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 Since superseded by larger sites, there’s no public access and from the road it’s on it just looks like a locked door in a wall, presumably to keep out fans of tiny listed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.

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.