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 Since superseded by larger sites, there’s no public access and from the road it’s on it just looks like a locked door in a wall, presumably to keep out fans of tiny listed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

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.