Murray Park 1914-2014
100 years of change
Speculative house building in Whitton by 1909 was fuelling the concern of local residents that when the railway line was electrified there would be very few open spaces left in the neighbourhood. This view did not pertain to the overwhelming surge of house building that was to come about in the 1930s. Before then Whitton was still a small hamlet of less than a 1000 souls despite Edwardian development along the ancient highways crossing or passing it or comprising newly built Seaton Road, Cedar Avenue and Colonial Avenue.
The catalyst for development was the death of Colonel Gostling-Murray in 1894 and the subsequent sale of his Whitton Park estate. It was at a public meeting three years later that Local businessman James Wills first suggested purchasing a portion of the estate as a memorial of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The site chosen was ten and a half acres of well-timbered land bounded to the north by Whitton Dean and to the south by Kneller Road. The east side was flanked by The Old Manor House and Whitton Dean Farm, and the west by a holly hedge.
Local militia and summer fetes
This was an historical spot, recently used by Colonel Gostling-Murray to train his local militia and to hold summer fetes. Formerly known as Whitton Dean it was land acquired in 1732 by Archibald Campbell, Lord Islay, later third Duke of Argyll, to house his mistress. The estate took its name from one of the three ancient parishes comprising the Isleworth Hundred; Twickenham and Heston being the other two. In the creation of his estate at Whitton, Campbell purchased Twickenham parish land and took copyhold of that in Isleworth, a confused situation that remained in part well into the 20th century.
When James Wills proposed his memorial park in 1897, the price of the nine acres in Twickenham parish was £1800. However, when he was elected as the representative for Whitton on the Twickenham Urban District Council in 1911, his ‘persistency and diplomatic tact’ secured the whole ten and a half acres for ‘the exceedingly moderate sum’ of £2,100, or £1400 less than quoted in 1909. In June 1913 the vendor, Mr C E Hungerford Athol Coulston of Devizes, was paid this amount and £28 paid to Jesse Young, a cattle farmer who was renting the land for grazing, in respect of his vacating it by March 1914.
Naming of the new park
At a public meeting held on 21st February 1914 to discuss the proposed opening and naming of the new park, the suggested names included: Argylle Park, Duke’s Park, Murray Park, Whitton Park, Manor Park and Kneller Park. Also suggested was Wills’s Park, in tribute to the man who had done more than any other to provide ‘Whittonians’ with their own public pleasure ground. But Wills declined, looking to one who was ‘never a better friend to him, or Whitton, than Colonel Murray’. Thus, the district’s latest public pleasure ground was formally named and opened by the Chairman of the Committee, Mr W A Slade, on 1st May 1914 at 5pm precisely.
The Richmond and Twickenham Times described ‘a lovely stretch of land’ plotted with the famous cedars planted by The Duke of Argyll. A line of chestnut trees ran parallel to Kneller Road together with elms, yews, cork and oaks and a screen of ornamental trees fronting a large, meandering lake flanked by a ten foot high buttress wall forming the ground’s northern boundary. The offices and outbuildings and the old Riding School comprised other survivors of the once elegant Whitton Dean Estate.
Songs and country dances
School children had been granted a holiday for the occasion and a large number of spectators were entertained with songs and country dances, including the plaiting of the maypole. In his first public function performed by Mr Slade after his election to the Chairmanship of the Twickenham Council for the second time, he said that it was ‘a happy augury that the function should take place on the first of May, celebrated long ago and handed down through the centuries’. He thought it would be fitting if in the future the people of Whitton celebrated the opening of the park by keeping on May Day each year. ‘It was the duty of every authority to keep a keen eye on the needs of future generations’, he added, and one way of doing this ‘was to provide places where they could go and enjoy themselves, and get health and strength in the open air.’ As well as for games and sports of all kinds, Mr Slade was reminded that the ground ‘bore a very good history where, in years gone by, men learnt the noble art of self-defence and military tactics and to defend their country’. Colonel Murray’s old rifle butts had been retained subject to an application submitted by a local rifle club. However, events conspired in August 1914 to ensure their continued use, adding to the sound of gunfire the cries of raw recruits sinking bayonets into lines of stuffed potato sacks in grim preparation for France.
This article has been contributed by Ed Harris.