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Looking after Berkshire’s Historic Public Parks

Herschel Park edit.jpg

‘Parks and green spaces are treasured assets and are often central to the lives of their communities’ – this was the conclusion of a parliamentary inquiry into public parks in 2017.    There are so many benefits of having parks throughout our urban areas – from physical and mental health through to reduced air and noise pollution.  And sometimes, it is just nice to be able to stroll through a lovely park on a beautiful sunny day with your kids, your dog, or simply to watch the world go by.

It was in the Victorian age that the benefits of public parks were first properly appreciated and there was the ambition, money and ethos to create some truly spectacular public parks.  These were often designed by famous individuals and included public buildings which still exist today – such as Birkenhead Park (near Liverpool) designed by Joseph Paxton and opened in 1847.  Historical public parks are not just open green spaces that are good for the environment; they also are heritage assets. (See for more information.)

 Today, though, with the pressures on budgets and the myriad of other issues to resolve, the ongoing management of public parks often comes low down on the government’s agenda and the historical aspects of them are an even lower priority.  We set out to create a comprehensive list and description of all the historic public parks in Berkshire to try and change that – to raise awareness of the historic value of our older public parks and to help develop a closer working relationship with the people who look after them.  It sounded relatively easy but it has taken us much longer to do it than we thought and we’ve only done step 1.  One of the issues we had was just defining and then identifying the parks we wanted to include.  So, here’s where we’ve done to date:

A ’public park’ (for this project) is a park owned by or managed by a borough council, and in Berkshire, we have 6 boroughs (or Unitary Authorities).  Public parks can also be owned by or managed by a town council or parish council and these are grouped into the borough in which they fall. 

We then divided Berkshire’s public parks into three categories depending on their historic importance. 

1. ‘Historic Designed’ – These are public parks, designed mainly before 1945, whose historic features or whose connection with historic persons or places are still evident.  By ‘designed’, we mean that there was some overall plan as to where paths, buildings, trees, and flower beds were placed, taking into account such things as circulation of the public; and views into and from the park.  In general, this means that the parks in this category were either part of a garden of a large, private estate that was then gifted to the public or they were originally designed as a public park.  An example of the former is Baylis Park and Memorial Grounds in Slough.  The park had previously been the grounds of Godolphin Court and Baylis House.  The King George V Gardens in Reading is an example of a park designed to be public - it is a 1840s planned formal town square. 


2. ‘Historic but not Designed’ – These are parks that have some heritage significance but were not designed landscapes.  Any parks with historic monuments are included here.  For example, Caesar’s Camp in Bracknell Forest has the remains of an Iron Age hillfort and has become a heathland habitat supporting rare birds.


3. ‘Public Parks with no historic interest’ – These are often modern parks that have a lot of sports facilities and play equipment; or are remnants of woodland, gravel pits, meadows or arable fields. 


We are focussed on public parks in the first category as that is the remit of the Berkshire Gardens Trust.  However, public parks in the other two categories are also important for other reasons – such as their value to biodiversity and the maintenance of ancient woodland.  We also considered adding cemeteries and private parks that are open to the public but eventually decided that these are best left to future projects. 


These categories sound very black and white, but there is a lot of grey.  For example, California Park in Wokingham has an extremely interesting history.  It was established as an amusement park and zoo by Alfred Cartilage in 1931 and was the home to a speedway track from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Before that, the land was briefly part of the Bearwood Estate, a large private estate owned by the Walter family who founded ‘The Times’.  The grounds of Bearwood Estate are a registered park and garden but it does not extend as far as California Park.  It appears from old maps that this land was never part of the designed landscape around the house.  Therefore, California Park has been categorised as ‘Historic but not Designed’ but if any readers have information that might change our view, please get in touch. 


The interactive map on this website shows the location and a brief snapshot of most of the historic designed parks.  (It will show all of them once we have taken photos of the remaining ones.)  A few facts and figures:


Victoria Park in the centre of Newbury is Berkshire’s oldest park created in 1830.  The other two ‘old’ parks are King George V Gardens in Reading (mentioned above) from the 1840s and Forbury Gardens in Reading, officially opened in 1865.  In Berkshire, we have 26 parks that are historic designed landscapes, but of these, only 6 are ‘registered’ landscapes on Historic England’s listing of national sites with special historic interest.  The remaining parks are definitely of interest to Berkshire and should be better recognised and celebrated – another reason for this project!

Click here to view our Interactive Map of Berkshire's Historic Public Parks.

If you have any comments, additions or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.  Please contact  We will be updating our website as we gather more information about each of these 26 parks.

Janet Fuller, Member and Research Lead

20th February 2024

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