Advantages A step back in time
Disadvantages Can get muddy
Many years ago gentleman known as Thomas Hodgkin a banker of some importance built a house on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne. The house was built on the side of the Tyne valley giving panoramic views of the Tyne, Derwent and Team valleys. As was the fashion of the time he had extensive gardens added covering almost 11 acres, which descended the slopes almost to river level, only the Newcastle Carlisle railway halting his progress towards the Tyne.The gardens now known as Hodgkin Park followed Edwardian and Victorian themes regarding planting but the lower park was for the most part pastoral rather than ornate like the gardens of other nearby stately homes. Extensive paths were added which followed the most scenic parts of the gardens.
Being a generous man he bequeathed the gardens and his home to the people of Newcastle upon Tyne. Not immediately but in the years after his death the decline of the gardens began. This was due to the building off the Armstrong factory’s on the banks of the Tyne at nearby Scotswood and Elswick. Thousands of men were employed there constructing Ships, Railway Locomotives and just as today armaments. Today the factory totally rebuilt still stands on one of the original site’s trading as Alvis Vickers. Obviously with so many people employed communities sprang up as the families of the workers were housed. The two nearest estates to Hodgkin’s park are Scotswood and Benwell.After the end of the Second World War the requirement for Armaments declined, as did the requirement for Steam Locomotives and so the inevitable happened and people became unemployed. The once proud estates declined into a midden of crime and poverty and yet the park still remained together with its Victorian Bandstand where the populace could relax and enjoy the music of the time.
Fast forward now to the early 1970’s and we find the park still with regular keepers. Two bowling greens and two tennis courts were provided which were used almost continuously. The parks were well looked after and well maintained by the keepers until council policy changed and they became unemployed. With no one to look after the park vandalism became rife. All of the seating together with the bandstand was destroyed, graffiti became commonplace and the final indignity occurred when one evening someone decided that the bowling greens would if lifted correctly grace the back garden of someone’s home and provide income for the seller. In double quick time the debacle was complete and the park became home to drug users and many funeral pyres from stolen cars gave testimony to its decline.It was about this time when I first came to live in Newcastle and from the beginning the park captivated me, there were still signs of its once grandeur but it was not a safe place to be. Unfortunately the wildlife that once must have lived within its confines seemed to have deserted it, even a stroll through in the early morning would show no sign of the dawn chorus you would expect from such a pastoral albeit inner city site, perhaps the odd sparrow was the limit of what you would expect to see.
Fast forward again to the early 90’s and time has stood still within the park while less than half a mile down the road a Nature park was constructed on the site of some of Newcastle’s worst back to back housing. The nature park was an immediate unprecedented success and it was with this in mind that the Local Council set up a meeting for local residents for their views on what should happen to the park. Not many people attended the meeting but there was enough to persuade the council to attempt to renovate the park. Let it not be forgotten though but the park had been bequeathed to the people and the council could not dispose of it.Two cash grants were made and this together with a band of conservationists began the task of renovation even though the grants were not what could be called generous. The first step was to plant some new beech trees on the eastern side of the park but within days most had been broken in half or stripped of their bark so death was inevitable.
Now fate took a hand and people began to drift away from the council estates in the area, a trickle became a flood and soon the surrounding area became a ghost town with the shells of empty burnt out homes standing gaunt on the skyline. Where the thousands of families that left went remains a mystery but this really was the beginning of the rejuvenation of the park.The park is in two sections now, the upper and lower divide now by a main road. The upper park, the smaller of the two benefited from repairs to its stone walls, the grass was cut again on a regular basis and the once proud rhodedendrum bushes were given a new lease of life, even the majestic trees within the upper park were give attention.
The local constabulary became active and attentive. Youths on motorcycles racing across the grass were given short shift and the drug users and the burnt out cars almost totally disappeared. Warning notices about dog fouling appeared and litterbins were again sited at strategic locations throughout the park.The lower park was looked at next and it is here that the full benefit of the effort was realised.
The boundary of the west side is marked by a little dene, which appears from a rock face about twenty feet below the level of the road. In years gone by it had become a riot of abandoned prams, milk crates and car tyres and it had one point ceased to flow. The conservationists set to work and it was transformed into a clear flowing stream. The pathways long since abandoned were restored to former glories, with parts of the original edging stones to be seen. The stream descended the slopes trickling over small water falls, until it arrives at a small pond were the worst of the rubbish was to be found. This was cleared and the silt removed and it was transformed from a tip to an item of natural beauty and charm.Work began on the pathways, bridges across the dene were constructed and the shrubberies were given extensive surgery. A local artist was given licence to construct a maze from stone and concrete on the site of the lower parks solitary bowling green. A fenced children’s play area was constructed and then a miracle occurred, people started to use the park, it became their park but this was not the miracle, this was the beginning of the miracle.
The first signs of the miracle was evidence that rabbits were living in the park, not many at first but soon the evidence was widespread. Sometimes in the evening or the early morning you would if lucky see them playing away from the paths and the people. Then the birds began to return, first sparrows and thrushes. Then came the blackbirds and the magpies and now a colony of seagulls have made it their home. Robins and tits came as well and now it can be a pleasure to walk through the park and hear the dawn chorous.Small mammals started to appear, a walk with my dog would undoubtedly unearth a multitude of hedgehogs and field mice, and even moles reappeared to the dismay of some.
The local nature park had another part to play in the rejuvenation, they encouraged local children to take home frogspawn and minnows and place them in their garden ponds. The dene devoid of aquatic life until then suddenly became home to minnows and sticklebacks. Frogs and toads reappeared as well, whether it was the children or the birds carrying spawn on the feet I don’t know but the restoration was now complete or so I thought.While walking through one hot and lazy summers afternoon last year something caught my eye on the water of the pond. It was a water boatman a small aquatic insect that was skating across the waters top near a bed of bulrushes that had appeared, never had I seen one of these here before. As I watched it a splash of colour caught my eye, hovering nearby it was a creature that I had never seen since leaving my home in the Midlands. It was a dragonfly a beautiful elusive creature that I will warrant that many off you will never have seen.
So there we have it the park was restored to a semblance of order, it will never be the same as it originally was and we will always have instances of vandalism but for the most part it is now clean and safe to visit. It is not a park of carefully cut lawns and floral displays, but a park of grasslands trees and shrubs, perhaps more of a natural nature park.If you want to visit don’t expect too much, unless that is you are prepared to spend time and look and see. I did and one day last year just after dawn a wonderful site greeted me. Across my path ran a fox, it ignored me and continued on its way oblivious to everything but it was for me a very rewarding experience.
To find this in the inner city, not quite two miles from the city centre is remarkable. If you want to visit the easiest way to find it is via Scotswood Road from the city turning at the sign for the Whitehouse Centre and it is free because it was and is for the people. I would also say that about 90% is accessible for users of wheelchairs although be aware that there are some severe hills to climb.Thanks for reading.
© Baz 2003
Attention, this is the first review from this author
Instead of giving a negative rating, consider:
Help this member by giving your advice
Report fraud (for example plagiarism) or other issue with the review to the Ciao support team
Add your comment