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Line drawing of Witham Town Hall.

Witham Town Park

In 1899 Witham's vicar, Canon David Ingles, received an anonymous donation of £1,000. A significant amount of money then, this was to enable Witham to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897. It was not until the 1930s that the donor was revealed as Tom Motion of Faulkbourne Hall.

A meeting of ratepayers was held in the new Public Hall in Collingwood Road. Admiral Sir William Luard of Witham Lodge presided. It was proposed that the money should be used to buy the landscaped four acre Park, the part of the grounds nearest to Witham House. This could then be fenced and laid out as a public 'pleasure ground'.

Mr Percy Laurence of the Grove, and Canon Ingles, had between them bought all the land, and were happy to sell the required section cheaply. There was a long debate, some people wanted a library or a hospital instead. But Mr Laurence said that he 'felt strongly that a place was needed where lads could kick their own ball and pitch their own wickets, of course, under proper control'. He was applauded, and in the end the meeting voted to support the idea of a Park, and some more donations were given. The park was opened on 20th June 1900.

Witham's annual summer carnivals have always proceeded through the town to the Park. After earlier 'modest attempts at merrymaking', the first large carnival was held in September 1929 to raise funds for local hospitals. It was reported that 'the old town scored a marked success', and the event went from strength to strength in subsequent years.

The Park's trees have always been its greatest asset, providing beauty, shade, and a home for wildlife. In the l8th century the Pattissons cleared some of them in order to turn the fields into one space, but they also planted anew. So the public of 1900 inherited a variety. There were native trees such as elms and oaks, and imported ones like the fine Cedars of Lebanon. They must have been planted by the Pattissons over 150 years ago.

There have been further changes during the last hundred years, with many trees in the south of the Park having been lost for various reasons. Some became diseased, and others fell victim to storms such as the 'hurricane' of 16th October 1987. So it is probable that only seven of the old trees of 1900 remain now. Newer ones include six oaks given in 1946 by six R.A.F. personnel from Rivenhall Airfield a thanks for the care given by the people of Witham during the Second World War.

The Park is now managed by the Braintree District Council, and there are other recent additions. So in total, there are more trees now than there were in 1900.

Sources: Taken directly from 'Witham Park: One Hundred Years Old' with kind permission, Janet Gyford.

Timber framing of Witham Town Hall.
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