Civic Pride: A love letter to Central Park

A couple of weeks ago I was doing one of my regular walks from Dogsthorpe down to town, writes Peterborough Civic Society’s Toby Wood.

The sun was shining and, for some reason, I noticed the city’s greenery more than usual.

​ In particular I noticed the mature trees in Broadway and those in Stanley Rec, one of the best of our city’s open spaces.

Peterborough is blessed with a wide variety of open spaces and, from the air, a huge amount of greenery is visible. It would be remiss of me not to mention Ferry Meadows, Nene Park, Thorpe Wood, Itter Park, Manor Farm Park, Bretton Park, Gladstone’s Connect Park, and Cuckoo’s Hollow and even the Embankment. There are many other open spaces within the city and I haven’t even mentioned those in the new areas such as Hampton.

Apologies if I haven’t mentioned an area near you. Why not write into the PT praising something near where you live?

However my real true-love Peterborough open space is Central Park, a space that I have known all my life. In fact I can remember the bandstand which stood in the middle of the park, preceding the willow tree. The bandstand was erected in 1879 and eventually dismantled in 1965. The park itself was opened by the Peterborough Land Company in 1877 but was only accessible to subscribers until 1908 when an agreement was reached with Peterborough City Council and the area opened to the general public.

Today the Park has many recreational uses. It possesses children’s play areas, sandpit and soft play area, a seasonal paddling pool, sensory garden, sunken garden (in need of planting!), facilities for tennis, bowls, table tennis, croquet, football, basketball and volleyball, the last few of these serviced by brand new beautifully-surfaced courts. Recently the Council has installed a new basketball court and multi-sports space which I have seen being used throughout the day by groups of students from the nearby schools and college.

There are some quirky features in Central Park. The stone arch entrance in Broadway was originally situated in the Crescent, a row of long-gone Georgian houses near the railway station and Crescent Bridge. Also look out for the grave and memorial to Jimmy the Donkey (Our Jimmy) who served in the Great War and was actually born on the Somme.

I challenge readers to find the Victorian sewer vent or ‘stink pipe’ which sticks out of the ground about four metres but is now hidden in trees and bushes.

There is still an aviary in which visitors will find canaries and budgies – over the years many a small child (myself included) has peered at them through the tight wire mesh cages.

The Friends of Central Park is a thriving group dedicated to helping the park to flourish as well as to organising events throughout the year. Look out for what they put on! A word must go to Aragon whose staff continue to maintain the Park and to David Turnock and other Civic Society colleagues who have undertaken to plant and maintain the eight beds around the iconic willow tree.

Great credit must also go to Christine Corrigan and her staff who, over the past few years, have transformed the Willow café at the centre of Central Park and made it a real go-to destination for food, drink and a natter.

To celebrate my affection for Central Park ‘and all who sail in her’, and on behalf of the Civic Society, I have produced a limited edition 56-page booklet which has just been printed by the friendly folk at GP Print. It is not a history but is a love letter to the park in words, pictures and old postcards. ‘Central Park: an appreciation’, costing £5.00, is now available from The Willow café at the Park or from Civic Society meetings from September.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​