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A Park Keeper’s Journal

The Circus visiting Sidney Park in 1948, supplied by Sheila Hotson. The girl sitting on the clowns knee is called Georgina Barrister. Next to her is Sheila Hotson and she is holding onto her little sister in the photograph called Roslyn Hotson, who is eight years younger. The baby in the background is called Jack Barrister who now lives in Devon.

Misadventure with an elephant at Sidney Park is one of many events recorded in a park keeper’s journal recently donated to Sidney Park Friends.

As a result of the Cleethorpes People’s (Grimsby Telegraph) article in a bid to search for more information regarding North Cleethorpes, many items have been kindly donated by members of the public interested in having local historical events recorded and much has already been published on a website, which can be found on www.sidneysussexheritage.co.uk

The latest contribution is a journal kept by a park keeper who worked in Sidney Park for the period, 1950 to 1961. This informative book, kindly donated by Mrs Parker, is a meticulous record of all happenings in Sidney Park during that particular period.

The story of the park keeper begins with Mr. H Archer, the first keeper of Sidney Park. He resided in the Park-Keeper’s Lodge that was situated within the park, enclosed between the two main gates on Brereton Avenue. These gates were originally the only entrances into the park, which perhaps served the park keeper well in his guarding and security duties, as opposed to the four entrances that currently surround the land.

Mrs. Parker, who grew up on Barcroft Street, remembers going to school with one of the park keeper’s daughters.

She said, “We were all envious of her living in the big, beautiful house in the park. The park keeper did everything back then. The rose gardens were so beautiful and the whale bone arch always fascinated us with the story of the whale being washed up on the beach”.

A park keeper for Sidney Park had many roles to fill. Being responsible for both the care of the park’s physical fabric and for its protection and security, the park keeper would also answer enquires, supervise the recreation ground and ensure toilets were clean. He was also expected to patrol in all weathers. Sidney Park’s park keepers had a lot to be proud of and a lot on their plate.

Therefore it seems obvious that the park keeper for the area was keen to record every little mishap that occurred, such as when a child was bitten by a dog or when someone was hurt during a game of tennis. That is what Mrs Parker’s son did when he became a park keeper in 1950.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the most frequent of instances to be recorded in the journal was regarding children falling into the pond. The park keeper at the end of his report would sometimes write that the child was “a little worse for the experience”.

Sidney Park Slide 1966 courtesy of Mrs. Parker

Sidney Park Slide 1966 courtesy of Mrs. Parker.

Sometimes he would let the younger children write in his records themselves regarding their own observations on minor accidents.

Indicating that some things never change, the majority of injuries recorded in the journal seemed to happen within the recreation ground of the park. It was quite frequent that a child would be struck by a swing for getting too close, hit by the rocking horse or falling off the slide when not using the stairs.

However proving that some things do change with the passage of time is that the park keeper would always be on hand to clean wounds or apply antiseptic dressing when disaster struck. He would then advise whether a doctor should treat the injury and send the injured home in the company of another child. In the case of younger children on their own, he would personally take the child home to their parents if necessary.

The park keeper’s journal also provides insight into the changes of the recreation ground as in the 1950’s, there seemed to be a ‘Plank Swing’, ‘Ocean Waves’, a ‘Rocking Horse’ and a very tall slide with a box around the top of the stairs.

The Circus visiting Sidney Park in 1948, supplied by Sheila Hotson. The girl sitting on the clowns knee is called Georgina Barrister. Next to her is Sheila Hotson and she is holding onto her little sister in the photograph called Roslyn Hotson, who is eight years younger. The baby in the background is called Jack Barrister who now lives in Devon.

The Circus visiting Sidney Park in 1948, supplied by Sheila Hotson. The girl sitting on the clowns knee is called Georgina Barrister. Next to her is Sheila Hotson and she is holding onto her little sister in the photograph called Roslyn Hotson, who is eight years younger. The baby in the background is called Jack Barrister who now lives in Devon.

On rare occasions, more serious events involving an ambulance or police were recorded in the park keeper’s journal such as on 5th August 1950, as children were playing hide and seek on the bandstand in Sidney Park, one of them slipped resulting in a spike piercing his foot, and on Friday 7th August 1953 at 12:53 in the afternoon, the park keeper found a 17 year old boy hanging upside down by his leg fast on a spike. The police were called and together they got him down. The park keeper wrote in his journal that he tried to help the boy be as comfortable as possible.

When the circus came to the area, elephants were often rested in Sidney

Park and on one occasion an accident occurred.

The account was written by D. Edwards aged 9 on 5th April 1958 at 3:40pm. He reported in the park keeper’s book that a boy “was watching the elephants feeding and he was accidently pushed off the hay bales”. Consequently the boy broke his left forearm or wrist.

Nicola Hocknell, Chairperson of Sidney Park Friends said, “Since the gradual loss of the Park Keeper, Sidney Park has long fallen into decline.

“Council workers do an amazing job considering how few of them there are to go around after further cuts to staff. However, sadly, Sidney Park still suffers from vandalism, overflowing litterbins, enough broken glass strewn around to cause lots of serious injuries and plenty of dog fouling. The park also has several public toilets, which, as with many others throughout the town, have now been closed.

“It is sad that park keepers now live in the mythology of some people’s childhood, while new generation will never know the authority or safety of such a role model in Sidney Park”.

However, at least the boy’s adventure with the elephant would have lived in his memory for some years. As for the elephant – well everyone knows, that an elephant never forgets!