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Brexit Commissioner for Tower Hamlets calls for vote on ‘jewel’ of Victoria Park

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 September 2018

Tower Hamlets Brexit Commissioner Amina Ali...

Tower Hamlets Brexit Commissioner Amina Ali... "We need your vote." Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Calls on the public today to vote in another referendum are being made by Tower Hamlets Council’s newly-appointed Brexit Commissioner.

Picture: Rehan JamilPicture: Rehan Jamil

But this one isn’t about Europe—Cllr Amina Ali is urging the East End to vote Victoria Park as the nation’s favourite public park once again.

“We are an inner city borough with great green spaces,” the cabinet member for Culture and Brexit said. “I’m encouraging everyone to appreciate our parks and open spaces by voting in this year’s Green Flag awards.”

Vicky Park has a good track record. It was voted “Britain’s best” in 2013 following its £12m Olympic makeover and again in 2015.

All mutts love Vicky Park with its summer dog contests... they take it all lying down. Picture: LBTHAll mutts love Vicky Park with its summer dog contests... they take it all lying down. Picture: LBTH

Mayor John Biggs said unashamedly: “It’s the jewel in Tower Hamlets’ crown—so vote for Vicky Park in the People’s Choice awards.”

Supporters can also go online to the Green Flag awards and choose Victoria Park. Voting closes September 30, with the top UK parks revealed on October 16.

The boot-shaped park, with nine million visits a year, stretches 86 hectares from Bethnal Green at the ‘toe’ end in the west to Old Ford and Hackney Wick at the ‘calf’ end in the east.

Times past... Vicky Park has always been a favourite for East Enders... like these kids in the 1950s. Picture: Tower Hamlets ArchiveTimes past... Vicky Park has always been a favourite for East Enders... like these kids in the 1950s. Picture: Tower Hamlets Archive

It opened 170 years ago as the world’s first planned public park specifically for the needs of surrounding urban communities.

The need emerged as Victorian London expanded eastward, with the coming of railways, the docks, industry and the overcrowded housing it brought with a slum population of 400,000.

The mortality rate in 1839 was higher than the rest of London. A petition to Queen Victoria in 1840 signed by 30,000 residents urged the formation of a Royal park because of fears of disease spreading from stinking factories.

Restored Chinese pagoda at Victoria Park. Picture: Kois MiahRestored Chinese pagoda at Victoria Park. Picture: Kois Miah

The government bought cheap land used for market gardens, grazing and gravel digging which had poor soil and little water, but cheaper than an alternative larger site nearer the Thames.

It was an instant success from 1843, even before it was completed. The boating lake with three islands was added later.

The pagoda which had formed the entrance to the Chinese Exhibition at Hyde Park was acquired in 1847 and erected on the largest of the islands.

The park was popular on Sundays when large crowds came to hear speakers by the fountain rant and rave on every topic. Famous speakers over the years included suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and philanthropist Muriel Lester.

Coutts Bank heiress and philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts who championed East End poverty relief donated a drinking fountain.

A £12m restoration began in 2011 with Lottery cash. The pagoda was returned to the island in the lake, while the Dogs of Alcibiades sculptures and the Burdett-Coutts fountain were spruced up. Vicky Park got a right royal tidy-up.

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