Victoria park stretches out across the East End covering parts of Bethnal Green, Hackney, and Bow. It is a place for the family to go for a day out, even though it is only two minutes walk away. There is acre upon acre of grass and trees. The boating lake is still there and after many years without them the boats were returned in 2012. There used to be a Lido there but this has now a car park. Rabbit enclosures, deer and goats, now long gone due to vandals. The “three ponds” as they were known, one for paddling, one for fishing, and one for model boats (the only one remaining), were always surrounded by people and kids. Then things started to change with the new generation of vandals, paedophiles, and crack heads. No cars have been allowed into the park for years. This was to stop the perverts picking up children. The animals were killed and tortured by other sick animals in human guise. American girl Barbara Muller was stabbed to death while out jogging in 2003.Since the park's makeover leading up to the 2012 Olympics things have changed again, this time for the better. After having millions allocated to the park it underwent a major facelift. It is also now a venue for occasional pop concerts. With the extra security patrols it is now back to it's former glory. Let's hope it stays that way. At the time of this update in 2022 the park is always in constant use. There is even a Sunday market held there every week.
London Bridge Alcoves
These two stone alcoves can be found on the Hackney stretch of the park near Hackney Wick. They are original seating cubby holes taken from the parapet of the original stone London Bridge when it was replaced after 600 years. If they were there from the start they must be around 800 years old now! They were brought to the park in 1860 and are part of the Bow Heritage Trail. The wooden seating was restored in 2012.
Plenty of Gates
There are a large number of entrances to the Park All gated, and locked at night:•St. Agnes Gate: Gore Road•Gore Gate: Gore Road•Royal Gates: Grove Road•Crown Gates: Grove Road•Rockmead Gate: Victoria Park Road•Iveagh Gate: Victoria Park Road•Queens Gate: Victoria Park Road•St. Augustine’s Gate: Victoria Park Road•Cadogan Gate: Cadogan Terrace•St. Mark's Gate: Cadogan Terrace•Lock House Gate: Jodrell Road•Gunmakers Gate: Gunmakers Lane•Terrace Gate: Old Ford Road•Cricketers Gate: Old Ford Road•Arcade Gate: Canal towpath•Rose Gate: Canal towpath•Bonner Gate: Sewardstone Road•Canal Gate•Molesworth Gate: Junction of Victoria Park Road and Cadogan Terrace
The Dogs of Alcibiades
At the Approach Road entrance to the park there are two stone dogs on pedestals either side of the pathway. When we were young we believed the story that everyone told about the statues. A little girl was drowning in the boating lake and a dog rescued her at the cost of his own life. Every child in Bethnal Green was brought up with this story, but as I got older I found out that it was a myth and learned the truth behind them. They were donated to the park in 1912 by Lady Aignarth. They now bear a plaque to this effect on the higher pedestal.These dogs were there for years, with no one touching them or defacing them. They stood proudly guarding the entrance of the park, posing for the photographers with their kids.
Morons and Vandals
Around the mid 80's, I cannot remember the exact year, the statues of the dogs were replaced after a brief vacation at the stonemasons for cleaning. They looked immaculate with years of grime and algae being removed from them. Even as a child I could not recall them looking other than dirty grey stone figures. To look at them in the condition they must have been in when erected was a pleasure. Money well spent by the authority in charge. I returned a few weeks later with my camera, only to find a change had taken place. The crisp clean look of one of the pair had been destroyed overnight by some sad sick individuals and a paintbrush.They had transformed it into a black devil dog with the number “666” daubed on its back and blood from the mouth with red paint!
The above incident wasn't the last. I walked through the park in 2003 and the paint was all gone but now it looked like they had been hit with a sledge hammer. I don’t know when this damage occurred, as I hadn’t been back for years. They looked beyond repair. At least the paint could be removed, but whoever was responsible for this damage made sure there was no way to fix it, or so I thought. I sincerely hope the perpetrator suffers the same fate of two broken legs and removal of the nose! They stayed in that condition until February 2010, when: I received an E-mail from a reliable source informing me that the dogs have been taken away for repair. By 2012 the dogs had been returned to their plinths in pristine condition. This time, there is a twist in the tale, or should that be tail!The replacements at the park gates are copies, made of a strong resin. The original stone ones, have been repaired and placed out of reach on the island in the East lake in the second park. They are still intact in 2020. Hopefully any future vandals will drown in
A Much Improved Park
I return to the park often, with my pocket camera, and there are now far more families out together, just like the old days. A lot of this is due to more people moving into the East End but very few have their own gardens. Also the influx of fairly well off “green” trendies moving into the area, which can't be a bad thing.I did notice one wildlife vandal was on the increase though; the Grey Squirrel! Something has to be done about the population explosion of these creatures. Destructive rats with bushy tails. Another thing I am pleased to have learned is that there is still a lot of interest in the model boats that I watched as a kid in one of what we called ‘the three ponds’. The Victoria Model Steamboat Club starts its season on Easter Sunday and boats run until the Middle of October. It is the only one of the three ponds left now.The makeover leading up to the 2012 Olympics, the return of the rowing boats and rebuilding of, and access to, the pagoda added more pleasure for visitors. The community park ranger service was created some time ago to patrol the park and provide a friendly face and promoting responsible usage. They work seven days a week till dusk all year round. The park rangers wear blue uniforms to distinguish them from other staff.
A Bit of History
I cheated a bit here and saved a bit of research by copying the following passage straight from the notice board at one of the entrances to the park.The first official acknowledgement of the need for a Park in the East End of London came in the 1839 Annual Report of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Recording a mortality rate far higher than for the rest of London, brought about by massive overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and polluted air.He wrote "....a Park in the East End of London would probably diminish the annual deaths by several thousands.... and add several years to the lives of the entire population".This was followed in 1840 by a petition to Queen Victoria, signed by 30,000 local residents, urging the formation "within the Tower Hamlets, of a Royal Park". The Queen assented and James Pennethorne, Architect to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests - The government agency charged with the development of the Park - prepared the designs. Work began in 1845 and was completed in 1850.In April 1873, Queen Victoria visited the Park, which she had been instrumental in establishing, and which bore her name.The Park was originally managed under both the London County Council, and the Greater London Council, and is now funded and managed by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It continues to host London-wide events as well as providing day-to-day activities for those who live, work and study in the locality. Whether it is an informal walk in the park; a visit to the children's play area; a sporting activity, a festival or event, Victoria Park continues to give as much pleasure to the thousands of visitors who use the park every year.