Today it seems strange to think that a park with play equipment should be considered a novelty. However before Charles Wicksteed invented the children’s play park in 1921 the concept was unheard of. While his revolutionary ideas were revolutionary for their time, some of them would seem quite shocking today.
“I’ve done away with railings as they are very expensive”. This is what Wicksteed wrote in his 1928 book which describes with illustrations and photographs how he created the equipment for the park in Kettering Northamptonshire.
The equipment described in his book seems crude and rudimentary by today’s standards. It goes without saying that modern health and safety regulations would never have allowed the play equipment to see the light of day.
Despite their inadequacies by modern standards, Wicksteed’s inventions have changed the lives of children for almost century. Before Wicksteed Park was established, parks were highly formal gardens where children were ordered to keep off the grass.
The idea to build the park actually came about by accident. Wicksteed had erected two temporary and very crude swings for children to play on for a Sunday school treat in the park. The swings were left standing for a few days before he had the chance to remove them. When he returned, he found children crowded around the swings – waiting to get a chance to play on them. He decided that instead of removing them, he would rather add another one, so more children could get the opportunity.
He then observed how children were piling up forms to build a slide on an embankment. This sparked the invention of the slide. Initially the slide was only for boys. When he saw that girls also wanted to play on the slide, he built a new, even better one for the girls. This made the boys jealous, so he built another for the boys. Eventually he abandoned the idea of building separate facilities for boys and girls – stating:
“At that time I had a quaint idea that the boys and girls ought to be separated.”
“This has been entirely and successfully abandoned, as also any idea of keeping or limiting the playthings to people of a certain age.”
“Let people of all ages and both sexes be admitted; the older ones then take care of the young people.”
“It appears to me to be very cruel to keep out boys and girls because they are a little bit too old, I have seen the poor little things go away crying.”
“Why should you separate a family?”
For his time Wicksteed was a highly advanced thinker. Today we take for granted the ideas he pioneered. He saw the value inherent in giving children a facility where they can play outdoors. Had it not been for the work he did, none of us would have grown up with the parks we all know so well.