A rosy future for Boultham Park

Words by:
Mike Webster
Featured in:
April 2014

Many of the public parks we enjoy in our towns and cities are a legacy from the Victorian era. In the majority of cases, the areas were specifically laid out for the enjoyment of the general public. Boultham Park in Lincoln is something of an exception, however. Whilst it has pre-Victorian origins, it was not acquired by the City Council until 1929. It is now about to undergo the biggest makeover in its history.

As a result of a joint venture between Linkage Community Trust and the Lincoln City Council, a very ambitious project both to refurbish and create anew has been recognised by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund with a £2.7m grant.
Linkage Community Trust is an organisation dedicated to helping people with learning and disabled difficulties enjoy a life of fulfilment, independence and also for them to achieve real value in society. The Trust purchased a parcel of land at Boultham Park in June 2009 and this has formed the basis on which their new expansion plans have been laid. To date, sixteen units for supported living have been built on this site and these were opened by the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, Robin Battle in March 2012. Linkage’s forward reaching proposals, set against the vibrancy of the adjacent park will surely be a winning combination. In partnership with City of Lincoln Council, whose part will be a full makeover of the park, it is widely anticipated that this will give a tremendous boost to the area.
Boultham Park has had a very interesting and chequered history. This has culminated in its present status, having been awarded a Grade II listing in English Heritage’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Significantly, it is now ‘of special interest which warrants every effort being made to preserve it’. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has also added weight by stating that it is ‘of nature conservation importance’ with even the park’s lake representing five per cent of the total wetland habitat in Lincoln. All in all, the park is ‘a critical natural asset’ according to the general consensus.

The first we hear of the park is that it was given as a wedding present to Colonel Richard Ellison in 1830. He was the son of Richard Ellison III, who held the position of High Sheriff and MP for Lincoln from 1796 to 1812. The family was one of fortune and notoriety it seems, for the previous generation of the family saw Richard Ellison II founding the first bank in Lincoln – this later became the National Westminster.

Colonel Richard Ellison eventually became a JP and Deputy Lieutenant of Lincolnshire. He was also responsible for extensive development of the parkland including the excavation of the ornamental lake. The family seat was Boultham Hall and the Colonel rebuilt much of it and enlarged other parts of the building during 1874. Quite an imposing residence, it boasted three storeys and seven chimney stacks.

The Ellisons were a very sociable crowd, as we know from accounts of spectacular galas, garden parties and other extravagant festivities held at the Hall. Many decorative features were incorporated into Colonel Ellison’s modernisation plan with neo-gothic sundial, birdbath, large glasshouse and rock gardens, not to mention a large monument to his favourite horse Simon, which has now been moved to Simon’s Green. The Colonel died in 1881 and Boultham Hall passed through to his son, Lt Colonel R G Ellison. After the death of the son in 1909, the Hall became vacant – but only until 1914, when its role changed to that of a convalescent home for soldiers.

The soldier inmates of the Hall were only allowed to walk as far as the bridge on Hall Drive nearby, and as time went by and the practice carried on, it was inevitable that the bridge became known by the public as ‘Soldier’s Bridge’. Still with a military theme, the original grounds were used for the secret testing of the first tanks which were developed in Lincoln. They were, of course, noticed by the public and in order to avert too much interest in the activities, they were told that the vehicles were ‘water tanks for the people of Mesopotamia’ – the word ‘tanks’ was to stick thereafter. With the war effort in 1939 came the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and the decision was taken to plant the land around Boultham Hall with sugar beet. Much of the original Ellison land was sold off for housing after the war.

Upon taking control of the parkland, the Council laid the area out as a public park and between 1932 and 1967 much was done to implement the idea of a public recreation area, with crazy paving paths being added to the formal fountain garden. Further additions during this period included the installation of the ornamental gates at the western entrance (which originated from Ruston’s on Greetwell Road) and the bandstand, added in 1936 and refurbished in 1992. This structure is large enough to accommodate bands with up to forty musicians. The existing yew trees were given the more usual topiary treatment and this is very much the way things stand at the moment. The park is still quite a pleasant area in which to walk and enjoy a well laid out open space. It does boast a good selection of the expected wildlife to be found in city parks and it does afford an oasis of rest and relaxation – but it is presently displaying something of a ‘tired’ outlook. This has possibly been brought about by a lengthy history of concentrated usage, varying from unionist rallies in 1912 to many other fairs and gatherings – but without the necessary maintenance. It will most certainly benefit from a well thought out makeover and some accompanying TLC.

Ideas for the park’s ongoing preservation and improvement are nothing new. Schemes have been put forward over many years and it seems that the park’s users along with the Lincoln public have, over a period of several years, encouraged the new restoration project to come about.

Whilst the recently announced project for Boultham Park is now a fact, the history of the requirement for it is worthy of mention too. Over recent years, charity events have been held including a Summer Fair in 2009 and Charity Bike Rides with a German ‘oom-pah’ Band in 2012. In 2011 the Lincolnshire Echo recognised the need for improvements, stating that a £3.2m lottery funding would improve all features of the park. A concerted appeal was launched in April 2013.

The news came in July 2013 that under the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund ‘Parks for People Initiative’, an award of £2.7m had been granted between the City of Lincoln Council and the Lincolnshire based charity Linkage Community Trust for the restoration of Boultham Park. The funding is a grant towards the total cost of the masterplan of course and there is a requirement by way of fundraising to find the outstanding balance which equates to £250,000. Spearheading the appeal to find the money, Mr Philip Barnatt, a Lincolnshire businessman, has launched an appeal to raise the necessary sum. He is a long-term advocate of the park, having experienced many happy childhood days there. He has thirty-five years’ experience of fundraising and as the leader of the appeal has his interest set on local businesses, charity events and much more.

The very first activity to mark the beginning of the heritage project was the burying of a time capsule by Lincoln schoolchildren from Sir Francis Hill Community Primary School. They had created poetry and art and this went into the capsule, together with a letter from the chairman of the Boultham Park Advisory Group, and with further contributions from the City of Lincoln Council and Linkage Community Trust. The Mayor of Lincoln, Patrick Vaughan, with park supporters and civic leaders oversaw the capsule’s burial ceremony which guarantees that it will stay in the ground for at least fifty years. It is planned for a plaque to be installed near the time capsule when the outdoor seating area is completed next year.

It was in 1990 that the stable block of the original Boultham Hall was severely damaged by fire. This along with the former coaching house will now be fully restored and converted into Linkage’s new two-storey education centre, providing a large range of activities for the Trust’s service users in Lincoln and even further afield. The upper level will be devoted to a purpose-built archive centre for the public’s appreciation of Boultham Park history, in addition to a contemporary view of the whole refurbishment project.

Architect, Claire Eldred has already taken up her new role as project manager for the new constructions. Chelsey Barnes has been recruited in the role of community development where she will be working with groups, volunteers and residents. As soon as the renovation of the stable block takes place, volunteers will be sought to help with a multitude of tasks involving the setting up of the new archives and associated activities. The gathering of information from those local residents with long memories of the park and the surrounding area will be eagerly sought. Photographs and memorabilia will certainly prove to be of special interest.

A high priority has been placed on education and it is planned to install a high specification glasshouse wherein students will train for horticulture qualifications to NVQ level. A new purpose-built cafe and shop will be built and these will be available to the public visiting the park. The centre will create new jobs, with the new staff commencing work around the same time that the project begins. City of Lincoln Council will be responsible for the extensive restorations planned for Boultham Park with the fountain, lake, sundial and bandstand all having been scheduled to receive particular attention. The introduction of CCTV, lighting, improved seating and information boarding will also feature prominently.

Many comments have been made since the granting of the £2.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. Jane Howson, Linkage’s business development director and a leader of the project said: “We are delighted for our residents and members of the local community who will all benefit from this fantastically exciting project.”

From City of Lincoln Council, Caroline Bird, the community services manager said: “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to restore this special park and through doing so to make it more accessible and welcoming, and bring its fascinating history to life.”
Carole Souter, chief executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said on behalf of the HLF and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG): “We’re delighted to be able to provide this much-needed support for Boultham Park, when it could not be more needed. Many public parks are really suffering in the current economic climate so this is particularly good news for Lincoln. Parks are important to all of us and add so much to our quality of life. Boultham Park will help to bring the local community together and now, we can help to secure its future.”

The restoration project is scheduled to start this autumn and it is anticipated that it will take two years to complete. It has taken a lot of time and effort by many to reach this stage when specific targets have been identified and substantially funded. It will doubtless be a tremendous improvement for all those regular users of Boultham Park, not to mention its many visitors from outside the city. We will watch the transformation from its inception and we eagerly await the eventual renaissance of this much loved area of Lincoln.

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