Wicksteed Park centenary - great-grandson's pledge to keep dream alive

Oliver Wicksteed is chairman of the charitable trust that owns the park

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 12:51 pm
Updated Saturday, 29th May 2021, 12:54 pm

On May 31, 1921 Charles Wicksteed, took a tour of his new park, and saw his dream, of hundreds of families enjoying a day out, become a reality.

He had wanted to create a free-to-enter public park, which would encourage families to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle with a lake, gardens grounds and equipment.

Hundreds arrived arriving on foot and by bike to have fun and much to his satisfaction, youngsters could be seen rowing boats, swinging through the air, piling onto the see-saws and sliding down wooden planks.

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Charles Wicksteed and Jerry the dog

An engineer by trade, he had turned his skills to invent play equipment for children - something we take for granted now but 100 years ago was radical.

Great-grandson Oliver Wicksteed, who is chairman of the Wicksteed Charitable Trust, that owns the park, said: “One hundred years ago Charles Wicksteed’s dream of creating a free-to-enter public park, encouraging families to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, became a reality.”

“We will be celebrating the centenary of the park’s opening and the unique impact that it has had on children’s play across the world.

“The fact that we have had to fight so hard to reach this milestone, over the last 12 months in particular, wouldn’t have been lost on Charles, who loved a challenge and enjoyed creating new and innovative ways to succeed."

Oliver Wicksteed at the unveiling of the statue in the lake

The joy the children got from his primitive swings and slides pushed Wicksteed on to create more and more play equipment, which became so popular that it was exported around the world.

They included the world’s first slide – made from a 30ft plank of smooth wood with no sides, as well as tall swings and long seesaws.

Charles Wicksteed is also credited with introducing one of the world’s first water chutes in 1926, which is still one of the park’s attractions and is now listed by Historic England's as a protected heritage site.

His park allowed children to play freely and for families to enjoy outdoor life together, before then, public parks were typically very formal places, where children were warned to keep off the grass.

The Jazzer - a swinging plank

Oliver Wicksteed said: “He would have embraced the fact that, despite the country being in lockdown, the park is still providing a vital service to local people by giving them somewhere to exercise and get some fresh air.

“However, as difficult as the last year has been, the fact that access to Wicksteed Park’s outstanding facilities remains free of charge is also a testament to generations of Wicksteed Charitable Trust Trustees and park staff, who have wholeheartedly embraced Charles’ vision and striven to keep it alive and relevant."

A 100th birthday celebration re-opening weekend coincides with the start of half-term from today (Saturday, May 29), with a jazz band, photo opportunities, boats and competitions.

The Ladybird rollercoaster gets a lick of paint

Oliver Wicksteed added: “As we all still face much uncertainty due to Covid-19, two things are driving the Wicksteed Charitable Trust forward.

“One is to ensure that, no matter what challenges lie ahead, virus or non-virus related, the park and Charles’ dream remain intact for another 100 years.

“The second is to do what Charles would have done and keep innovating. Through physical interpretation and engagement we want to bring the history of the park alive to all visitors. In so doing everyone who visits will learn about our significant heritage and just how vital play is for the development of our children.”

Meerkat on patrol