We are very lucky to live in a leafy green city with a range of wonderful open spaces – including Waterloo Park, which is where we spend a lot of time as a family throughout the year.
I knew it was historic – there’s a sign that says so – but I had never really thought about how or when it came to be. For that we owe a number of people a debt of thanks, including Captain Arnold Sandys-Winsch.
When he was appointed as parks superintendent in 1919, Norwich had Chapelfield Gardens, the Gildencroft, Sewell Park and a few playgrounds but by the time he retired, some 34 years later, it had about 600 acres dedicated to recreation and relaxation.
The straight-backed former first world war fighter pilot oversaw the creation of much needed green spaces in a city where, in those days, many families lived in less than ideal conditions.
Taking advantage of government grants to fund schemes aimed at providing much needed jobs during the economic downturn following the war, the corporation, now the city council, decided to construct a series of formal parks using land acquired at the start of the 20th century.
The captain, a passionate gardener who had gained a scholarship to Cheshire Horticulture College, not only drew up plans for the gardens but also every element within the parks – from the pavilions to the steps and from model yacht ponds to balustrades.
Over the years he employed a small army of men, many of whom had returned from the ravages of the war desperate for work but unskilled in any trade.
While Eaton Park, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1928, was the flagship scheme, the captain made sure each of them had its own identity – and these days they all have their own passionate supporters.
Waterloo Park was already in existence when the captain arrived. It was known as Catton Recreation Ground then and was just an open space but the captain doubled its size to 18 acres and added all sorts of features, such as new bowls and tennis courts, a pavilion and bandstand, formal lawns and gardens, including what is thought to be the longest herbaceous border in the country (looking especially lovely at the moment).
The name was changed to Waterloo Park when it was reopened in 1933.
While many parks in the UK fell into decline in the 1970s and 1980s, in the last two decades they have seen something of a renaissance – sparked largely by investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund (BLF). In Norwich, Waterloo, Wensum, Eaton and Heigham parks have all been restored using lottery money.
Waterloo is now one of 23 parks and more than 100 open spaces and natural areas within the city.
I’d visited the park a couple of times pre-Freya to play tennis but I first started going regularly when I needed to lengthen my running route and wanted to stay away from busy roads.
It became even more important once I’d had Freya; it was my sanctuary. I would pop her in her pram, usually crying it has to be said, and walk to the park most days, whatever the weather. Quite often she would fall asleep on the way and I would just sit on a bench and ponder how people did this motherhood thing.
Those days are thankfully gone but my love (now, our love) for the park has remained strong. I only have to look back over my photo archive to realise how many times we’ve visited in the last nearly four years.
During each season I think that one is my favourite but then the next one rolls around and there are more things to photograph. We visit all year (although quite often we have the playground to ourselves in winter).
As well as just being a lovely open space with plenty of grass to play on there is also a splash park, which is very popular in the summer, the aforementioned children’s playground, various courts and a circular path to run/walk around.
The only thing missing for me was somewhere to buy a drink or a snack but that’s all about to change with the launch of a new cafe – I can’t wait to try the hot chocolate!
Even though it feels like we’ve explored every inch of the park we still come across new things all the time.
If you’re in Norwich and looking for somewhere (free) to explore or let the children have some fun, you won’t be disappointed with a visit to Waterloo Park.