Broomfield park anecdotes
The park, as we called it, was at the centre of our stays at Derwent road. It was part and parcel of the delight of our stay. Even if of course the house at 9DR and the family were the most important, I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say the park was almost like another member of the family. There was its beauty and variety, its vast expanses, the multiple aspects and purposes, suited for everybody, old and young, restful or sports-oriented, families or schools… At its best, that is, before the burning down of Broomfield house, and the vandalized clock-house and pond-houses, I think it must have rivalled with many other London parks for amenities and sheer beauty. Grovelands had a wood and a stream which Broomfield didn’t have, but Broomfield was better equipped in terms of sports facilities. There was the conservatory, the aviary, the Garden of Remembrance, the Bowls green, the bandstand by the lake, the little passages around the House. Broomfield House itself, with its museum, its tea-house facilities, its position facing the lake and the Elm avenue was really a beautiful monument.
Before the vandalizing, I remember that people were very conscious of the public value of the place, witness the threat of which I had been an unwilling victim when one day, seeing me neglectfully scrape one little bit of paint on the huge Coronation gates which used to open on Aldermans Hill, a friend of Mark’s (I think) said I shouldn’t do that, that I could be prosecuted by the police, or worse perhaps (what’s after the police?), and it could be judged a public offense worth £200. I was really scared, and the boy wasn’t laughing.
When we were younger, the park was of all first the slides (especially the BIG slide but see them all here), swings, merry-go-rounds and see-saws. In its time, the whole lot must have cost an enormous amount, because they were all excellent quality and strength. First there was the climb all the way to that little cage, from where the loooonnng descent became visible. Then we would compete as to who would manage to slide the furthest down the ramp (you probably had to fling yourself down without holding the slides to limit friction – I remember somebody falling from mid-height because of a lack of grip). There were also races running up the slide, to see if we could reach the top from that side. And then sliding upside down, on your back from the big slide was the ultimate challenge. I can still feel the eerie sense of unease while watching the treetops from that position. The see-saws were fascinating too, I remember Monsieur Père showing us how to block somebody in the top position: you had to push yourself the farthest back possible, and hold on to that position while the victim of your weight was up there, wiggling his feet in the air and pestering against you! Later, we would play the judge by standing on the middle of the see-saw and weighing the instrument in one direction or the other. So you can imagine my disappointment and regret when one year I discovered everything was gone and replaced by -what?- a mini golf-course, instead of the swings and slides…! It’s true that the replacement climbing construction further down, near the former race track, is fine, but can it make up for what there was before?
The park also meant the pond : when we were little, we were mainly preoccupied with the first one, the circular one for model boats (it used to be a fish pond in the aristocratic days). I was struck by its size, its depth, its dangers even, to the little ones we were at first. Once (I was perhaps 8 or 9?) in spite of repeated warnings, I actually slipped and fell … in its surprisingly shallow depth: I dunno, I think I was a little disappointed! The pond meant the ducks to feed (Auntie Olive would supply us with bread cuttings to go and throw them, it was great watching them swimming and splashing after them), the boats to watch – some boat owners had amazingly big models, with a luxury of realistic details, and I would imagine myself, Gulliver-like, onboard as they glided along and made a neat wash behind them. I didn’t need the things for myself: it sufficed to watch and hear their electric noise, their splish-splash, and the way they were manoeuvred… (check this address for the BP model boat club): (the one below is a long time ago!)
Then one year (1969?), Monsieur Père had a surprise for us: he’d bought a sailing boat! We called it the VPZ (Vivi Paco Zizi), it wasn’t ridiculous in size, and even if it didn’t have an engine, at least it really floated, and we loved watching it take the wind on the pond. We rushed from one side to the other in order to retrieve it on the other side. Sometimes we had to slacken the sails to enable it to catch the wind better, but occasionally it also got stuck in the middle and other motor boats volunteered to push it back towards us. We very happy to be now part of the official users of the pond in this way. We recently spoke about the boat and we came to the conclusion that it must have been broken by some children playing with it at 9DR, where it stayed from one holiday to the next.
Crossing the park led to some unknown or mysterious places, for example to the other side, diametrically, when we went with Auntie Olive to the library, or entering the park at the top of Powys Lane, coming from Arnos Grove. Speaking of mysteries, I have been told there was (or is) a secret underground passage to go from one pond to another, but I’ve never seen it! (I think it should be some kind of overflow pipe connecting the ponds). Going in the park at night, though strictly forbidden, was real fun too. We did that several times (at a later age though) and fancied ourselves as trespassers – which we were – but also loved giving ourselves a fright with noises and imagined movements coming from the wind and the park animals.
I hope Heaven (or some other authority-filled locus) isn't going to break down on me if I reveal what we had done once (I recently found the actual date in my 1975 diray: July 17th of that year!) with a cousin of mine, whose name I will not disclose in case he might resent my implicating him! Silly billies, as you'll see. I suppose we had been looking for something to do, and we came up to the Bandstand on the lake:
There were some deck chairs lying around, and without exactly understanding what had seized us, we took one and threw it into the water... It made a great splash, and we thought it best to run away. We crossed a warden who certainly had been alerted by the noise, and thought that perhaps somebody or something had fallen into the pond (he was right!). I think he looked at us suspiciously, but we escaped. I don't really feel all that proud of this now, but it felt glorious at the time. That chair stayed a while in the water, because some years after, I saw it there still, floating among the water-weed.
I’ve spoken elsewhere about rounders that we used to play towards the top of the park, most notably during school sports, but I’m sure there had also been some rounders among cousins too. In the summer, there was an ice-cream van near the large QE2 entrance which is now reduced to a much smaller, much more sober-looking black gate, and I remember the chocolate flakes that were stuck in the vanilla ice-cream. The animals of the park have always been a special attraction, too, not only the ducks and geese for which we were given bread crumbs, but also the grey squirrels which it was fun to attract right into your fingers if they dared, and the variety of birds who were tame enough to do the same. In the House, there was the natural history section, where all the animals and many more were presented; some stuffed foxes and badgers for example, if I remember well.
Check here for some official history of the park.
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