East Park is currently experiencing its most exciting stage of development since it was opened in 1887. Hull in print learns about the past, present and future of this much-loved open space.
EAST PARK'S £7.2M SHOPPING LIST
- New pavilion and management offices featuring café, toilets and exhibition space
- Refurbished boathouse
- Demolition of redundant buildings and removal of redundant paths
- Refurbished entrances, including landscaping and safety measures
- New car parking facilities
- New paths to improve safety and linkage to different areas of the park
- Bridge repairs
- Lake improvements and landscaping to improve access and develop wildlife, new fishing platforms
- Repairs to the splashboat
- New play area and new water-play area
- Animal education centre including deer park, farmyard, aviaries, classroom and more
- Restored Victorian gardens, shrubberies and Khyber Pass
- Meadow area with native planting
- New furniture, signage and CCTV
One hundred and seventeen years ago, in 1887 when East Park first opened, children would have run in clutching their model yachts heading for the ponds, while mum and dad made their way through the ornamental gardens to the bandstand.
In 1887 kids loved model boats. Model boats were the 1887 equivalent of Yu-Gi-Oh
In 2004 life is rather different. The bandstand has gone and live music is more likely to be Sugababes or Blue at Foxy and Tom's Big Bash.
The world has changed - and it's easy to think it has changed for the worse, but bear in mind that the city's population (around 240,000) is the same now as it was then, and we are generally healthier and wealthier than ever before.
Hull's great 19th-century parks weren't simply built by philanthropists in some sort of Victoria golden age. They were built as a response to the need for open spaces where the workers in a dirty, overcrowded, industrial city could enjoy what little leisure time they had.
The city in 2004 is cleaner, less crowded and less industrial than it was 100 years ago, but the pace of life is probably faster than ever.
And we still need those green spaces where we can escape from the pressures of modern life, places everyone can enjoy.
East Park is currently experiencing a renaissance, with an £7.2 million Heritage Lottery and Hull City Council-funded programme of improvements which will see the park not only restored to its former glory, but updated to meet the needs of Hull people in 2004 and beyond.
Park ranger Stuart 'Mac' MacDonald (call him Mac - and he prefers 'parkie' to 'ranger') is pleased to see major investment in a place which has played an important role in his life.
Mac has worked as a parkie in East Park for more than 30 years and he has an encyclopaedic knowledge not only of East Park, but of all of Hull's parks, past and present. "It started because people would ask me questions about the park, so I started trying to find out the answers, doing a bit of research at the library and so on. Then when we went on parks outings to other cities, I started looking out for postcards in antique shops - you find more postcards of Hull in other places because people would send them to friends and relatives outside the city."
Mac's collection now features more than 1000 different postcards of East Park alone, and hundreds of others from other parks.
The postcards, together with Mac's research, provide a fascinating insight into the way East Park has constantly changed over the years, with features and attractions being constantly introduced, removed, overhauled and demolished - some apparently vanishing without trace.
Who remembers, for example, the Peter Pan fountain and boating lake, with all the boats named after Peter Pan characters? The feature, which was introduced in the 30s, was gone by the 50s, the lake was filled in and Mac still can't find out what happened to the fountain.
Anyone remember an old drinking fountain with iron cups? The fountain was removed from the churchyard of St Mary's Lowgate in 1921 to a new home just inside the main East Park entrance. Where it is now is a mystery.
The bridge across the Khyber Pass (see postcard, left) - gone. The World War One tank - gone. The bandstand, the amphitheatre, the conservatory, the waterfall, the miniature train, the floral clock, the cannons - all gone.
But it's not simply a story of unrelenting decline, explains Mac: "The place changes for lots of different reasons. Some features were bombed in the war, some features simply didn't work or times changed and people wanted something else."
"But sometimes you can see it's about different managers or politicians taking over and wanting to make their mark."
However, no-one would deny that in recent years the smile on the face of East Park has slipped: "When I started in the early 70s it was a busier, happier place with much more to offer. But in the 1980s, when the city was having a rough time and council budgets were tight, you started to see corners being cut to save money - flowerbeds being grassed over, shrubs getting out of hand, repairs not being made, fewer staff. It was sad to see it happening." Thankfully, that's all going to change.
East Park Project Manager Chris Craven works on-site at the park, overseeing the £7.2 million park improvement programme. And Chris has a lot of pride invested in the job: his dad, retired landscape gardener and businessman Geoff Craven, used be a gardener in East Park in the 1960s and the family lived in nearby Westminster Avenue. "I spent most of my childhood here." says Chris. "It was like having a brilliant back garden. Me and my mates would be here whole days at a time in the holidays; I'd have birthday picnics here, play on the boats and in Khyber Pass, get into trouble with Mac and the other parkies. And then when I was older, I used to walk across the park to my first job".
"East Park has always been part of my life and it's been a shame to see the place deteriorate. The great thing is I'm now in a position to help do something about it."
Work is currently well under way with an exciting new playground built and good progress being made on new bowling greens and the new animal education centre, but there will be much more to see over the coming months, including massive improvements to the lakes, new bridges (including one over the Khyber Pass), a new pavilion and café, many restored flower beds and shrubberies, restored splashboat, new water features, aviaries, deer park and farmyard, furniture, toilets, CCTV and much more.
"The park has always been popular." says Chris, "But for many different reasons it hasn't always had the attention it deserves. This work is about putting the heart and soul back into the park so the whole city can enjoy it even more."
Having lived nearby all his life, Cllr Stephen Brady, who chairs the East Park Steering Group, is proud to be involved in the park's regeneration: "I have happy memories of East Park and it will be wonderful to see it given new life. These improvements will hopefully be a springboard to further development on Holderness Road and throughout East Hull."
Hull now is a very different place to the late Victoria era when the city's great parks were built: pop groups have replaced brass bands, and Yu-Gi-Oh replaced model boats but East Park is still going strong and will continue to be a "brilliant back garden" for many generations to come.
Many thanks to Mac for the loan of postcards and pictures from his private collection and for sharing his wealth of knowledge about the history of Hull's parks.
To find our more about the improvements and restoration in East Park please contact the Friends of East Park, telephone Joyce Medcalf on Hull (01482) 705836.
The Friends of East Park are holding a fundraising Christmas Fayre at the main entrance to the park on Friday December 10. To order Christmas holly wreaths (handmade from East Park holly), please call the number above.