from UK playgrounds.

Anne Jenkins, Midlands and East director at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: "Wicksteed Park boasts some of the most fascinating stories related to children’s play and was built on Charles Wicksteed’s admirable vision to encourage play part of families’ health and wellbeing – a vision that chimes with that of The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, Charles Wicksteed’s legacy will live on and enable even more visitors to enjoy this wonderful amusement park.”

Before Charles Wicksteed, public parks were very formal places where children were warned to keep off the grass.

He envisaged a place to thrill young people and families and encourage them to enjoy unrestricted outdoor play and created the park in 1921.