The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Highfields Park - Lenton


Photographs | Highfields Park in the 1920s and 1930s | Illustrating Nottingham University College | Highfields Park in the 1950s and 1960s | Nottingham Model Boat Club | The lake at Highfields in Winter | Working at Highfields Park | Highfields' Lakeside Arts Pavillion | Highfields Park: Major Refurbishment | The Putting Green makes way for the Adventure Golf Course | A Selection of other 21st Century photographs | Lenton Times Articles | Lenton Listener Articles | Links | Memories | Map


Highfields Park was one of several gifts given to the City of Nottingham by Sir Jesse Boot, later elevated to the peerage and given the title of Lord Trent. When Jesse Boot first acquired the Highfield Estate in November 1919 he had rather different plans for the land. He envisaged erecting a large factory here along with a 'garden city' where his employees would be housed. The garden city would probably have been constructed on very similar lines to the likes of Bournville, built by Cadburys in Birmingham or Port Sunlight, the creation of Lever Brothers out on The Wirral. Before work could start on this project the Boot's Company was amalgamated with the United Drug Company of America and Sir Jesse Boot found himself a very rich man. The Americans were unwilling to countenance Boot's ideas for the Highfield estate and so Sir Jesse had to think again. In the end the estate was used as a new site for University College, Nottingham; plus the public park we have today along with the complex of sporting facilities to be found on the other side of University Boulevard. A detailed account of the early history of Highfields Park can be found in Lenton Times No.39.


Photographs

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2018

This bust of Sir Jesse Boot sculpted by Charles Leighfield Jonah Doman was unveiled by Jesse's son on 15 November 1934. It stands on a plinth positioned halfway along University Boulevard in front of the pedestrian entrance to the park that provides direct access to the central part of the lake.


Courtesy of the Nottingham Local Studies Library photographic collection

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library

Jesse Boot wanted a large lake to be Highfields Park's main attraction. However already here, but much smaller, was an ornamental fishing pond maintained by several generations of the Lowe family who previously lived at Highfield House. This photograph taken in c.1920 shows a solitary boat with a quartet of occupants enjoying themselves in this extremely private nature reserve.

This photograph taken in the early 1920s shows the new lake under construction. While the pond shown in the previous image would have been incorporated into the much bigger lake what you see here is all 'new' lake as the old pond lay off to the right of the photograph.

Highfields Park had no official opening. Different parts of the grounds were thrown open to the general public once work on them had been completed. The buildings of University College, which at that time principally consisted of the Trent Building complex, did have their own official opening courtesy of King George V in July 1928. Considering that construction work is still clearly taking place on the Trent Building this photograph was probably taken in 1927.


The close proximity of the public park to the college grounds, both the gift of Sir Jesse Boot, meant the park was often referred to as 'University Park.' This nomenclature was sometimes to be found on early picture postcards featuring various views of the park often with the Trent Building visible in the background. Only in more recent decades has the use of 'University Park' been confined to the actual university campus and 'Highfields' used to denote the City Council's public park and playfields.


Highfields Park in the 1920s and 1930s

The following sequence includes picture postcards of Highfields most likely published in the inter-war years. We can be absolutely certain about those produced by John Henry Spree, as he sadly died in 1932. A one-time resident of Lenton and Wollaton Park, more information about him can be found here.

Although the publisher of the following three cards is unnamed the distinctive style of the hand-written captions are sufficient to allow us to spot the work of John Henry Spree. This one taken from the sloping hill at the eastern end of the lake features both the tea pavilion and the ticket office from whence boats were hired and golf equipment was dispensed for those using the putting green positioned behind it.

The second of our picture postcards published by John Henry Spree's is this one probably taken from the island located towards the western end of the lake, access to which is provided by bridges on either side of the lake.

One of the two bridges referred to in the previous caption is clearly evident in this third of John Henry Spree's picture postcards. From Mr Spree's numbering system there were clearly at least another six images taken at Highfields. If anyone can provide us with access to any of the others we would be delighted to hear from them.

Given the size of the bushes etc. planted on the far-side bank we can be fairly confident that this picture postcard published by 'Rex' was also taken in the 1920s.

This second picture postcard published by 'Rex' provides us with a pretty good view of the tea pavilion. Before Jesse Boot's death in 1931 Highfields Park had been put into a trust, and in due course Nottingham Corporation became the park's official trustees and this remains the case up to the present day.

The unknown photographer in this picture postcard has clearly tried for an 'artistic' feel with the College buildings looking as though they were little more than a painted backdrop.

Another view of the eastern end of the lake with tea pavilion and ticket office both featured. In this particular image the motor launch is just setting out with a boat full of people.

The fourth of our Spree picture postcards focuses on the eastern end of the boating lake with a queue of people waiting to go out on the water. On the left of the photograph in the distance is the bell tower above the entrance to Highfields Lido.

This shot is taken from the northern bank of the lake and shows the other bridge that provides pedestrian access to the island and ultimately on to the southern side of the lake.

At the western end of the lake are a set of stepping stones, just visible in the foreground, and beyond them lies the cascade an artificial waterfall clearly in operation the day this photograph was taken.

This image originally featured in the 1932 edition of 'Nottingham' The City Council's Official Handbook. It has since made its way into many other local publications.

The lake at Highfields and the Trent Building located above it on the hill always makes for a dramatic shot not least when taken from an aeroplane. This image was probably taken sometime in the 1930s.


Illustrating Nottingham University College

To coincide with the official opening of the new college buildings at Highfields in 1928 Bernard Stephen Townroe was commissioned to write 'Nottingham University College A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.' Alongside Mr Townroe's text a number of full-page photographs were included. The following series of photographs are taken from this particular publication. They include a number of shots of the Tea Pavilion. This building was eventually entrusted to Nottingham Corporation but back in 1928 the University College authorities may have believed that Sir Jesse meant them to have the building.

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'

Photograph courtesy of 'Nottingham University College  A record of its history and an appreciation of the new buildings.'


Highfields Park in the 1950s and 1960s

We have a number of images of Highfields Park mostly taken from picture postcards that look as though there were taken in 1950s and maybe even into the 1960s. Having said that some may date from an earlier era. Often there is a timeless quality to the images that negates attempts to provide a more accurate time frame.

Taken at the western end of the lake but looking back towards the Trent Building. On the left just peaking through the trees is Highfield House. At the time when the photograph was taken this would have been the home of the college principal and after 1948 the vice-chancellor. The postcard was produced by District View Publishers of Leicester.

The main focus of this picture postcard is clearly the Portland Building, which houses the Students Union at Nottingham University. The very earliest this image could have been taken is 1956 when the building first opened.

In this image the photographer is standing near the eastern end of the lake with the tower of the Trent Building visible in the far distance.

Photograph courtesy of David Toone

This is an undated image but, given the presence of the Portland Building on the far right, it must be taken in 1956 or later. In the early years of the park Sir Jesse Boot permitted the Trent Fishery Board to net some of the fish from the lake so they could be used to restock other stretches of water across the East Midlands. The arrangement was continued by Nottingham Corporation and these men probably worked for the organisation that eventually took over from the Trent Fishery Board.

Not a picture postcard this time but rather a personal photograph provide by David Toone featuring a gathering of motorbikers parked beside Highfields Pavilion in 1957. The bikers' names are listed when you access the larger image.


Nottingham Model Boat Club

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Model Boat Club

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 1985

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 1985

Members of what was originally called the Nottingham Model Yacht Club established a base at Highfields Park. Their 'landing stage' seen here was the southern bank of the stretch of lake between the stepping stones and the island with its two bridges. In the background to this photograph you can see the Florence Boot Hall of residence.

In due course with advent of miniature engines and radio controls the club changed its name to the Nottingham Model Boat Club. Taken one Sunday morning in 1985 this photograph shows a club member making final adjustments to his vessel prior to its launch on Highfields lake.

Taken at the same time as the previous picture several vessels are on display attracting a degree of interest from members of the general public. The Club is still in existence. To check out their website click here. The Club members spends the warmer months at Highfields and the cooler part of the year at Colwick Park.


The Lake at Highfields in Winter

Back in that era when we used to experience harsh winters the lake at Highfields Park would freeze over. When the ice was considered thick enough the Parks Department would allow skating to take place on it. The following are a number of photographs culled from various places illustrating this theme. They feature both University students and local residents from the Nottingham area.

Students pictured on the ice in 1947. A copy of this photograph is now archived with the University Manuscripts and Special Collections now to be found on the King's Meadow campus.

Taken the same year as the previous photograph some of those on the ice have probably wandered on in their ordinary shoes not everyone would have had their own pair of skates to hand when needed.

This image was taken during the winter of 1960-61. Given the limited number of people evident on the ice you would have to have been pretty unlucky to bump into a fellow skater.

Photograph by Vivien Bexon

Photograph by Vivien Bexon

Photograph by Vivien Bexon

Paul Bexon, the little boy in the front poses for his photograph with older members of his family and their friends out on the ice in January 1963.

Some of the waterfowl at Highfields in January 1963, clearly hoping that Paul Bexon has something of interest for them in his pockets. They were destined to be disappointed.

Having donned her skates Vivien Bexon prepares to set foot on the ice. Alongside her are several others getting ready to skate and this photograph demonstrates that this pursuit was not restricted to just the young in January 1963.


Working At Highfields Park

Photograph by Paul Bexon 1987

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

This is a 1987 photograph of some of the Highfields Park groundsmen which first appeared In The Lenton Listener Issue No.46. They are standing beside the bust of Sir Jesse Boot featured at the top of this page.

This is a somewhat earlier photograph of Highfields park ground staff taken in 1930. Off to the right of the picture is the edge of the lake. The stonework you can see is still very much with us although the railings have gone. They were probably taken away to be melted down during the Second World War.

Among the roles taken on by Steve Clarke, Highfields very own park ranger [in 2020], is that of leading guided walks around the park. Here he is dressed up as Sir Jesse Boot prior to leading one of his walks. Rosie Selby, a Friend of Highfields Park, is one of the volunteers who takes on the role of Lady Florence Boot.


Highfields' Lakeside Arts Pavilion

One major change that has taken place at Highfields Park in more recent years is the building of the Lakeside Arts Pavilion. Built by the University on the site of old 'Tea Pavilion,' it opened in 2001. Most of our next set of photographs feature the new building in some way or other.

Photograph by Geoffrey O. Ogle - 2009

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2003

A view of the old pavilion in the 1980s taken from the vehicular entrance to it leading off East Drive. There had been a local campaign to try and save the building when plans for a new building were first announced. A serious fire in the building in January 1999 effectively put an end to the campaign.

This is the equivalent view today. The building was originally called the D.H. Lawrence Pavilion as part of the building was expected to house and display some of the University's material relating to our local author. Instead it was called the Lakeside Arts Pavilion.

Given its proximity to the lake the architects of the building, Julian Marsh and Jerzy Grochowski came up with a design that evoked an upturned boat with its 'hull' forming the roof of the theatre complex. Photograph taken in 2003.

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2003

Photograph by Ray Teece

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2003

Much the same orientation as in the previous photograph but shot from further away you get a better idea of the building's relationship with the lake. The only portions of the old pavilion to be retained and incorporated into the new layout are the two separate ends of the shelters/viewing points.

These two viewing points can be seen to better effect in this 2013 photograph taken by Ray Teece. For other photographs by Ray see his City of Nottingham website.

The retaining wall around this part of the lake is one further original feature retained by the architects. In the distance is the grassed area allocated to the putting green. Photograph taken in 2003.

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2003

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2008

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2020

The stone balls seen here were also part of the architects' design.

However between the old viewing points the architects created a mini-amphitheatre were outdoor shows are sometimes mounted while also providing an informal area in which people can sit and eat their own food. Photograph taken in 2008.

The full extent of the mini-amphitheatre can be seen in this 2020 photograph of it.


Highfields Park: Major Refurbishment

In January 2015 Nottingham City Council received the welcome news that the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund's Parks for People Programme had jointly agreed to provide 3,200,000 for planned improvements to Highfields Park. Below are photographs showing various aspect of the work that subsequently took place. Most of them are taken from Highfields Park's own Facebook page. Lenton Times Issue No.40 has a brief digest of what was involved in the refurbishment project along with a detailed history of the Park after it was handed over to Nottingham Corporation in 1932.

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

A significant part of the grant was spent on removing the silt that had accumulated over recent decades in the western end of the lake. These two workmen are part of the de-silting team.

The silt being collected in the previous photograph would be pumped into to these geotubes. While in the tubes the silt would be allowed to dry out.

The dried out silt is now being scooped up, tipped into lorries and removed from the site.

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

This aerial photograph taken in July 2018 reveals that all the dried-out silt has now been removed from the park. The drying area has been re-landscaped and re-seeded.

Work on cleaning one of the bridges is underway in October 2017.

Some of the stonework was in such poor condition that it needed to be replaced. This is one of the pillars lining the central entrance to the park as it looked in December 2017. Once the replacement stonework had been completed and the remaining stonework cleaned metal railing would be put back in.

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph by Paul Bexon - May 2020

Although two archways were incorporated into the original ticket office in later decades one of these was then removed. In order to have the park looking more like it was when it first opened the decision was taken to re-instate the lost arch. In May 2018 some of the new brickwork was now in place.

The following month [June 2018] the bricklayer had more or less completed work on the new arches.

This May 2020 photograph shows the refurbished ticket office.


The Putting Green makes way for the Adventure Golf Course

Photograph by Paul bexon - 2008

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph courtesy of Trip Advisor

Taken in March 2008, before the putting greens would be open to the public this photograph shows the extent of the grassed area set aside for this activity.

Taken on 26 May 2017 [the day of its semi-official opening] this photograph focuses on one of the eighteen holes now to be found on the new adventure golf course that has now replaced the putting green.

Another shot showing part of the new adventure golf course now in operation at Highfields Park.


A Selection of other 21st Century photograph taken at Highfields Park

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2008

Photograph courtesy of Highfields Park Facebook Page

Photograph by Paul Bexon - 2003

Looking along the walkway to the pedestrian entrance/exit on to University Boulevard in 2008 with the cherry trees in blossom.

Local artist, Richard Janes, who designed this new metal work entrance way to the park stand in front of his creation in June 1918.

Looking along the pathway to the central access point in 2003.

Photograph by Clem Rutter

Photograph by Ray Teece

Photograph by Paul bexon - 2020

Clem Rutter took this photograph of one of the Nighbo lions in November 2015. The two lions were given to Nottingham by the city of Nighbo in China in 2015 and were subsequently positioned beside the lake at Highfields.

A 2007 photograph taken by Ray Teece focusing on the stepping stones situated at the western end of the lake.

A 2020 view of Highfields lake looking through one of the 'bays' located at the eastern end of the park.


Lenton Times Articles

Articles from Lenton Times Magazine


Sir Jesse Boot and the Origins of Highfields Park - Issue 39 - April 2018

Highfields Park: From 1932 Onwards - Issue 40 - January 2019



Lenton Listener Articles

Articles from 'The Lenton Listener' Magazine

The Story of University Park - Issue 46 - June to July 1987



Links

Tottle Brook



Memories

Richard Gadsby - Norfolk


One of my boyhood friends was David Palin and his father was the Park Superintendent. David's Mum, Edith, worked on the boats with George Horton and also did secretarial work in the Park Office. Highfields was our playground; amongst other things we used to use the band stand area as a roller hockey pitch. In 1946 one of the local newspapers took a photograph of us playing there which should be still in their archives. We used roller skates, a tennis ball and walking sticks. This is now the 'in' game and I like to think we invented it decades before it eventually became popular. During the War the large grass area in front of the Lido (pronounced Liedo by us unsophisticated locals Leedo by visiting cousins from London!) was converted to allotment gardens. In August 1953 I started working in the park as a stepping stone on my hoped-for-career in horticulture. I worked for a year on the lakeside side of the park the ornamental side. That year during the winter the lake froze over and there was public skating. The lights around the lake were restored and illuminated it in the evening. The effects of wartime were still apparent and I don't think the lights had been on since before the war. The students used to cause us consternation with their end of term activities. Jesse Boot's bust at the Entrance to the park would irreverently receive a dousing of paint amongst other things.

Although University Park and Wollaton Park are in close physical proximity with each other, until 1957, they were managed by quite separate departments of the City Council, who did little in the way of liaising with one another. Wollaton Park, The Castle, Newstead Abbey plus road verges and housing estates were within the City Estates Department. The other parks such as University Park, Woodthorpe Grange, The Forest, The Arboretum, Embankment etc. etc. were managed by the Parks and Cemeteries Department. The division had come about I think because the Estates maintained those parks which were given or obtained as existing parks or estates and not originally made as public parks. In 1957 Fred Hallowes who had been in the Estates Department was made the new overall Director of Parks and his deputy became Richard Stanion, who had previously been deputy to Mr. Ayres (who had just died) in Parks and Cemeteries.




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