Uncertain prospects: public parks in the new age of austerity

The Gardens Trust (2016)

In July 2016, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee announced a new inquiry into the state of public parks. The Gardens Trust submitted a memorandum, prepared by Dr. Katy Layton-Jones, who was then called as an expert witness to appear on behalf of the Trust. In November 2016, Uncertain Prospects was published, celebrating the parks renaissance which has been achieved since 1993, but warning of the desperate future many now face as a result of local authority spending cuts.  The effect of these varies widely between authorities – some are predicting an end to parks maintenance within the next couple of years, others are seeking to make parks self-financing, while others are throwing their weight behind the voluntary sector. We are very grateful to all the county gardens trusts who are contributing to the report.

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History of public park funding and management (1820 – 2010)

Historic England (2016).

There are an estimated 27,000 public parks in Britain and 2.6 billion visits to parks each year. Many of these parks are of historic and cultural interest, and some 300 are registered as nationally important. For over a century, the vast majority of public parks have been provided and run by local authorities but these authorities have no statutory duty to fund or maintain public parks. The Heritage Lottery Fund’s new State of UK Public Parks (September 2016) highlights that “92 per cent of park managers report their maintenance budgets have reduced in the past three years and 95 per cent expect their funding will continue to reduce”. In July 2016 the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee announced an inquiry into public parks to examine concerns that public parks are under threat. Historic England commissioned Dr Katy Layton-Jones, a cultural historian and historical consultant, to provide an overview of past public park funding models, and their management. Her research findings show a long history of funding problems but also the important role of local authorities in developing, and often rescuing parks, and delivering public parks for all over 170 years. Historic England has included this research report in its submission to the inquiry as in looking for new funding solutions we also need to understand why funding issues have arisen. The research report will be of interest to local authority portfolio holders, parks teams, friends groups and urban historians.

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‘What has the future of urban parks to do with their past?’

in Sam Griffiths and Alexander von Lunen (eds), Spatial Cultures: Towards a new social morphology of cities past and present (2016), pp. 128-138.

‘What is the relationship between how cities work and what cities mean? Spatial Cultures: Towards a New Social Morphology of Cities Past and Present announces an innovative research agenda for urban studies in which themes and methods from urban history, social theory and built environment research are brought into dialogue across disciplinary and chronological boundaries…Drawing on a wide range of historical and contemporary urban case studies, as well as a selection of theoretical and methodological reflections, the contributions to this volume seek to historically, geographically and architecturally contextualize diverse spatial practices including movement, encounter, play, procession and neighbourhood.’ (www.Routledge.com)

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Beyond the metropolis: the changing image of urban Britain, 1780-1880 

Manchester University Press (2016).

Dark satanic mills, cobbled streets, and cholera have become common shorthand for the nineteenth-century British town. Over the past century, historical reality has merged seamlessly with mythology, literature and caricature to create a dramatic, but utterly misleading representation of the urban past. Drawing on pictorial and ephemeral sources that shaped the popular image of British towns between 1780 and 1880, Beyond the Metropolis revises our understanding of urbanization, its representation and interpretation throughout the long nineteenth century. In contrast to myriad publications that address London exclusively, this book examines images that reflect the growing political, social and cultural significance of British provincial towns in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Covering locations from Bristol to Leeds and Manchester to Portsmouth, it employs hitherto unexplored visual and ephemeral sources to reveal a complex and compelling new narrative of British urbanisation.

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National Review of Research Priorities for Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes, and Open Spaces

English Heritage (2014).

This report provides a précis of recent research in the field of urban parks, designed landscapes and open spaces. Communities and park managers have endured decades of uncertainty regarding their local parks and many have lost battles to protect historic green spaces from development, vandalism and decline; suspicion and scepticism are common sentiments among communities, local authorities, and even professional bodies. While the historical significance of these landscapes is being challenged, the need for English Heritage to research the history and reassert the historical and contemporary significance of urban parks and designed landscapes is pressing. Only by returning to the history of urban parks and open spaces can English Heritage develop a reputable and trusted approach to their protection.

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‘The Parks Conundrum’

Context 133: March, 2014, pp.18-21.

It seems that since they first opened, our public parks have been under threat. In this article, Dr. Layton-Jones addresses the changing way in which value has been attributed to public parks and highlights some of the greatest challenges facing their protection and enrichment.

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‘A Picturesque Port or a Sublime Scene? The Bristol Docks’

in Steve Poole (ed.), A City Built Upon the Water: Maritime Bristol 1750-1900 (2013), pp. 138-154.

In this first in a major series, eight experts write about aspects of life in the city docks from 1750 to the end of the nineteenth century. Topics include leisure and commerce, topographical engravings,  crime and maritime trade, slaving ships, and the rise and fall of the Hotwell Spa.

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‘A Legacy of Ambivalence: Industrial Exhibitions, Pleasure Parks and Urban Green Space’

in Peter Itzen and Christian Müller (eds), The Invention of Industrial Pasts: Heritage, Political Culture and Economic Debates in Great Britain and Germany, 1850–2010 (2013), pp. 132-152.

‘The essays in this volume trace the diverse uses of local and national industrial heritage cultures in an environment of changing European and worldwide industrial and economic settings… The volume focuses on how life in industrial societies is remembered on political and general public levels, and how this memorial culture shapes everyday-life, forms new institutions and associations and informs political and social debates. The different perspectives which are combined in this volume provide an introduction into the various fields and topics of industrial heritage within the broader research context of memory, identity and heritage studies in modern history’.(www.Wissner.com).

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‘A Commanding View: Liverpool’s Public Parks, 1722-1870’

Cultural and Social History 10:1 (March 2013), pp. 47-67.

Abstract: Over the last three centuries, the visual characteristics of a town, its structures, public spaces and atmospheric conditions, have been employed as the most immediate means of evaluating its failings and triumphs. Focusing upon Liverpool, this article uses a range of visual imagery alongside traditional written sources to identify and interpret the role that parks and urban green space played in defining the reputation of that town throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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‘Re-Presenting Manchester: The Art-Treasures Exhibition in Manchester 1857’

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 87:2 (August 2009), pp. 123-142.

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‘Visual Quotations: Referencing Visual Sources as Historical Evidence’ and ‘Editorial: Visual Collections and Historical Research’

Visual Resources 24:2 (July 2008), pp.189-199 and pp.105-107.

Abtract: It is widely acknowledged that hitherto undervalued forms of historical evidence such as paintings, prints and ceramics should enjoy a higher status in historical research. The rise of cultural history in the latter decades of the twentieth century has cemented the role of such evidence in newly evolving historical narratives. However, the logistics of integrating visual references into academic writing continue to pose challenges for researchers and inhibit the use of such material in research degrees, journal articles and books. This article addresses the need to create a consistent and comprehensive system for referencing visual material in academic historical research and will argue that such a process represents a crucial step in establishing high-quality visual analysis for all periods of historical enquiry. The first half of the article outlines the obstacles facing historians who want to engage in visual analysis. The second half of the article suggests possible solutions for the challenges outlined, including the proposal of a new style manual to provide a consistent and extensive model for referencing visual evidence.

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Places of Health and Amusement: Liverpool’s Historic Parks and Gardens

English Heritage (2008).

‘Places of Health and Amusement explores the rich legacy of parks in Liverpool, from the forgotten open spaces of the 18th century town, through the pioneering creation of a ribbon of parks – in the 19th century, a period of decline after the Second World War, to the situation today. Attractively illustrated with archive and contemporary photographs and drawings, the book shows how parks have been used and enjoyed, how they have changed to meet new challenges and ideas, and how the arguments used to justify their creation in the 19th century are being used again to spark a revival in their fortunes and future.’

 

‘Beautifully illustrated with archive and contemporary pictures, this is an original account of the legacy of these parks to the present day’. Sunday Telegraph, Sept 2008.

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‘The Synthesis of Town and Trade: Visualising Provincial Urban Identity 1800-1851’

Urban History 35:1 (Spring 2008), pp.72-95.

Abstract: The early nineteenth-century manufacturing town was a diverse and transient environment that inspired a varied canon of printed imagery. Alongside folio engravings and souvenir prints, one of the most prevalent genres of urban imagery was the commercial advertisement. This article demonstrates the value of early pictorial advertisements in accessing contemporary attitudes to urban manufacturing and to provincial urbanization in general. It argues that in a climate of urban rivalry, artists and publishers inherited and invented new visual formulae with which to promote manufactories and commercial premises to tradesmen, consumers and tourists. It concludes that the resulting imagery throws into question the prevalent historical caricature of the early nineteenth-century manufacturing town as a place of deprivation, disorder and decay.

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‘The View from the Viaduct: The Impact of Railways upon Images of English Provincial Towns, 1830-1857′

in Crone, Gange and Layton-Jones (eds), New Perspectives in British Cultural History 1600-2000 (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press (July 2007), 8-21.

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Reviews and Review Articles

Angela Byrne, Geographies of the Romantic North: Science, Antiquarianism, and Travel 1790 – 1830. New York: Palgrave, 2013. Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2015).

Martin Greaney, Liverpool: A Landscape History. Stroud: History Press, 2013. Landscape History (2014).

Adam Matthew Digital, Victorian Popular Culture portal. Journal of Victorian Culture 16:3, (2011).

Heath Massey Schenker, Melodramatic Landscapes: Urban Parks in the Nineteenth Century. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. H-Net (online, 2011).

Adam Matthew Digtial, The Grand Tour portal. Reviews in History (online, 2009).

Cindy McCreery. The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in Late Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Reviews in History (online, 2005).