|HCC Site ID.||1187||Parish:||Eastleigh|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:||Eastleigh Borough Council Private|
Location and Site
The recreation ground is located between Leigh Road and Romsey Road, more or less in Eastleigh town centre. Originally, before the ‘Newtown’ was built, the site would have been on the northern edge of the town; and there are still a few larger Victorian houses as well as new flats that overlook the park. The south east Leigh Road entrance is approached from a pedestrian precinct that is close to the bus terminal, the railway station and the main shopping area. The centerpiece of the precinct has a Railwayman statue, designed by Jill Tweed that celebrates Eastleigh’s industrial railway roots. An avenue of lime trees extends from the precinct and forms the southern boundary of the park along Leigh Road.
Historical DevelopmentThe land was formerly a gravel pit and farmland. In the early 1880’s, the LSWR moved their carriage and wagon works from London to Bishopstoke, which was at the time a small farming community, of Little and Great Eastley farms (OHM). It was thought the name Bishopstoke Station could be confused with Basingstoke and so the railway station was to be known as Eastleigh, a name suggested by Charlotte Yonge, a local writer and benefactor. By 1892, when the population had grown to some 6,000, there were still had no facilities for recreation. In 1895, the LSWR donated £2,000 towards the cost of £4,926 to purchase land acquired in Leigh Road from Thomas Chamberlayne (H2G2 online; Lambert online). A year later Mr. Wyndham Porter handed the Deed to the Council stating “This deed conveys this piece of ground now and forever to the charge of the Council in authority on behalf of the People of Eastleigh and to his seed forever” (MH/01/020). It first remained as grass and was known as the Village Green, later the Cricket Field, but gradually the site was improved with paths, fences, trees, shrubs and seats. In 1898, the Town Hall was built on the western edge of the park. In 1900, an open wooden band stand was erected paid for by public subscription. A roof was added to the bandstand in 1909, at a cost of £30, with further work taking place between 1923 and 1925 (H2G2 online).
During WW1 the recreation ground was covered with huts for a Casualty Clearing Station that included baths and toilets. Railings surrounding the park were removed during WW2 and air raid shelters were built beneath the ground – they may still be there. Many of the original trees were lost during the storms of 1987. A war memorial surmounted by a sculpture of the ‘Angel of Mons’ was erected in the park in 1929 (EBC Walking Trail). During the 1930’s tennis courts and a bowling green were added to the park’s facilities. It is uncertain when these were removed. A shelter, shown on the 4th edition OS map as located to the north of the bandstand but later demolished, was known as ‘No 10 Downing Street’, as the ‘old folk’ of Eastleigh would meet there to put the world to rights (Paris 1990). A new shelter has now been erected to encourage visitors to sit and chat.
In 1973, a sensory garden for the blind was made to the north east of the Park. Between 1978 and 1982 Safeway’s supermarket was developed on the site of the Railway Institute and the old children’s playground was demolished and a new one created (EBC online). The Town Hall became The Point, ‘a contemporary dance and combined art centre’ in 1996. To celebrate the millennium, a Dancing Garden was created, with decking extending from the complex into the park as an open air performance facility. This was designed by Alex Whish to express movement with two seats made of stainless steel, containing musical notes in the design, inspired by a Bob Dylan song. The whirlwind stools and table were designed by Christian Funnell. This garden’s patron is Roy Lancaster (EBC Leisure). In 2000, the cross, on the war memorial that was substituted for the stolen ‘Angel of Mons’, was replaced by a new design of the angel by Jill Tweed (EBC online).
In 2003, there were changes to the paths within the park when a mosaic, designed by Trevor Caley to depict Eastleigh’s links with Aviation, Rail and recreational themes, became a focal point to the north east of the bandstand near the central exit to Leigh Road. A year later Safeway supermarket was purchased by Morrisons, and in November the following year by Sainsbury’s. It is likely that that this was also when the children’s play area was renovated and additional parking was made (EBC online; Sainsbury’s online). In 2014, just to the north of this area, a new artwork of an image of a Lion in pre-rusted steel designed by Joanne Calcutt, was placed within the sensory garden area. This celebrated 50 years of the Lion Club in Eastleigh (Lions 2014 online).
In 2017, the recreation ground is somewhat smaller than the original one and a half hectares, as buildings and car parks have encroached on the site. It is now a pleasant grassed area with the Victorian bandstand (locally listed), and the WW1 monument surrounded by a double row of low clipped hedging. Well-kept lawns, benches and tree clumps make it a pleasant area for locals to relax in. Several paths cross the park with access from Leigh Road and Romsey Road where paths radiate out from the mosaic. Unfortunately the mosaic is to be decommissioned as it has suffered ‘ingress from water and frost’ (EBC online). On the eastern boundary, beside the supermarket, is a car parking area and a small play area, securely fenced for young children to use, and seating for adults. From Leigh Road to Romsey road is the Chestnut Walk which still has a few mature and several younger replacement trees. The Romsey Road boundary has a low wall, attractive railings, a few mature trees with shrubs and hedging that act as a buffer against the busy road whilst Leigh Road is unfenced and opens to the avenue of Limes interspersed with benches. The Dancing Garden and the planting around the Lions sculpture remain as features. The south east corner has a semi-circular paved area with seating around the perimeter that extends into the Leigh Road pedestrian precinct. The paved area accommodates market day stalls. The park is still used by a circus, a fair ground and for other town celebrations.
Buildings and car parks have encroached on the original site of the park. The early erected bandstand and the War Memorial remain as prominent features. Although not as peaceful as it once was because of traffic noise, it is still a popular park for locals to spend time in and young children to play, especially the enclosed soft play area. It is well maintained with mature trees and some planting around the boundary, several benches and litter bins. It is still used by visiting fun fairs and for other local and civic events.
A late C19th century Recreation Park, with bandstand and war memorial, that is still a very important amenity for the town, both functional and practical for public use. It is well maintained.
HGT Research: January 2017
O.S. 1st ed 25” 1869-86
EBC Leisure: Leisure handout by Eastleigh Council (Dancing Garden Eastleigh Recreation Ground
EBC Walking Trail: Eastleigh Borough Council Walking Trail c2015
MH/01/02 Eastleigh Recreation Ground
Paris, Barbara, 1990 Local History Papers
Electronic Sources (all accessed after Sept. 2016)
EBC online (https://www.eastleigh.gov.uk/media) also /meetings Project brief 11/1/2008
ENews 2012 – (http://www.eastleighnews.co.uk/ > Eastleigh News Archive > 9 December 2012
H2G2. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Eastleigh page) (accessed October 2016)
Lambert online, Lambert, Tim, A Timeline of the History of Eastleigh’ (accessed November 2016)(http://www.localhistories.org/eastleightime.html)[accessed 18/1/2017]
Lions 2014 online (http://eastleighlions.org.uk/community/eastleighlionscelebrate50years.html)
Sainsbury online (http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/media/ 218207/2006_04.pdf)