The archive is an evolving collection of items relating to the heritage of Wicksteed Park and a valuable resource for interpretation. It has been made possible by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and countless hours of dedicated volunteer support and the community and heritage team. The archive is intended to grow over time and we welcome contributions from your photos to catalogues and memorabilia.
Charles Wicksteed’s bold vision for a public park where youngsters were encouraged to be adventurous and have fun has had a profound effect on the development of children’s play across the world.
Born in Leeds in 1847, the son of a clergyman, philanthropist Charles Wicksteed was a successful businessman who settled in Kettering and made his fortune in the engineering industry.
He bought what is now the 147 acres of registered heritage parkland, associated water meadows and other land, which is now named after him at the start of the Great War. His initial vision was to create a village estate for the poor of the area, with parklands and lakes promoting healthy living, and established the charity in 1916 but it was during the development and creation of his park that he became a manufacturer of play equipment almost by chance.
Charles himself later explained:
“We had a Sunday school treat in the park and put up primitive swings with large poles, tied together at the top with chains. Fortunately they were not cleared away with the other things the day after the treat and I ultimately found them so popular that instead of pulling them down I added more.”
The extraordinary task of creating the Wicksteed Park Lake began in 1917, with Charles suggesting that people had a better quality of life near water. The project took over two years to complete with the lake holding 25 million gallons of water, it has remained a significant feature of the park and a source of many happy memories for visitors.
It is rumoured that the creation of the lake nearly made Charles bankrupt but upon its completion it was said that he walked from one side to the other, leaving his hat floating as he emerged.
The park was officially opened in 1921 by Charles as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play to improve the health and well-being of families. Before then, public parks were typically very formal places, where children were warned to keep off the grass. Charles Wicksteed envisaged a place to amuse young people and families and encourage them to enjoy unrestricted outdoor play.