As Banbury's People's Park celebrates 100 years of serving the community, custodians, Banbury Town Council, have exciting plans for its future.
Having fun in People’s Park was what benefactor George Vincent Ball had in mind when he left money in his will for a recreation space for Banbury residents.
Mr Ball who decreed that his money should “provide land as a park for the recreation of all classes of the public during every day of the week from sunrise to sunset all year round to be ornamentally planted and laid out and to be called People's Park.”
One hundred years on, Mr Ball’s vision is very much alive and the green space he wished for is continuing to give pleasure to so many.
Mr Ball was a businessman in Banbury. He ran a chemist’s shop in Parson’s Street and realised the need for a public park. There were others, too, who had a park in mind.
In 1910 a syndicate of local people bought part of the former Neithrop Estate when it was put up for auction. After buying the land, the syndicate leased it to the borough council of the day as a park.
In 1918, Mr Ball’s legacy enabled the council to buy the land from the syndicate. Also in 1918, the council bought two adjoining but smaller plots of land and all three areas became the People’s Park we see today.
The GV Ball (People’s Park) Charity still exists and Banbury Town Council has replaced the former borough council and now owns and maintains the park.
It also fulfills a condition of Mr Ball’s will. In return for the gift of money that enabled the purchase of the land, Mr Ball stipulated that the borough council at the time, and subsequent councils, would maintain the Ball family grave in the town’s Southam Road cemetery.
It was a deal the council couldn’t refuse.
The park has seen many changes as it has moved with the times.
Tennis courts were opened in 1926 and over the next 12 years the park saw the addition of a bowls green (home to Banbury Borough Bowls Club), an aviary, a children's playground and paddling pool.
In the summer of 1931, a bandstand was opened and the natural amphitheatre of the park saw hundreds of people regularly take deckchairs to hear live music.
The original park had a zigzag walk known as the Crooked Shades. A lane leading into the park from the south is still known as The Shades.
Since 2000, when it took over the park, Banbury Town Council has made significant improvements. It has installed better lighting, improved CCTV coverage, refurbished the war memorial and started a rolling programme of footpath resurfacing.
An improved children’s play area and resurfaced tennis courts are other recent improvements. With Mr Ball’s ‘for all people’ wish in mind, the council has introduced a community garden that is tended by volunteers and schoolchildren are regular visitors to the park for projects such as hanging basket making and sunflower planting.
An annual competition for primary pupils sees around a dozen schools and up to 300 children every year decorate flower beds with the best receiving a trophy from the mayor.
The council organises annual events in the park. They are free to enter and for all residents of the town, exactly as Mr Ball wanted.
The future of People’s Park is assured. Mr Ball’s will states that the land must always be a public park. The town council is looking to the future and a café and toilets will be built in the park in the near future. Both were top of a wish list in a survey of park users.
Plans for have been submitted and building work will start as soon as permission has been given.
Cllr Kieron Mallon, leader of the council, said: “It is the duty of the council and a matter of pride that People’s Park is maintained to the highest standards.
“It is a place of natural beauty and the council works with nature to make it a welcoming place all year round, in line with Mr Ball’s wishes.”
Cllr Mallon added: “In the town council’s hands People’s Park will always be a place to be proud of, a place of the people.”