19 May East Park Memories
I was enormously lucky to grow up in a house on Summergangs Road in East Hull, because it backed on to one of the most magical places in the city: East Park. You could get to it from our tiny back garden just by wriggling under the wooden fence, and once there the imaginative child was in a cornucopia of delight. Even today, in far away Southern California, whenever I think of the great floral clock in the middle of the park, and remember the scent of the Sweet William around it, a wonderful peace steals over me.
It’s not surprising: there is evidence that from my earliest years I spent many happy hours in the vicinity of the clock, lying among the daisies.
I remember the longing I felt when, too young to be out, I lay our back bedroom on summer evenings, hearing the shouts and cries of the older children on the swings and roundabout, wishing I could be out there too.
Then there was the yacht pond, where, apart from pushing model yachts out into the choppy waters, you could catch tiddlers in a net and put them in a jam-jar. Here I revealed a talent for escaping from my parents and falling in said pond, which led my mother to insist I be equipped with a pair of reins whenever my father took me there. I’m sure I managed to drop the stylish beret in the water before the day was out, though.
In the middle of the park there were The Rocks, a brilliant jumble of stones like the ruins of a medieval castle complete with a narrow chasm known romantically as the Khyber Pass. The pass was bisected by a massive studded wooden gate which looked like the entrance to a Moorish Palace and was ideal for when you were a Crusading Knight or a Foreign Legionnaire like Beau Geste. Those gates I found out recently, were actually reproductions of palace doors from Zanzibar shown at the 1924 Wembley Exhibition and I take my hat off to the ingenious councilor who managed to persuade the organisers of the exhibition to let these wonderful romantic objects be brought to Hull. I wonder where they are now?
Here is a picture of the Khyber Pass not long after it was built, looking much less exciting without the trees which had grown up around it by my time, and before the Moorish gates had been installed.
Rearing above it all, ideal for being Long John Silver or Jim Hawkins, was a turret whose like I did not see again until I went to the Caribbean itself: what seemed to be a genuine piece of Henry Morgan style piratical fortification. Whoever had the imagination and foresight to cobble all this together deserves the salute of countless generations of imaginative kids.
Not far from the Rocks was the boating lake, onto which, when visiting relatives came with sufficient largesse, one could set sail for the ends of the earth on a motor boat. It was here that I heard for the first time the romantic cry “Come in Number Three, your time is up”
And as for sheer thrills there was nothing to beat the terror and glory of the Water Shute where, for a single penny, you could defy gravity, drop down the rails like a stone in the raft. and at the end send a wall of water rising majestically into the air. I can still remember leaving my stomach behind as the shute left the top of the tower …
Then there was bonfire night, in the weeks before which park keepers collected branches and leaves from all over the park and neighbours brought old bedsteads and sofas to be piled in a great heap near the Holderness Road entrance to the Park. As the bonfire pile grew, we kids patrolled the streets with old prams carrying more or less unconvincing effigies of Guy Fawkes and soliciting pennies for fireworks.
Then there were the mounds of grass left by the tractor-drawn mowers, which provided endless ammunition for games of Sir Lancelot and Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. My brother is seen behind me in this picture of me showing off my Cub Shield, fully loaded and bent on mischief.
And then came the day when the wonderfully ramshackle wooden fence around the park, seen here as the backdrop for showing off my first suit …
… was replaced by a much more challenging wire fence with concrete posts.
Though I have to admit, I do seem to have started my tunnel a long way back …
Indeed, I may not have finished it, because with the coming of artificial textiles, which meant that the demand for leather gloves dropped dramatically, my father’s job at Waddington’s vanished, and my parents decided to seek a new and better life in New Zealand. Which turned out, I’m glad to say, even more exciting than East Park.
But that’s another story.