I really like Beacon Park. In the few years we’ve lived in Lichfield it has been a regular destination for our family. I’m still getting over the new playground, not as good as the old one. That’s my kids opinion as well. Over the last few weeks I’ve started to learn a bit more about the history of it too. It started when we were walking down Swinfen Broun Road and admiring the early snowdrops and were treated to a 20 minute lecture by a man who told us about the history of those roads and about Samuel Seckham, who at one point owned the Northampton Brewery in the late 19th century, who used to bring the workers by train to enjoy a day in the grounds of Beacon Place.
A few days later I was in the park again and noticed an old wall at the end of Shaw Lane had partially collapsed. Later on I found out this was an original wall from the days when the area was part of Beacon Place, containing the grand house and gardens. The site of the house is Swinfen Broun Road and Seckham Way, named after two of its old inhabitants. The gardens now form most of what we know as Beacon Park. This I learned from the excellent Lichfield Lore blog and it’s creator Kate Gomez. You can read more about the history here and here.
In conversation with a cyclist last week I was told about the cycle track that was once located in the park. I had already heard that at some point there were regular cycle races held in the park especially at the Bower but I thought they were held on a grass track. Last week Kate posted a blog entitled Banned Stand about the recreation ground that contained a cinder cycle track and the bandstand. Interesting to note that the bandstand seemed an underused or even unpopular feature in the park. It reminded me of the latest addition to Beacon Park, the much discussed skate park in the far corner past Bunkers Hill and the call from local skaters to not build it as it wasn’t the sort they wanted. Will the new skate park go the way of the old bandstand? Kate also posted a link on Twitter to an aerial black and white photo showing the location of the track.
This modern day shot (above) from Google shows the park as it is now and the area where the track and recreation ground used to be. I had a wander through the park this week to have a look at what if anything remains. The first photo is at the Swan Road end.
And this one by the compound on the other side of the new bowling green.
When I turned round to take this final photo I was trying to imagine where the old track could have been.
I reckon that the lines of trees are very close to the original location of the track. The trees are the same height and could have all been planted at the same time, probably when the track was removed in the 60′s. They aren’t as old as many of the trees close by and if you look at the Google image again you can see a shape in the outline of the trees that matches the shape of the track in the black and white photo. In that photo it appears that the track was not perfectly symmetrical but the corners were wider at the compound end and less so behind where the tennis courts are now, reminiscent of the chain on a fixie.
Kate also kindly sent me some snippets of old Lichfield Mercurys with details of the track and its users. It seems that large crowds used to gather to watch the sport with competitors coming from far and wide. The August bank holiday meeting was one of the most popular in the country before the second world war. Perhaps it was the best attended sporting fixture ever in Lichfield? Money was raised for the Victoria Hospital at the fixture in the days before the NHS.
By 1951 a disgruntled cyclist complained via the letters page of the Mercury that he turned up for an August meeting to find that cars were being raced instead and they made the red cinder track resemble a ploughed field. A further snippet from 1954 reported that the annual meeting of the Lichfield Cycling and Athletic Club discussed the fact that the track was ‘the wrong shape, the wrong size, located in the wrong place and surfaced with the wrong material.’ Following interventions from the City Council the number of meetings at the track were consequently reduced and the heyday of the track was long gone by now.
Thank you to Kate for sending me this information and in return could I recommend the work she does with Lichfield Discovered, a group of enthusiastic people seeking to engage others in the history of Lichfield. February’s meeting of the group takes place at The Heritage Centre at St Marys Church on Market Square on Monday 10th February at 7:00pm. The topic is Lichfield’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ including Q&As with local urban explorers on what they do and why.
History helps us to understand the present day and I think that with the excellent work that Kate does and in a much smaller way the ramblings of this Lichwheeld blog, connections are being made, questions are being asked and we are getting a better understanding of where we came from that will hopefully inform the questions asked and decisions made in the future.