Alice Park, Bath: Where playtime's for all ages
PUBLISHED: 15:25 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25 01 October 2018
Given to the people of Bath as a gift from a local benefactor 80 years ago, the tranquil Alice Park is thriving, as Chrissy Harris discovers
What makes a park work? It’s a question I have thought long and hard about in a decade spent sitting, standing, pushing swings, sheltering from downpours and eating spready cheese sandwiches in various recreational open spaces.
My research has concluded that it’s not the size or the location or the quality of the playground equipment that matters. It boils down to how a place feels and Alice Park in the Larkhill area of the city just feels nice.
Turn up on a sunny Saturday morning and you’ll be greeted by the sound of bells and whistles as kids ride their bikes and scooters around the brilliant mini-road network while others take part in football, rugby or netball sessions.
Next to the well-stocked play area, grown-ups sit back and enjoy coffee, cakes, breakfast, lunch and more at the locally renowned Alice Park café.
Away from the hustle and bustle, there is a community allotment, where volunteers invite park visitors to learn more about gardening and growing their own fruits and vegetables. It’s all very...Bath.
“Alice Park really is quite special,” says Kathy Cook, local resident and member of Transition Larkhall, which runs the community garden.
“It’s held in trust to the people of Bath and it’s very much our park. I think that changes the tone and makes it so unique.”
Alice Park was given to the city in 1938 by Herbert Montgomery MacVicar of nearby Batheaston as a memorial to his late wife, Frances Alice Harriet.
The wealthy gentleman wanted to establish the eight-acre park as a ‘facility for the enjoyment and sporting achievement of local children’.
“It’s a great place to bring the kids,” says Somerset photographer Dan Pearce.
“There are loads of things to keep them occupied. It feels safe, friendly and they love playing on the equipment.”
“My daughter has grown up here,” adds Kathy Cook. “She learnt to ride her bike in the park and we’ve had lots of party picnics over the last 20 years.
“She’s away at university now and life has a different rhythm but I still enjoy coming here.”
Many regulars agree that Alice Park has grown, very organically, into a destination where people of all ages can come and spend some quality time.
This is largely down to the fact there is such a great (licensed!) café on site. Owner Tony Hickman has, by all accounts, been instrumental in attracting more visitors to the park and keeping them there with barista-quality coffee and freshly prepared food. Since taking over the lease 10 years ago, he has also organised regular events, including DJ nights and evening meals, as well as kids’ parties and wedding receptions.
“I wanted to create somewhere that I would want to go if I didn’t have kids,” he says, laughing.
“Not all red and yellow plastic chairs and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets – I didn’t want that.
“I wanted people to be able to come here, listen to some good music, have a coffee, do some emails and, oh by the way, the kids are playing nicely just over there.”
Tony and his family have gradually built up a loyal customer base, thanks to this very balanced approach.
There are plans to improve the café building further and add to the landscaping to help make Alice Park an even nicer place to be.
There are also proposals to join up the pathways to allow visitors to enjoy a circuit walk and there are ongoing talks with the Lawn Tennis Association, which is keen to refurbish the six tennis courts at the site. The pond area looks set to be improved and the play equipment is in line for a facelift.
And, after four years of discussions, it also looks as though a skate park will be set up in the north-west corner.
This all makes for a pretty exciting crib sheet and it’s hoped the improvements will help establish Alice Park - tucked in behind the busy London Road - as ‘one of the area’s top amenities’.
“This is becoming a destination location,” says Tony, who admits he looks forward to coming to work every day. “We’re not really on the way to anywhere. You come here because you want to come here.”
A perfect present...
In 1938, Alice Park was given to Bath for use as a public park by Herbert Montgomery MacVicar of Batheaston as a memorial to his wife, Frances Alice Harriet.
The park and cottages were laid out and constructed (for the reputed sum of £325,000) between 1937 and 1940.
The two park keepers’ cottages were designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe, one of the principal figures of landscape design in Bath at the time.
In June 1944, Queen Mary visited Alice Park to plant fruit trees in the grounds.
During the Second World War, an underground air raid shelter was constructed so that park visitors could seek refuge from German bombs. It then became a store for sports equipment but has now been filled in with concrete.
Herbert Montgomery MacVicar died in July 1957, at the age of 85 with no children. He was buried at the Church of St John The Baptist in Batheaston next to his wife.
A patch of waste ground hidden behind a hedge is now Alice Park’s thriving community garden, with raised vegetable beds, a wildlife pond, herb planters, seating and a shelter.
A team of volunteers from Transition Larkhall’s food group worked to turn the forgotten section of land into a place where locals and visitors can meet up and learn about gardening.
“We are a nation of gardeners and I love the idea that we have a place to come together and do something that makes a difference,” says volunteer Kathy Cook, who helped to set up the site in 2010.
“We wanted a resource for people to use,” says Kathy, adding that everyone from pre-school children to people with mental health issues have benefited from spending time in the garden.
The volunteers hope more locals will get involved to help keep this spot ticking over for years to come. Weekly Sunday drop in sessions run from 10am-12noon until the winter. There is also an evening session on Wednesdays from 6-7pm.