This bench is dedicated to Paul Stephen Hillman. He was The Borough of Poole’s Landscape Architect from 1989 until 2008. As you stand or sit here, you can read a little bit about Paul’s life and his work towards preserving the heritage of Poole Park, often referred to as the People’s Park. If you read on, there is some interesting history too.
Paul joined Poole Council as the Borough’s Landscape Architect before Poole Park’s Centenary celebrations in 1990. Previously he completed his Masters as a Landscape Architect at Newcastle University. While working for Poole, a major focus of his duties was to preserve the heritage of Poole Park, and ensure the park was protected by being granted conservation status and placed on The English Heritage’s list of parks and gardens of national importance.
He worked tirelessly to restore the original features of the Park, such as the pillars, iron railings, a fabulous entrance, which is behind this bench at Norton Gate1, and the fountain here, all in their original Victorian splendour. As the park approached its Centenary year in 1990 these and other features had been deteriorating fast.
To do this Paul had to undertake extensive research to source the original materials used in their construction.
The Victorian styled fountain you see in front of you was donated by the late Lord Wimborne and his wife, Lady Venetia, when they came to Poole Park to mark the park’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
Paul Stephen Hillman 1959-2011
Simultaneously he supervised other projects around the borough’s parks such as; Hamworthy, Parkstone and the Whitecliff recreation area, as well as Winston Gardens in Branksome, which was commended for a Civic Design Award.
If you have driven into or around Poole today you may have seen one of a number of his landscape initiatives. That of enhancing the town’s road landscapes by placing small boats and buoys on some of the roundabouts, another is a unique designed bus shelter outside the Borough’s civic centre. These works were created, to reflect the town’s maritime connections; and they stand as a lasting legacy of his work.
As you look out towards the park lake, there are several islands which were planned and created by Paul in 2007. These replicated the shape of five islands in Poole Harbour. In addition two raised reed beds were constructed and the lake was dredged, the total cost was £2 million. Beyond the lake the backdrop of the undulating Purbeck chalk hills, make a fine vista on a clear day.
Now look towards the railway line at the other side of the lake. In 1874-1875 The London and South Western Railway Company built a line to connect Poole with Bournemouth West Station (now closed) further to the East. This predates the creation of the park. The railway line today connects London Waterloo to Weymouth. Approximately in the centre of the railway line, you should be able to see a sluice gate, this controls water entering and leaving the lake, and acts as a dam, and was constructed in 1886 by the Dorset Iron Foundry Company. Incidentally the lake is very shallow having a depth of 1 to 1.5 metres.
Wait a while, and read a bit more about Poole Park’s illustrious history and wind the clock back about 130 years, and find out about the opening day, for The People’s Park.
In the middle of 1886 the then Poole Council organised a national competition to design a People’s Park for the residents of Poole. This was won by Veitch and Son, they were awarded £25. However because of negotiations over land, including that of the railway company, the park wasn’t officially opened until four years later in 1890. In 1887, 33 acres of boggy land was donated by the first Lord Wimborne2, which later became the boating lake. The imposing town centre Wetherspoons Pub, is named after him, ‘The Lord Wimborne’. This was the Public Library built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the money was donated by John Norton, previously mentioned.
Also around this time, it was found that the original design for the park was unworkable, and John Elford, the borough surveyor revised the plan, incorporating many of the ideas originally put forward by the competition winners, Veitch and Son.
The People’s Park of Poole, at the time would become one of the most picturesque pleasure grounds to be found anywhere in England, enclosed by smart iron railings and gates on impressive brick-built pillars, ornamented with terracotta sea-life dressings, topped by eagles and globe lamps. (Look at the entrances). Two main gates would be guarded by lodges, a bandstand would be erected and there would be a layout of roads and pathways linked attractions within the park that included a cricket ground, a cycle track and tennis lawns.
Finally the opening day arrived, Saturday January 18th 1890, – with much fanfare and excitement a procession wound its way from nearby Ashley Green, or more popularly known as Ashley Cross Park in Lower Parkstone through the streets towards the new park. The people waved and cheered enthusiastically.
Unfortunately for the dignitaries, guests and the public, a severe storm with blinding rain with hurricane-force winds had hit Poole the night before, demolishing the pavilion in the park, and causing some of the celebrations to be curtailed. Although some of the street decorations looked a bit bedraggled, the people of Poole turned up in their thousands, to view the procession headed by The Prince of Wales later to become King Edward VII in 1901, and his sons, Prince Albert Victor and Prince Albert George, the latter to become King George V in 1910. This was truly a momentous day for the town and people of Poole.
As the procession reached the Park, there was a replica of the old town wall, together with two mock stone gateways across the parks carriageways, these had imitation ramparts, and bore the inscriptions, ‘Welcome to our Ancient Borough’ and on the other side ‘Welcome to the Prince of Wales’ and ‘The Nation’s Pride’.
The original plan was for the Mayor to greet the Prince, outside the pavilion and for people to be seated in the great marquee where The Bournemouth Silver Band would play the National Anthem. Alas! The majestic pavilion was no more, a collapsed mass of sodden canvas, writhing in the wind,
Upon the wrecked staging and seating, and so the procession continued on its way to the Quay, where the royal party were met by the Poole Lifeboat on display with its crew standing to attention alongside it with Souwesters and cork lifebelts.
Back to Paul, who was instrumental in organising the initial stages of creating a small lifeboat museum in the late seventies in the old lifeboat station on Poole Quay. This was part of a project for his Queen Scout Award. (Today the old Lifeboat station is open to visitors along the Quay)
Today the Royal National Lifeboat Institution has its headquarters in Poole, with extensive boat building capabilities and a training centre (there are a number of tours open to the public). Additionally Paul was serious about devoting his spare time to the community, being a volunteer for the Coastguards in Poole and also a voluntary member of Bournemouth lifeguards, he was awarded honorary life membership in 1995.
The show must go on, and back to the procession. Eventually the Prince of Wales and his entourage made it to Poole Station. The Prince hoped he could present his speech outside the station, but the railway police and security were unhappy. (Health and Safety was around in 1890 as well!) They entered the tiny booking office which was too small for speeches to be presented and the Prince and Mayor hurriedly exchanged their written copies.
It was a rather rushed affair and amid much rejoicing and hat waving the Princes’ party boarded the train at 1.30pm. The train hissed, steam bellowed, pistons oscillated and oozed oil, a shrill whistle stirred the air, brakes were released and wheels grinding into action, the train edged backwards! With the crowd confused, the points were hammered into place, the train wheels squealed in protest and reversed. The Prince of Wales, future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, was on his way arriving in London. The train arrived at 4.00pm, not much longer than South West Trains Class 442 West Electric achieve today, 126 years later!
However, the slightly modified plan of the opening day did nothing to dampen the spirits of the People of Poole, and this Park has become a central amenity and special place for generations of Poole families ever since.
Now let’s wind the clock forward to the 21st Century.
In August 2014 The Borough of Poole submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in the Parks for People Programme, to assist with restoring and improving various aspects of the park. I
One of the five key elements identified for the bid, was to renovate and restore the Park’s unique heritage landscapes. Additionally there were to be consultations to engage residents of Poole so they would understand and appreciate, why the Park’s heritage is so important and why it should be preserved. The Borough of Poole was successful in gaining initial funding of £260 000 and a decision will be made in 2017, whether the bid is successful for the full £2.7 million.
Poole Park ‘The People’s Park’ may have had a stuttering start, however it is popular today as a much-loved amenity with something to offer to everyone, young and old alike. It also, provides peaceful sanctuary in the centre of town centre of Poole.
As the surviving family of Paul Hillman who, was the last full time Borough Poole Landscape Architect we are very happy to share his story with you today and to also know that his tireless work, dedicated spirit and dream continues of preserving the heritage of Poole Park, ‘The People’s Park’, for future generations of residents to come, tourists and visitors alike.
Some of the facts about the History of Poole Park, can be attributed to the excellent publication entitled; – Poole Park. The People’s Park, by Geoffrey Budworth. The History Press Ltd.