Walks With History: Victoria Park 1

Walks with History

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Every day throughout Plymouth History Festival, Walks with History have been tweeting walks in various locations around the city. They include fascinating history snippets for you to enjoy en route, should you find yourself in that neck of the woods on your distanced exercise stroll. In today’s featured walk, we’re going a little more in depth to explore the history of one particular area. There will be another walk in this area on Wednesday.

Map copyright OpenStreetMap

Background

Between Plymouth Devonport and East Stonehouse lay a creek off of the River Tamar known at one end as Stonehouse Creek and at the other end as Deadlake. All of this creek has been filled in and now forms a recreational area between the three former towns. It was once alive with activity with small ships and floating rafts of timber. It has now given way to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and schoolboys playing rugby and soccer. These walks aim to give you a flavour of the history of the area as you walk around  

Victoria Park walk – The Dead Lake

Victoria Park is built on what was a tidal salt marsh originally crossed by a causeway and later the Mill Bridge constructed in around 1525. A later rebuild of the bridge can still be seen (details in walk 2) which was used to control the flow of water to the two mills that sat beside it. As the years went by, the creek started to silt up and with added effluent running in to it, it began to smell. It was given the name Deadlake and a road nearby was named Deadlake Road after it. Deadlake Road became Stuart Road and in 1896 a report was published on a proposed Deadlake Recreation Ground. The report led to the Deadlake Committee being formed from councillors across the Three Towns later being becoming the Victoria Park Committee when it was decided to name the park after Queen Victoria. Rubble and stone from Oreston and Cattedown Quarries was used to fill in the lake up to the level we see today. The park was finally opened to the public on 8th October 1902.  

Our starting point is at the western end of the park by the entrance to the park from where Millbridge, Edgcumbe Avenue, Hotham Place and Molesworth Road meet. Walk along Hotham Place and enter the park entrance on the right and look for the large white boundary stone to the right. The stone is our first stop on our walk.  

  1. The Boundary Stones

The Three towns of Plymouth, Devonport and East Stonehouse meet in Victoria Park and the line of the boundaries between them can be traced by following the numerous boundary stones in the park. Whilst the origins of marking boundaries date back to medieval times, most of Plymouth’s boundary stones come from Victorian times. There are eleven boundary stones within the park, with a further eight close by so see how many you can spot. Our first one is very obvious as it is the largest and newest stone in the park. 

The Three Towns Amalgamation Centenary stone was unveiled on the 1st of November 2014 by the then Lord Mayor, Councillor Michael Fox to celebrate the 100 years since the Three Towns amalgamated. Have a read of the display board and the plaque on the stone. 

Things to note: 

  • It is the only stone in the park showing the design used by each of the towns on their stones.
  • It sits on the exact spot where all three towns meet and is on the route of the old causeway that crossed the creek before the Mill Bridge was built.
  • It is the only stone with the Mayor’s name on each of the sides. All other stones for East Stonehouse have no name on them as the town was not a County Borough like Plymouth and Devonport and did not have a Mayor.
  • Further reading: See the Plotting Plymouth’s Past leaflet to see details of all of the boundary and marker stones that can be found across the area here.

Our walk now takes us to the left following the footpath around the park in a clockwise direction. Look out for more boundary stones as you walk to the next stop. Did you notice the three by the park entrance?

Keep walking until you reach 

2. The Park Keeper’s Lodge

The Park Keepers Lodge was the live in home for the Park Keeper who opened and closed the park gates every day and kept undesirable people out of the park. It was until recently lived in by a member of Plymouth City Council’s park-keeping staff. More recently it has been refurbished and opened as The Park Pavilion Café. The lodge dates from the park opening in 1902.

3. The Bandstand

Directly opposite the Park Keeper’s Lodge sat the park bandstand. Again built for the park opening in 1902, the bandstand was the main attraction in the park and hosted many events over the years from military bands to performing troupes. It was demolished around 1971.

Things to note:

  • The land around the bandstand was ploughed up in World War Two and the area used for growing vegetables and potatoes. 
  • The area was also used for a time for grazing sheep.

Keep walking to the end of the park. When the path splits, if you take the left hand fork you will reach another boundary stone marked J W S Gooding, 1913.  From here you can see

4. The Railway Bridges

In front of you is the disused park bowling green with two railway bridges behind it. The nearest is called Stonehouse Pool Viaduct and was built as a wooden structure by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in around 1858. It was rebuilt around 1907 with masonry and brick piers with steel girders on top. The bridge became disused in 1964 with the closure of Plymouth’s Millbay Railway Station and the steel girders were later removed to be replaced by an art installation. The piece you see is called “Moor” by Turner Prize winning sculptor Richard Deacon.

The second and further away railway bridge was built in 1876 and is called Pennycomequick Viaduct. It was built to allow trains to travel from London to Cornwall without having to reverse direction at Millbay Station and remains in use to this day.

You should retrace your journey but keep left on the footpath then go right at the park gates to return along the opposite side of the park. Just beyond the park entrance you will find 

5. The Wishing Tree

A recent addition to the park and a response to the COVID-19 restrictions in place. Do have a look at some of the messages and drawings.

As you carry on along the path, you will see the new flats under construction on Arundel Crescent. This area and the land beyond were once known as Five Fields.

6. St Dunstans Abbey and the Five Fields

St Dunstan’s Abbey was designed and built around 1850 by Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield and was the home of The Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity until around 1910 when it became a girls school. The buildings were converted into housing around 2000. The area of land that runs alongside the park from North Road Railway Station to Eldad Hill including the land around the abbey was originally called Five Fields and they were used as mass graves during Cholera outbreaks.

Things to note:

  • North Road West was original called Five Fields Lane.
  • The site of St Dunstan’s Abbey originally housed a small hospital used during the cholera outbreak in 1849. Those that did not survive were buried in graves along the length of the Five Fields but the exact areas used are unknown.

Keep walking until you reach an opening in the wall on the left hand side which has a footpath leading up into a wooded area. This is another former burial ground and is known as 

7. The No Place Field Burial Ground

In around 1760 the Admiralty opened a hospital for sick and wounded sailors adjacent to the five Fields called The Royal Naval Hospital, East Stonehouse (detailed in walk 2). Part of the ground purchased included this part of the five fields which was undeveloped until around 1824 when it was decided that the Hospital needed a new burial ground.

Things to note:

  • The burial ground was created using two of the five fields and was known as No Place Field. The origins of the name are detailed in walk two.
  • There are around 230 surviving headstones and memorials remaining with most repositioned into a square up by the modern housing in Wantage Gardens and accessible from North Road West or by using the footpath ahead of you and going up the hill through the trees. 
  • There are a small number of headstones in the wooded area.
  • The burial ground was un-consecrated. This meant that the authorities could level the site and continue with another layer of burials. As a result, most of the hillside you see is a mix of buried human remains and broken up headstones.
  • Prior to 1824 the Admiralty used a burial ground in Plymouth City Centre called Stray Park which was on the site of what is now a car park adjacent to The Athenaeum Theatre in the City Centre.

From this point you will need to return to the footpath in the park and walk around the remaining section of footpath back to your start point.

On your way around look out for the two boundary stones on the left hand side by the wall next to Polruan Terrace. One of them is the only East Stonehouse boundary stone in the park. Further along you will see an entrance to the park with two plaques on. One commemorates the opening of the park in 1902 and the other commemorates the centenary of the park in 2002.

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