Memories of Eaton Park
If you have memories or pictures of Eaton Park you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Please email us here.
Here are some edited interviews with local senior residents:
Andy Anderson, (1928-2019)
An edited version of an interview made on 21 October 2009
Interviewer Christine Wilson
My first memories of Eaton Park are getting on the bus on Sundays, coming into Norwich, getting off at Eaton Road, walking through Mile End Road and then seeing the tram standing at the entrance to the Jenny Lind, as it was then. Then into South Park Avenue and into the park through Sandy-Winsch’s fine entrance, along past the fountain which made a great impression and along the avenue of trees to the bandstand where we used to sit and listen to the band.
The other thing I remember about Eaton Park was the sheer busyness of it. I remember the park in its splendour – boats being brought out of the yachting pavilion and put on the yachting pond. I also remember the games going on – tennis, cricket, and bowls of course. A place of great vitality.
Later I discovered the great man, Sandys-Winsch, who had constructed these parks, using unemployed men, and bringing to the City a quite wonderful resource.I heard of him by reputation. He was seen as a bit of a martinet. I bumped into him one day when I was in the gardening class at the junior technical school when we had free choice period and mine was gardening. I fondly remember the maths teacher, Jesse Hammond, [who] was suggesting we cut some beansticks I think, and this military man very politely stepped out from somewhere or other and Jesse realised we’d transgressed. We were cutting down things which weren’t to be cut down.
I spent my youth in Norwich, both at school and then my first occupation was working at Lawrence & Scott. I then joined the Metropolitan Police on leaving the army in 1948 and decided I would return to dear old Norwich, and I did so in 1951 by transferring to the then Norwich City Police. And then I got to know the parks again. We moved into Norwich in 1940 and went again to Eaton Park and Waterloo Park so I got to know the parks. I’m a long-time member of the Norwich Society and I became a member of the executive committee. I’ve served on most comittees with the exception of traffic, been chair of many of them, and I’m now a Vice-President. I was chairman of the Society between ‘94 and ‘96, and it was all about the heritage lottery grant.
The parks were in a pretty poor state. I mustn’t relate it to any period of political control, but there was a period, I think we would accept, in the 1980s when central government’s attitude to local government changed a little bit and I think, at that time, that local government perhaps was compelled to look more at what it had to do rather than what it would be rather nice for it to do. And I think the parks suffered at that time. It was a question of money. I think there’d been, perhaps even without central government pressure, a realisation that parks were costing a lot of money.
There were days when you would have gangs of people who would hoe before the weeds appeared; we moved into a period where labour in local government was much more tightly controlled so the parks didn’t get the attention, there were all sorts of economies being made.One of them which I think was very important was that the park-keeper seemed to disappear so discipline went from the parks. Changes took place within the floral displays, not only perhaps the same attention, but also rosebeds, rose gardens, were becoming rose-sick. It was also very much the spirit of the times that people ran riot – you don’t go round on the path, you just walk where you will. All of these things I think were destructive. People got very worried about the parks. They saw what a mess they were getting into.
People valued the Norwich parks and it culminated in the application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant which would enable work to be done on the parks, particularly I think to the structures within the parks. Round about the turn of the century we thought in the Norwich Society that it would be a good thing perhaps to produce a book which, I think, in the words that are probably in the book itself would be a useful accompaniment to what we hoped was going to be a successful bid and that’s in fact what happened. The book was not really intended to be more than that. It’s certainly not an in-depth look at the Norwich parks. It tells a little bit about each of the four parks which were the subject of the grant. I was aided by another member of the Norwich Society, Sarah Cocke, a professional photographer, and her photographs made a marvellous contribution to the book. And also of course we used the archive photograph which says a lot about the construction of the parks and the methods used. It was, I think, it was a magnificent achievement on the part of the City and on the part of Sandys-Winsch.
People often ask about the buildings? Was it the fashion of the time to have buildings constructed in that style?
There are all sorts of theories. Sandys-Winsch had been involved in the First World War. He’d seen the horror and devastation of that at first hand. There’s also the contrast between this lovely old rambling medieval city of ours which after all is the largest in area of the English walled medieval cities. After all the plan of Norwich is not really to have one, is it? Like topsy it just growed. So there’s a contrast between that and what he produced in the parks. I think it’s more likely that he was influenced by his early days when he worked with Thomas Mawson. We have the famous architects Fielden and Mawson. But I think it’s much more likely that Sandys-Winsch was influenced by his early days and the classical style came quite naturally to him. I think it works really well.
Eaton Park, which is a big area – look at an aerial photograph of Eaton Park. It gives you a very vivid impression of the man’s thinking, the concept. I think it’s quite wonderful. He’s been criticised I think for too many straight lines and all the rest of it. I think he’s left us this great legacy which we ought to try and retain.
Coming back to your memories, do you remember any particular events like the circus which used to go there, and the facilities?
Well, I certainly remember the circus. My first memory of the circus in Norwich is being taken to Bertram Mills, the Big Top, which actually used Chamberlain’s Meadows which I’ve spoken off as a site for the City College. But then the Big Top moved down to what was referred to as the Third Field, Eaton Park was laid out in that way, and the Third Field I think now was used for the pitch and putt, and that’s where the circus was held in the 1950s.
Other people remember the elephants parading through the streets.
I remember that very well.The elephants used to be brought I think from the station. I also have a memory which I’ll just put in purely for entertainment. At St Stephen’s Plain, that is to say what many people think of as Marks & Spencer’s corner at the bottom of St Stephen’s, the City police used to be on point duty there. A circus was held at the Theatre Royal and one elephant used to be exercised in the morning down Theatre Street past St Stephen’s church with a man sitting on its back. I remember being on point duty one morning and this elephant coming along past Woolworths as it was then, seemed to get its beady eyes on me and I thought what is this elephant going do? I had visions of being hoisted aloft but it didn’t – that’s another memory of the elephant in Norwich!
What about other events in Eaton Park?
Well, there used to be events but I can’t remember going to them. The size of Eaton Park allowed the city to meet the requirements of the National Playing Fields Association which said there should be a certain acreage per thousand population and Eaton Park did that in a grand way – hockey, cricket, football, everything really. But then a period came along when leading sports clubs, like the Norfolk Wanderers Hockey Club – I’ve taken off the top of my head, wanted their own premises and they went. But I think it left an enormous gap in the parks. The cricket seemed to go – the cricket has never come back.
The car had a terrific effect on the usage of the Norwich parks. Whereas my mother had brought me in from Bracon Ash to visit the Norwich parks, then the population of Norwich got into their cars and went off to find the coast. It was a complete reversal really, much, I think, to the parks’ detriment. The thing I think which safeguards parks is when they’re being thoroughly used by a range of people. If they get badly and sparingly used then it seems to me the way is open to vandalism and all the rest of it.
What about the park since the Heritage Lottery-funded work was done? Have you seen it?
Yes, I admire what’s been done. I mean the state of the decorative lily pond – that piece running out to the yacht pavilion – that’s a wonderful restoration I think – the long bridge – and to see the model yacht pond in being. I was reading the other day that someone had launched a model aircraft carrier in it. That really brings back memories to me of the ‘30s – being there with my mother and seeing two men carrying a model warship from the yacht pavilion where they used to be stored.
Betty W, born 1927
An edited version of an interview made on 4 June 2008
Interviewer: Christine Wilson
We lived on Henderson Road and we used to come to the park as children and bring our tea. We had jam sandwiches and we used to make a bottle of lemonade with the powder, lemonade powder you dipped your finger in and Jack High was the foreman and Reggie was the park-keeper and he used to go round with a bell 15 minutes before he shut the gates. They were shut every night and one night we got stuck in the park when the snow was on the ground [laughs] and we had to climb over the gate up near the yacht pond, we’d all been playing in the snow. Going back, there was a German plane which was shot down, [the plane was shot down near Duxford and brought to Eaton Park] and then there was a barrage balloon stationed up there during the war. For the coronation  they had a big fête up here, and there were stalls and dancing to celebrate the coronation. During the Wimbledon tennis they used to make a mini Wimbledon up here, they had all the tennis courts and had a tournament. The children’s playground on the opposite side was caged off, you couldn’t get in there. There was the cricket and the hockey. They were the people who were the elite. You know, really big teams played in there from other clubs. Down the bottom here, that was all waste ground, all rough ground, and then the circus came down there after the war. We had Bertram Mills Circus and the elephants used to walk down South Park Avenue. They came up from Thorpe station. We all watched the elephants. Saturday afternoons the park was full. All the football pitches were taken up and they played hockey, lacrosse, that was really good up here Saturday afternoons. There was something all the way round the park. My husband actually played football for the YMCA. I suppose that was the late ‘40s, beginning ‘50s I should think.
After Reggie the park-keeper, do you remember other park-keepers because there are only part-time ones now?
There were gardeners. My brother was a gardener here. Charlie Youngs lived in the little bungalow as you come in the gate. They had a lovely rose garden. When you first came in the big gates right at the top there was the fountain and the lovely rose garden and that’s what they used to tend. They weren’t part-time gardeners. They were up here all the time, you know, and the bowling greens and they used to look after, you see. That was a lot of work in the park.
Clem and Myrtle H
An edited version of an interview made on 28 May 2008
Interviewer: Christine Wilson
Clem – After School I used to go up the park to sail my boat. At times there was no wind and my yacht would be stuck in the middle of the pond and I used to get the park-keeper who had a long cane, about 20-30 feet long, who would come along and retrieve my yacht. My father was in the bowls club (St Ann’s) and I used to have to wipe the bowls for the men involved when they had a match, and especially when it was raining. They were very pleased! [laughs] I play bowls myself now but nowadays they don’t do that.
My wife’s uncle, he designed the pitch and putt green. The other thing was when I came out of church on a Sunday morning me and a few friends would go to the park and have a game of putting, that was about 1938 or thereabouts so the putting green was there then – quite a number of years ago. Also at the end of the yacht pond was a pavilion where the people who had yachts used to keep them until a few years later they got vandalised so they didn’t continue putting their yachts there … I should think that’s somewhere round about 1950-55ish.
Also on Sundays we used to come up and listen to the band which they had about once every fortnight, usually the Salvation Army. My mother used to come up the park on a Saturday evening, sit on one of the seats provided and take her knitting and watch my father play bowls. I can remember during the war there was a balloon in the car park, a barrage balloon, and also a German bomber. It was brought on the park during the war. I remember the balloons used to go up during the war when they had an air-raid warning. We used to watch on Sunday afternoons perhaps an odd cricket match or a game of football. There were quite a lot more [pitches] when the park was built.
We used to bring the children up to the swings on the park, usually on a Sunday afternoon and they would play on the swings and roundabouts. It wasn’t closed off like it is today. Myrtle: My uncle was head park-keeper and he lived in a little bungalow just outside the gate. He designed the pitch and putt, the big one. We used to play down there. [laughs] The parkkeeper, Reggie, you don’t have park-keepers today. You ran if you saw Reggie! They keep talking about having a park-keeper. Peggy (a friend): you weren’t allowed to ride a bicycle if Reggie was about.
Chris grew up on South Park Avenue in the 1970s. His parents Pat and Peter still live there.
Interview: Helen Mitchell, October 2016
Chris used to ‘live’ in Eaton Park when he was growing up, spending evenings, weekends and school holidays playing there with friends and his cousin Jonathan, who lived next door.
In the 1970s you weren’t allowed to ride your bike in the park and if you did, you’d get chased and told off by the park keeper, or ‘parkies’ who looked after the park. You couldn’t play football either in the goal mouths, as this would spoil their beautifully prepared pitches. These and the many bowling greens and grass tennis courts – there must have been about twenty – were all kept beautifully. “During Wimbledon the park every court would be in use!” There were also gravel courts where players could easily slip. These were the last port of call if none of the others were left.
There were trains and a cafe but neither was open very often – it was quite random. The little putting green was incredibly popular and cost about 10p a round. If the parkie wasn’t paying attention you could sometimes get to go round twice!
In the 1970s the park used to close just before dark. The park keeper used to ring a bell – like a school bell – ten minutes before closing time, to give everyone time to leave the park. In the height of summer Chris and his friends used to climb back in and go and carry on playing, often by the boat pavilion.
At this time the boat pavilion was derelict, covered in graffiti, and had huge iron doors up to seal it off. As one of the more adventurous boys Chris used to clamber up to explore the building!
One of Chris’ favourite memories is of a summer, perhaps in the 1980s when local kids were invited to go fishing in the boat pond, their task ‘to catch as many fishes as you can’ – to clear it before the pond was emptied for cleaning. Chris remembers “we weren’t allowed to use a rod, just a line with a float – like going crabbing”.
The boat pond used to be swimming with fish – partly because when Chris and his friends used to go fishing on nearby rivers, they would come home with their catches and put them straight in the boat pond!
“Looking back, it’s not that I was a hooligan. We just had childhood adventures. A love of the outdoors and fishing has stayed with me ever since.”
Memories kindly provided by Elizabeth Jack, daughter of Geoffrey Hanton, 12 October 2018.
Our dad, Geoffrey Hanton, worked at Eaton Park for many years, working his way up to be deputy park keeper. Until I was 10 (1962), we lived on South Park Avenue. Dad would come home for a cooked meal ar lunchtime (called “dinner”) as he worked long hours, especially in the summer months. On Sundays (and even Christmas Day) when he was working, we would often take him a cooked meal onto the park where he might be supervising the tennis courts, putting or bowling greens. The latter were his pride and joy and he kept them in immaculate condition.
When the circus came to town, it was set up on ground at the bottom of the park and employees of the park would receive free tickets. I hated circuses but we had to go as the tickets were free! We also paid 6 old pence to look the menagerie during the day. I hated that too!
We spent many hours, especially during the school summer holidays, playing in the park with friends and neighbours. I can still smell the painted, slightly rusting swings, slides and roundabout. We ran around the grassy areas and explored every inch of the park. The rose gardens were always immaculately kept as well as the bandstand. The beech hedge round the park was cut back every autumn and Dad would bring home old birds nests. The park also provided funghi for a printing competiton at Colman Junior School, for which I think I was awarded second place.
We moved to Trafford Road in 1962 and Dad continued to cycle to work, often taking Nona the dog with him at weekends. When he retired there was an article about him in the local press (don’t remember if it was the EEN or EDP) complete with photo of him by the tennis courts. Dad died in 2003. I have lived in Derby for 44 years now and don’t visit Norwich very often but I do retain very fond memories of Eaton Park.
Merryl B, born May 1951
An edited version of an interview made on 29 May 2008
Interviewer: Christine Wilson
When I was a child I used to live over at West Earlham and as a treat we were brought to Eaton Park to see the boating lake and the little train. It was marvellous to see the boating lake and all the gentlemen in striped blazers and straw boaters – I suppose they must have been club members. We’d come over and have a picnic and spend the whole day because where we lived at Earlham, Earlham Park didn’t have any swings or anything so that was such a treat to be brought to this one. There was a huge slide at the top and a smaller one for smaller children.
Also I used to love it when the circus came and even the most famous clown, Coco the Clown, would be down. He would have his dressing-gown on, like a Paisley dressing-gown. He always had his hair on for the children and he would make it stand up.
In later years I moved to South Park Avenue and a friend of mind was working in the community centre running the playgroup. She said to me, come and work with me in the park. I came over 1982 and I then really integrated into the life of the community centre. I was on all the committees and I ended up running the playgroup because the other lady’s child grew up and she wanted to move on. I was a key-holder for eight years and we had a very varied life. We did summer fetes, easter parades, you know, table top sales because they were popular at the time. There was also a discotheque of one sort or another, lots of things.
Were you involved in the fundraising?
No not for the actual community centre, no, but I was involved in the fundraising for the store which they built on afterwards, later. It’s still a really active community centre.
Shirley S, born 1936
An edited version of an interview made on 6 June 2008 – Shirley was closely involved in Eaton Park Community Centre.
Interviewer: Christine Wilson
To start off, we were collecting money. We’d have jumble sales in Eaton Parish Hall, before we had a community centre, then we wanted to start a junior club and Eaton Hall School let us have their hall on a Friday evening for the children. Then they got up a bingo session on Monday evening at Eaton Parish Hall, and I used to make cakes for them to sell with cups of tea and coffee. Two other people, Sam and Joyce, used to help with the bingo. Dennis B was a great help and of course my husband, Frank, used to do a lot in the community. He would go round on Sunday morning getting 50ps to start the actual community centre so people could go in when it was open. But they had to have a membership card. Frank used go all round South Park and North Park on Sunday morning collecting 50ps.
So was that money for the community centre?
Yes, I can’t remember how much that actually was but they had to raise so much money so they could prove that they could run a community centre. I think the Council still helps a bit with decorating and outside work, electricity, that sort of thing. We all mucked in together to raise that money.
Do you remember when the community centre was built?
Yes, that started in the end part of ‘81 and that was all finished by about March ’82. It was officially opened on 14 May 1982. We used to run the junior club on a Friday night. The children used to pay 10p to come in. There would be all sorts of games and painting and this and that – activities, they had football teams and then the girls wanted us to do something for them. Boys always got everything then! [laughs] So they came to me one day and said, we’d like to be majorettes. [laughs] I didn’t know anything about majorettes so I bought a book and read all about baton-twirling. Dennis, who used to help us said, tell you what we’ll do, we’ll buy some copper piping and I’ll paint it silver and we’ll get some knobs to put on the end. That was what we started off with, and because we didn’t have anywhere to practise we’d do that on the Park, weather permitting.
Once we got the centre going that was lovely. We used to go there on a Monday and a Wednesday evening. I used to run that with another lady Christine C. The girls won several trophies. We used to do displays which earned money. If you went to an old people’s home you’d only get about £10. We went to the Desert Rats reunion in Sheringham one time and they gave us about £50 or £60. We bought all the majorettes’ clothes, the fur hats, we paid for everything. When we had proper batons, their mums had to pay something towards them. Two pounds something they had to pay for the baton. We bought a big amplifier which we would take with us for the music. We had a drum major with the big baton-twirler right in front of the procession. We used to do the Lord Mayor’s procession on the Saturday night. That was a long long walk. [laughs] I should think seven or eight years I did that. I used to do all the washing for the majorettes’ clothes. [laughs] Once or twice kids would go home in their socks like when we’d been to a display and they’d come back and they’d look grey. And I thought we can’t have our kids going out looking like that, so I took everything home and washed it so they were clean and all right for the next time.
What about the junior club? When did that meet and how often?
Every Friday evening that was, right from when we started the community centre till about 16/17 years ago. People don’t want to carry these things on.
I think you told me you organised summer playgroups.
There are some pictures of that as well. I had several letters from different mums, which I thought was lovely, at the end of play schemes, saying how well that was run, how confident they were to bring their children and leave them. I had lots of cards of thanks, letters of appreciation, for having the children, how well that was run and how we took good care of the children and to thank all the helpers. I used to have so many mums come and so many teenagers so that you could have a mum and a teenager with, say, ten children, so if you went on an outing that way you got sensible people to keep that group together. That was every day for a month apart from Saturday and Sunday. That was tiring! That would be ’83 the first summer after we had a community centre. City Hall used to give you so much money to start with, to buy things, paint and paper and different toys and things. I finished doing that, I should say, about 1990. I used to enjoy it. We used to do a week at Easter, another week at Whitsun, and four weeks in the long summer holidays in August.
Were you working as well?
Oh yes, I worked in the fish shop on Parmenter Road. [laughs] I used to do that three evenings a week because that way there was always a grown-up at my house for my daughter. I had four children and my husband would be there.
So you did all this in your spare time?
Spare time, yes. [laughs] We always had a party on the last day.
Were you involved with other groups in the community centre?
No, only the junior club, the majorettes and the play scheme in the summer. I’m treasurer of Senior Citizens Club and I arrange all the outings and Christmas and everything like that. Can you remember anything about Eaton Park? I can remember coming to Eaton Park as a five-six year old when my mum used to bring me and my two sisters to the park on a weekend. That used to have a big jazz thing where two stood up and worked it and all little seats with a handle in front to hold on to, and another roundabout, a rocking-horse, a huge big slide and then a medium slide and a small slide. There used to be three slides in the park. Of course the swings and the baby swings were there.
Thank you very much, Shirley.
The Eaton Park Dornier
Newspaper cuttings about the 1940 Dornier ‘crash’ in Eaton Park. The plane was in fact shot down near Duxford and bought to and put on display in Eaton Park. Many rumours resulted! Here are three news cuttings (in PDF format) about that occasion and a link to an article on the aircraft:
‘Memories of the Flying Pencil’, Eastern Evening News, December 6, 1985
‘Airman link with City’s most famous Luftwaffe visitor’, Eastern Evening News, March 19, 1986
‘City gunner claims Dornier kill’, Eastern Evening News, March, 1986
‘The Dornier at City Hall’ Invisible Works website
Through the press, we received a few calls with some memories. Here is one from Brenda Woolnough who now lives in Canada:
‘As a kid growing up on Elizabeth Fry Road I spent a lot of time on the park, on the swings and slide, crawling through the bushes on the North Park Avenue side, sailing yachts on the boating pond, playing cricket and football and later on playing golf on the pitch and putt. Before the golf course there was a dump we use to spend time rumaging in. There used to be a cycle track where the golf course is and in the same area is where the circus would set up, Billy Smarts, Robert Brothers and Chipperfields. We spent time before the shows started watching them set up the big top and sometimes helping. Watching the elephants help raise the tent was something to see.’