13 things I learned from reading a list of 1,669 historically important English parks

The entrance to the Jewish Burial Ground on North Sherwood Street, Nottingham. Image: Google Street View.

Where are England’s best parks? Obviously this might depend both on your opinion of what makes a good park and your definition of what counts.

But if you’re looking for an official answer, you could always turn to the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England (these days managed by Historic England), which has attempted to keep track of the most notable ones since it was begun in 1983.

How do you, an aspiring park or garden, get on this list? Basically by being some combination of old or interesting: the older you are, the looser the definition of interesting gets. (Much like having a conversation with a CityMetric writer.) But don’t get complacent: you can get binned off, like Philips Park in Prestwich which got delisted due to “deterioration”.

There are 1,669 parks and gardens on the current list, of which 145 are Grade I (i.e. very good), 455 are Grade II* and the remainder are Grade II (for it is said that if ever the Heritage authorities learn of the existence of the number three, the Tower of London will fall).

So, what did we learn by reading the entire list?

1. Where the most historically important parks and gardens are

Some 150 of them can be found in Greater London – not even counting the 3 in the City of London. You can find 60 or more in each of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Kent and Hampshire. Another 33 of them lie in The Cotswolds political constituency, making the inevitably Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown the MP who represents the most listed parks and gardens.


2. The biggest park or garden

That would be the accurately named Windsor Great Park, which is 8.7 square miles in size and is only one of seven different entries on the list that are part of the Royal Estate in Windsor. Bloody favouritism if you ask me.

3. And the smallest is...

The Jewish Burial Ground on North Sherwood Street, Nottingham – which is listed due to its historical importance as the first site of Jewish burials in the city. Since superseded by larger sites, there’s no public access and from the road it’s on it just looks like a locked door in a wall, presumably to keep out fans of tiny listed gardens.

4. Which is only one of the 112 cemeteries on the list (plus three crematoriums)

Cemeteries have a bit of an advantage here because they can contain all sorts of historically interesting things, not least the people buried six feet under. Why not go to your local cemetery and take a disrespectful selfie with the grave of the most famous person you can find?

5-7. The most northerly park in England is Tillmouth Park in Northumberland

Which is the grounds of a country house turned hotel. The most easterly is Belle Vue Park in Lowestoft, the most southerly AND the most westerly is the garden of Tresco Abbey on the Isles of Scilly.

If someone wants to pay my transport and accommodation costs to visit them in compass direction order, I am prepared to do it and send up to 9 deeply unfunny tweets about it.

8. The park or garden with the longest name is...

It’s back to Windsor, for:

The Royal Estate, Windsor: Virginia Water (Including Fort Belvedere And The Clockcase)

Which I reckon is just the Royal family trying it on by lumping things together to sound more impressive.

9. The parks or gardens with the shortest names are...

Vann and Enys, private gardens in Surrey and Cornwall, respectively. If you’re a fan of briefly-named parks and gardens you can visit them, but until the revolution comes you’ll have to check which days they’re open and pay for the privilege.

10. There are 19 Squares on the list

They’re almost all in London, which people who are not from London may use to do a funny joke. There are also five Arboretums, four Botanic Gardens, two Circuses (never as exciting as they sound) but only a single Common – Southsea Common, which to be fair does include a scheduled ancient monument AND a Sea Life Centre.

11. There are 2 listed parks in prison

Because they didn’t grass off the keep???

Actually they’re both in cemeteries in the grounds of Dartmoor, to commemorate French and American POWs (in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 respectively).

12. The most popular park name on the list is Queen’s

There are 10 of them: Brighton, Swindon, Longton, Crewe, Chesterfield, Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Blackburn, Burnley. While the ambiguity over which Queen their creators meant is a good bit of common sense future-proofing, a clue to the likely most relevant Queen is that:

13. The second most popular park name is Victoria

There’s Victoria Park in East London, Victoria Park in Leicester, Victoria Park in Tunstall, Victoria Park in Tipton, and Victoria Park in Portsmouth. Oh, and two Royal Victoria Parks, a Royal Victoria Country Park. Not counting Victoria Embankment Gardens, Victoria Tower Gardens and definitely not Handsworth Park (formerly Victoria Park), because that would just be silly.

 
 
 
 

Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.