Thursday, 18 April 2013

Talk - The Allotted Recreation Grounds of Nottingham

CafĂ© Sci recently a fascinating talk by June Perry from the “Friends of the Forest” group.

Entitled “The Allotted Recreation Grounds of Nottingham” the talk explained how the 1845 Inclosure Act resulted in the creation of 130 acres of green spaces in Nottingham – and how these green spaces are constantly under threat of lost through redevelopment. The talk forms the basis of this post.

The Inclosure Acts
Enclosure (spelt as "Inclosure" in the Acts of Parliament) is the process which ends traditional rights such as grazing livestock on common land formerly held in the open field system. Once enclosed, these uses of the land become restricted to the owner, and it ceases to be land for commons.

The process of Enclosure took several hundred years until, by the late nineteenth century, there was virtually no unenclosed land left.

While some enclosures were performed with the approval of small holders and commoners, in other cases they were not. Indeed riots occurred as a protest against some enclosures.

For Nottingham, the key event was the 1845 Enclosure Act, which covered a large area of land around the city of Nottingham. It was an important piece of legislation, as the fast growing Nottingham was constrained by its inability to grow, and the severe overcrowding was causing significant public health issues.

There were some 550 claims (mostly for the land or for common rights) and it took 20 years (!) to sort through all the claims and counter claims.

But one aspect of the enclosure was pursued by the council with vigour, this was the giving of 130acres of the newly freed land for the purposes of public recreation- the Allotted Recreation Grounds. This was much more than in enclosure acts elsewhere in the country, where 1-2acres, or none at all, was the norm.

The Act gave the city Queens Walk, Queens Walk Rec, Victoria Park, Robin Hood Chase, Corporation Oaks, St Ann’s Hill (around Belle Vue Reservoir), Elm Avenue, The Arboretum, Waterloo Promenade (actually part of The Forest), The Forest (which should not be called "The Forest Rec") – as well as the General and Rock Cemetaries.

All this was given to the city “FOREVER” by the Act and the council was required to maintain and fence it.


A view over the Forest Rec

Threats to the Allotted Recreations Grounds
With land at the centre of the city being at a premium, the Allotted Rec’s are always at risk of being used for other purposes by the council. Critically, when areas become divorced from their original purpose, they can be sold off with no-one realising that this is an illegal act and is selling off recreation land that was given to the city- and its inhabitants- FOREVER.

Examples from the past are the open air schools of the 1920’s, which resulted in parts of the parkland being lost (e.g the Forest Rec Scouts Hut and the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.)

Another example is that of a park (called St Michaels Rec) that existed at the bottom of Huntingdon Street. It began to be used as a car park, then a bus station, then it was sold off. Because the nature of the use had changed so much, nobody questioned the selling off of this part of the Allotted Recreation Grounds – which is a shame as a park is something that is sorely needed by the high-rise flats that are nearby. Any opposition to changes is labelled as NIMBYism.

A further example is that of the gradual build-up of cars on The Forest. At first it was only for three days before Christmas, then it was also for the January Sales, then for weekends, then all year round – and then was formalised as a car park to support the tram line. If the car park loses its purpose then the land has to be restored to its original state and handed back to be part of the open space again, and it;s present status is still that of being part of the park land. However, if in 20-30years time, no one remembers that this is the case, there may be little to stop the land being sold off. And this piecemeal loss of the Allotted Recreation Grounds is still ongoing, with the Queens Walk (and its beautiful rows of tress) being ripped out to make way for a new tram line (although some replacement land is being provided elsewhere).

Viewing the Allotted Recreation Grounds in their true light – as a gift to the people of Nottingham FOREVER, changes ones perception of them. In BFTF’s case, it was a sudden realisation that the artificial pitches on the Forest Rec were not some special Council Facility that could only be used with the permission of some official or other, but were rather an amenity for the local community to use when they liked. Certainly, the pitches should never be locked up and made unavailable for use.

But how many of the local residents were aware of this? How much more would the pitches be used if the local residents truly perceived them as being THEIRS, as opposed to be the Councils.


The Lake at the Arboretum 

So now what?
People interested in supporting the protection of the Allotted Recreation Grounds may wish to join the “Friends of the Forest” group, who can be contacted on 0115 960 9221.

Another interesting point that was raised in the question and answer session was that of ensuring that councillors were aware of this wonderful legacy that the City of Nottingham possesses and that a brief introduction to this should be a standard item in the induction pack for new councillors. If you would like to lobby for this, the best person to contact seems to the Portfolio Holder for Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, currently Councillor David Trimble, who can be contacted on dave.trimble@nottinghamcity.gov.uk.

BFTF will also be emailing his local councillors asking whether they are aware of the gift that the Alloted Recreation Grounds represent, and whether that will confirm that they will do all in their power to preseve and protect them, in their entirety, for future generations.

Update 27 April
Received an admirably quick response from David Trimble, which encouragingly said :

"The vast majority of Council Members take a very active role in the parks & Open Spaces in the ward they represent and a reasonable number of them are aware of the 1845 Inclosure Act with many Councillors having taking part in the annual walk organised by the Friends of the Forest. June Perry also regularly contacts Councillors on issues to do with this and I have absolutely no problem if anyone wanted to e-mail Councillors a simple one page introduction. The Inclosure Acts are a great force for good though I may not always agree with every interpretation."


A walk through Nottingham's Allotted Recs and Walks (click to enlarge)

Related Posts
Nottingham Architecture and Urban Design Image Sources
Forest Rec, The Arboretum

NB: This post modified to correct a few errors on 21st April.

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