- Contributed by
- Ken Roberts
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- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 December 2005
VICTORIA PARK, PLYMOUTH by Margaret Roberts ( nee Ellis )
(This story was written by Margaret Roberts and has been added to the site with her permission.)
Victoria Park - probably few people spent more time there than myself and my friends Christine and Rita. I was born in No 9 Queen's Gate in 1934 and left the area in 1953. Christine and Rita lived at Nos 7 and 8 respectively. My first memories are of walking through the park with my father on Sunday mornings in the summer - no casual clothes then - white button shoes, pretty dress and straw bonnet trimmed with flowers. Even then the colourful flower beds surrounding the park keeper's house and opposite left a lasting impression.
A little bit older and I was taken to a seat at the bandstand to watch Geraldine Lamb's dancers on a Saturday afternoon - the chorus girls did a high-kicking act dressed in short red military outfits with pillbox hats.
Sweets and lemonade were sold from the front room of the park keeper's house; attached at the back were the public toilets, lined with white tiles and always scrupulously clean. At the back of the house on the east side was a lean-to conservatory where I think the plants for the flower beds were grown by the gardeners. The swings and roundabouts, also at the back of the house, were always well patronised. One particularly vicious maypole consisted of eight or so heavy chains hanging down, each with a handle at the bottom which would give your knuckles a nasty clout if you tried to catch one of the chains while someone else was swinging round the maypole.
At the beginning of the war all the railings were taken from the borders of trees and shrubs which surrounded the park and this, of course, gave us much easier access to the park and opened up a much greater potential for climbing trees and playing hide and seek. The excitement of this was enhanced by the ever-lurking presence of "Parkie" Ley who, in no uncertain terms, would tell us what he would do if he caught us playing amongst the bushes again. This would prompt a change of tactics when we would amuse ourselves by seeing how far we could squirt the water from the drinking fountains or peer over the divide of the Victorian shelters and annoy the old folks sat on the other side, mainly by laughing and giggling at them.
Air raid shelters were built along the side of the road at Queen's Gate next to the park where there was a grass verge, so I only remember using the communal shelter at the eastern end of the park once, early on in the war. I was in Queen's Gate with my grandmother, Mrs Adelaide Marshall when the siren was sounded. The siren was still new and scary to us and, panicking, I persuaded her to go to the shelter at the eastern end of the park. She, being badly crippled with rheumatism, could not move very quickly and by the time we reached the shelter (complete with a cushion each) the "all-clear" sounded. Until we had our own shelter we spent the air raids under the stairs - sometimes my mother would read me a story from Enid Blyton's Sunny Stories to pass the time.
Apart from a few months in 1942 when I was evacuated, I attended school in Wyndham Square. Up and down those fifty three steps from the park to North Road four times a day; but nobody talked about keeping fit in those days.
A barrage balloon was set up on the grass at the eastern end of the park. When the houses in Queen's Gate were set on fire by incendiary bombs (Nos 10 to 14), probably in 1943, we were all moved down to the huts at the balloon site and I can remember looking back at this huge fireball, the front bays of the houses being largely timber-built. The children were all put in bunks to sleep with the men, who all seemed exhausted and slept like logs while we crawled out over them to go to the toilets.
Prior to D-Day, American troops were camped at the western end of the park. We children always hung around them for sweets and chewing gum; several of the older girls formed friendships with them but none that I knew ever heard from them after they left for the Normandy beaches. After the war, when the communal shelter here was levelled, the ground was used by funfairs and circuses.
The park has always been used for sport; football, hockey, bowls and school sports were all regularly played here. The A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) shelter just inside the north west entrance was afterwards used as a changing room, as were the two sturdy wooden huts which stood under the wall dividing the park from St Dunstan's Abbey. During the late 1990s a skateboard park was built on the grass at the western end but this only lasted a very short time as the noise was too much for the nearby residents.
Although the Victorian bandstand, shelters, trees and bushes no longer hold pride of place, Victoria Park will, as it always has been for the past one hundred years, be a place of recreation for the young and of reminiscence for the older generations.
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