If you listen to the local press and popular perception you could be forgiven for thinking that Gloucester Park is a no-go area. A wild and lawless place frequented by winos, druggies and ne’er-do-wells waiting for an opportunity to cosh you over the head and relieve you of your wallet or worse.
However, I am here to tell you that I don’t believe this to be true.
I admit that if you walk through Gloucester Park in the small hours of the morning you may find it to more accurately fit that description, I don’t know, but that is surely true of any largely deserted area in any city. But my recent experience of it, on a balmy spring evening, was quite the opposite.
Gloucester Park is a creation of the Victorians, the first age in which leisure pursuits were first enthusiastically embraced. It was opened by the City Corporation in 1862 for recreation and includes the former spa grounds. In my book, The Story of Gloucester, I mention the park as somewhere that in recent years had cultivated an air of neglect, but at that time (2006) I was optimistic about its revival.
And that revival seems to have happened judging from my experience earlier this week. I was off to meet my brother in the Park End pub, for reasons I may blog about later, and he was running late. He had been off to do his civic duty and donate some blood and apparently the leeches were on a go-slow. Anyway, this gave me half an hour to kill. It was just before 8:00pm and as it was a nice evening I decided to take a walk around the park.
Entering the Park through the wrought iron archway off Park Road, near the now clean and well cared for statue of Robert Raikes, I encountered a game of football in progress. An impressively large group of late teens and young adults were enjoying an enthusiastic and energetic kick-about with the traditional jumpers for goal posts. I stopped to watch for a while and, despite my general lack of knowledge and enthusiasm for the game, I was impressed by the skills on display.
On the other side of the path from the impromptu football match is the large stone fountain which was moved from the Eastgate Market in the 1920s. It long ago ceased to be a working fountain and now serves as an ornate flower bed. It was also being put to use as a seat by a small mixed group of teenagers just chilling out and nattering.
As I wandered on through the park other small groups of people lay around enjoying the last rays of the unseasonably warm April sunshine. Elsewhere young couples could be seen walking hand in hand or canoodling unselfconsciously. Others, perhaps following previous park-based canoodling, were wandering around pushing prams or with small children excitedly running around their feet.
A little further on I came across another game of football; this time with young children, showing perhaps less talent but no less enthusiasm. A few other children were at play in the play area, which boasts a far more impressive range of exciting looking apparatus than the swings and slides I remember from my childhood.
Behind the rangers hut is a permanent table tennis table where another largish group of youths were hanging out: not drinking booze or shooting up on drugs, but – shock horror – actually playing table tennis. Crossing the road I passed the ‘annexe’ to the park – cut off when Trier Way was carved through it, it now houses a tennis court, where there was a mixed-doubles match in full swing, and a skate and BMX park, where more kids were enjoying themselves on bikes.
Throughout my walk I did not encounter a single wino and I did not witness any muggings. I also failed to notice anyone assaulting or abusing anyone. The only raised voices that I heard were the result of exuberant high spirits. In short, it was a very pleasant scene. Times may have moved on from the 1900s when the photo shown here was taken, but I think the Victorians would largely approve (though maybe not of the canoodling.)