We had the first actual in person meeting – socially distanced of our writing group today. Outside in a friend’s garden, tea coffee, cake, we caught up with each other (and ourselves!) for the first time as a group since March 2020. Like everyone we had tried to zoom but abandoned it for various reasons, but now here we were, seated together, able to see each other’s faces and hear our voices.
The topic for today was ‘The Park’, and there was, as ever, such a variety of stories, walks in the park, mysteries in the park, romance in the park, a ‘please do not park here‘ story, a war-time story of fighter pilots returning home, a child who goes missing while playing in the park.
I admit I was stumped to think of anything original, but running out of time having been away for the weekend (paltry excuse) I reworked something I had shared here:
A small park remembered
For some reason over the last few days, my thoughts have been drifting back to my childhood. I always thought I had a good memory of my early, even very early days of being in my pram, being a toddler in the back garden, being with my grandma, but there are, of course, more memories to explore. One was triggered by a comment I made to my cousin about her beautiful photos of Cambridge where I was born and grew up.
My cousin had posted a selection of photos she took on a long walk round the city, particularly around the area where we both used to live. There was one picture of ornamental cherry trees which lined Milton Road going into Cambridge. I’d forgotten those trees but now remember them vividly. I remember Gilbert Road which joins it; we used to live off Gilbert Road and walked along it every day to school, and every day when I went to the swimming pool. Gilbert Road was imaginatively planted with alternate silver birch and crab apple trees. What a wonderful sight at any time of the year, the graceful birches with their silvery white bark and the colours of their pale leaves contrasting with the sturdy crab apple trees whose beautiful and scented blossom gave way to brilliant red and orange fruit hanging like jewels among the darker green leaves.
My cousin had a photo which horrified me. It was of the library we used to visit as children where Mr Horsepool – yes, that was his curious name, was the librarian. We were both avid readers, borrowing our mum’s library cards to take out books from the adult’s section having read everything in the children’s. What horrified me was that the photo wasn’t actually of the old library – that had been ripped down to be replaced by a ghastly anonymous building.
Another shocker – although I was prepared for it as I’d seen it last time I visited, was our beautiful old junior school had been replaced by an abomination of flats and offices, totally characterless, totally tasteless. Our old school was where my dad and her mum had attended, and we followed them thirty odd years later. The school was of historic significance, designed by enlightened architects to be a well-lit, spacious and gracious place for young people in the early stages of their educational journey.
There were more lovely images from my cousin, some interesting, some reminiscent, all bringing back familiar things. However, it was something she mentioned which unlocked a different memory:
Cousin: Lois, Do you remember the timber yard on Carlisle Road, opposite Alexandra Gardens?
Me: Sadly no I don’t but I do now remember Alexander Gardens and being there with you and your brother and mum, and presumably grandma! That’s a lost memory recovered! Was there a bowling green and lots of roses?
I’d completely forgotten the little park, Alexandra Gardens which was behind grandma’s house. She used to take us there when we went to stay with her for the day. We loved going to grandma’s and as my cousin lived nearby, we nearly always saw her too. I remember being there, I remember being small and seeing things from a small child’s point of view, I can almost feel the sun! I seem to remember a bowling green, I remember lots of flowers, were there swings and a seesaw? Do I remember these things or imagine them? I looked up Alexandra Gardens, and this is how the council describe it now:
Alexandra Gardens is a pleasant green space with a circular path under mature trees around the perimeter. The fenced-in play area has a playhouse, swings and springers for younger children, and a climbing net for older children. There is also a sheltered bowling green and pavilion.
I discovered something I didn’t know about the small park:
Alexandra Gardens lie to the north-east of Castle Hill and were created when the Victorian Brickworks were closed down in 1887. In 1891 and 1892 an epidemic of diphtheria in the New Chesterton area held up the purchase of land, but in 1904 Chesterton Rural District Council bought the land for 425 pounds and it was agreed this land on Carlyle Road should be laid out as a public recreation ground.
In 1905, 17 new trees replaced dead trees along the road frontage, and new boundary fences were erected around the area of the brickfields. The site was levelled, turfed, then new plane trees and Italian poplars planted.
The grounds were formally opened in April 1907, following the approval of regulations for playing bowls and lawn tennis in the recreation ground. The site slopes towards the river and, except for the replacement of tennis courts with children’s play equipment, the layout has remained unchanged. An avenue of lime trees along the northern boundary encloses the grounds as do the now mature plane trees
I was right about the bowling green! Next time I visit Cambridge I will make sure I visit Alexandra Gardens, and I hope my cousin will accompany me!