Now we are into September, it is the beginning of the autumn and the nights are drawing in, there is less time to be out in the nation's parks and playing fields. So, to mark #readabookday we have a couple of suggestions of recently published books you might enjoy.
A Walk in the Park, by Travis Elborough
This book traces the origins of parks and public green spaces way back through history and presents a chronological path through the development of public access to green spaces. The detailed research is presented in a witty and entertaining style.
People tend to focus on what they "do" in a park - rather than the space itself - whether that's sport, cycling or just walking the dog. Many of us will pass through a city park without much thought about our surroundings, but throughout the book Travis Elborough makes the ordinary and everyday municipal park a thing to be treasured and valued. Understanding the history and the aspirations of those who designed and created these "people's institutions" adds a fascinating insight to the simple pleasure of taking a stroll through a park.
Many UK towns and cities have parks that owe a debt to Victorian philanthropy but additionally there was a post World War I wave of park-building. This was part of the intention to create a "land fit for heroes" who returned from the trenches. Providing places for outdoor sport was a response to the poor level of physical fitness observed in men conscripted to the armed forces. Many new parks, developed post-WWI, were dedicated as war memorials. It is in this era that Fields in Trust was founded (as the National Playing Fields Association) in 1925, and we do get a mention in the text!
Bringing the story up to date Travis Elborough highlights the concerns for future funding and maintenance of the UK's parks in a time of austerity, but the broad sweep of history detailed in this book reminds us that parks are an integral part of our local environment and will always be looked after with fondness.
Great British Parks - A Celebration, by Paul Rabbitts
In his latest book Paul Rabbitts too recognises our Victorian benefactors who set the pattern for what has become known and widely loved as the British park. But this is no simple story - encompassing as it does social, economic and political history, sport and recreation, landscape design, architecture, sculpture, the urban environment... and, of course, bandstands.
Paul Rabbitts says his book has two distinct purposes; as the title suggests this is a celebration of all that is great about British parks; but it also contains a stark warning about how parks are currently facing a deep funding crisis and are under threat from loss to redevelopment.
The celebratory aspect is well presented with glorious photography - both archive and contemporary. But throughout the book there is an understanding that parks have an important impact on the communities who use them. Overall this is a thoroughly entertaining and insightful book about the UK's parks.
Both books are available to buy online and if you use the Give as you Live link a small percentage of the purchase price will be donated to Fields in Trust to help us protect our much loved parks forever.