We went to Derby University to interview the Friends of Markeaton Park. Many thanks to Hannah Chapman at Derby City Council for putting us in touch with them. You can listen to their memories or read their interview.
So I’ll put this in the middle of the table, if that’s okay…
I can remember my earliest memory.
Do you want to tell us?
Oh, you won’t want to know it! (Laughter).
Well, I was brought up at Mackworth, so it was going down with, you know, my family, siblings, mum and dad and that. We used to go down quite a lot with the Mormons and they used to do picnics and we’d all go. We weren’t Mormons, but it was their community outreach thing, you know. I think my mum fell quite in love with one of them, but that’s beside the point (laughs).
Picnics were the big thing. There was a small play area with a – we used to call it the policeman’s helmet thing and a seesaw and a couple of swings and that was it. There was nothing else. When I was younger, you entertained yourself. There were boats on the lake, rowboats that you could hire, and there was also – I can’t remember whether it— I don’t think it was a steam one but there was an engined boat that, you know, several people got on and it took you down one end and came back. But they were high days and holidays when you were allowed to go on one of those because of the finance.
Do you remember how old you were at that time?
I’d be about 7 or 8. So it was, what, 10/15 years ago (laughs)?
(Laughs) Yeah. I mean, the house (Markeaton Hall) was still standing then. I mean not as a live-in thing. I think, at the time, most of the gardeners used it for storage and so forth at that point. Oh, and another thing, where the little duck pond is and then you’ve got the mini wood and the iron gates, yeah? They were all locked up at night and, in the morning, the gardeners would come and they’d open the gates and they’d take the ducks down to the lake.
They all used to waddle out. But I don’t know when they stopped putting them all out.
I’ve been down two or three times with my grandchildren to the pond, the paddling pond, and it’s just full of people picnicking.
Yeah, it is. Yes, it is.
Around the paddling pool.
I have to agree with you there.
I’ve spent many a day there with my daughter, you know, from the age of probably about 2 till 13. You know, every summer we’d go round the paddling pool, taking picnics and just spend the whole day there.
And donkeys were there.
That was organised activities that then brought the children in. We had nothing. Like I say, two swings and a teapot lid and a seesaw. That was the only provided thing. So the whole park was full of people picnicking. Now it congregates to that area where the play facilities are.
A lot of people come and do barbecues.
Who is it who used to bring the donkeys? It used to be a chap called George who lived at Little Eaton.
And we used to have them for Allestree Gala, but yes, he was a real character. He couldn’t count, he couldn’t spell, but he could fivers.
That’s all he needs to know (laughs).
Have you got any memories of seeing the donkeys on the park when you were little?
Well, I moved up here about 40 years ago now. I’m younger than most of these people, so I don’t go back so much.
But I certainly remember coming on the park. My main interest I come here for is for the birds that are here and, where I can, the opportunity to tell people what’s around that I enjoy doing. But I don’t remember all that far back. Probably my earliest memory was going around with my son on the pitch and putt course and sliding about all over the place because it was wet and I didn’t have the right footwear on. And losing the ball and worrying about what it was going to cost. The ball probably wasn’t worth anything but you still had to pay for it if you lost it.
What time of year was that, do you know?
Slipping around in the mud? Probably November.
One other thing that I do remember, and I’m sure everybody does remember, was when there used to be the big city carnival that was held there.
There were two major events. I mean they swing now. It’s things like bonfires. But it used to be the fire brigade fun day, which was a very big event, and they poured water into the lake, which pleased everybody. But the other thing was the parade, and it came up from the centre of town and it diverted through several streets from the centre up to here, sort of weaving its way down. And the traffic was shut on the A38 and that caused a lot of dissent. Seeing the faces of people who’d been stopped by the policeman at the roundabout, knowing that he wasn’t moving for three quarters of an hour until all that procession had gone past (laughs). But it was a big event.
And they had some very notable people there, good celebrities.
Good activities. I mean, it was a cracking fair. And I used to go there with the Royal School for the Deaf when we used to have a stall for raising money.
Sadly, I think it’s a thing of the past now, isn’t it?
It’s the same with the more recent one that they started up, which gradually over the years really built up, and then funding, it’s gone; and that was Eco Fest.
That started off with about three tents selling things.
Yeah, it was a good event.
Then it was a real big fill the park thing.
That was a subdivision of the City Council; Action for Climate Change.
Climate change, yeah.
Could I ask if any of you have got a particular favourite of Markeaton Park that you would like to share with the project, something that stands out in your mind?
Well, not one I want to record (laughs).
Next question (laughs).
Well I mean, this is it. I mean, it was our courting ground, wasn’t it? I won’t tell you what I did do! (Laughs).
One memory I do like – and it’s with you saying about the water voles, Sam – the back brook that comes from Annie’s place and under that we used to just to call it the culvert, I mean, we used to swim in there when polio struck and they closed the paddling pool in the—
Yeah, I remember that.
We used to swim in the brook then. Now, we swam in there – it’s now this deep, so that’s silted up over the years, obviously – but we used to have – well, it was the estate’s dog. In those days, dogs could wander and there was this dog that sort of the whole estate loved and he’d decide to live here for two days and then he’d go and live over there for two days, you know. We used to take him down the park and sit on the banks there and just watch the water voles for hours, just playing around in that water there.
In Mackworth brook?
Yeah, the one that comes from Annie’s.
And where the Mundy car park is, the Mundy Centre car park, there are all those railings round the underground culverts; well, there were no railings in our day. So the braver boys used to walk down there and they would eventually come up in town.
Is this the tunnels that lead—?
Yeah, yeah, the culverts.
Yeah, you can walk from the park into Derby via the tunnels.
So you know some people that actually did it (laughs).
Yeah. But I mean, the girls went down so far, but when it got dark, we’d turn round and come back (laughs). Little scurrying sounds and things, you know. And I mean, really, it’s kid-like, but you don’t think, if there was a sudden flurry of water, then you’d be washed, you know.
But when you’re a kid, you just do it.
Going back quite a lot of years, I suppose to the beginning of the war, the park was taken over by the army. Now, I can’t remember that but I’ve seen quite a lot of evidence of what the army did. I think they took almost the whole park over and turned it into an army camp during the Second World War. And people tell me that what is now the main south car park used to be the parade ground.
Equally, there were many more army buildings around at that time, but there still are quite a few that are left at the south end of the park, near the Markeaton island and the car park off of that. We’ve been asking because, I mean, I’m with the Famous Train Model Railway team there. We’ve got a lease on one of those buildings, and next to us is the light railway carriage sheds. Those two buildings are now obviously in quite a lot of good use. But apart from those, across the car park there’s another lot which the council are using. But there used to be many, many more than that. There was an article in the Bygones section in the Derby Telegraph the year before last with some pictures of the army camp, particularly some of the people there, and they always ask of course, “Do you recognise any of these guys? Are you one of them?” Well, I wasn’t in Derby in those days but—
The parade ground was – you know going from Famous Trains into the park…
…and then you hit the wall of where the old house was…
…and there’s a little tiny, tiny wood of about six trees?
This side of that, that’s the old parade ground.
And that was the first car park, but then they made the big car park and stopped— Well, they left it for disabled car parking for a while down there and then put disabled behind the—
Because I think a lot of people just walk into the park and ignore these buildings, thinking there’s nothing very interesting there. But I mean—
Well, they most likely don’t always see— You know, if you’re walking into the park, you kind of don’t always sort of notice, you know, like stop and look at stuff, do you?
And there’s like a stone archway thing in the park where they’ve got lots of people who’ve scratched their names in it.
Yes. The young people took photos of it and there’s a name of somebody scratched in and he’s put the date. It was just obviously before he was going—
Into the war (WW2). That’s right, yeah.
Yeah. We really wanted to see if we could trace who that person was… quite a poignant kind of bit of graffiti on there.
Some of these things could go into the history building, couldn’t they, some of that information. I’m sure the paper has probably got some original material that went into that article. It might be worth digging…