© Ralph Cobham
Like many other people, when John Vandore joined the Trust, he asked about the Park's design: "Was it a single event or an evolving activity?"
The answer as one of the Founder Trustees explains is a mixture of "yes" and "no". The design process happened like this:
The planning application prepared in 1996 for a change of use from derelict land to a Park required an outline design. This is shown below
This outline layout plan was prepared by Russ Canning, who was at the time the Landscape Architect Partner of CRC. Overall the layout is similar to that found to-day, as it reflects the original vision for the Park which was clear from the outset, namely:
- the establishment of a semi-natural area consisting of woodland glades (outdoor rooms), the main one of which would serve as a Performance Area, with
- the glades being linked by a net-work of informal paths.
It was envisaged that the Park would fulfil several functions, in particular, providing:
- a haven for wildlife species, whose populations and diversity would be encouraged to increase;
- a place of peace and tranquillity for local residents and visitors to enjoy in a variety of ways;
- displays of selected excerpts from JB's writings.
Russ Canning presented an alternative layout for consideration by the Trust's founders. That showed a central plaza and a Betjeman Memorial statue, as well as a wide promenade area adjacent to the Letcombe Brook. One of its intended merits included the removal of the perimter iron-railing fence adjacent to the Brook. That, it was thought, would make the Park more inviting to both local residents and visitors. However, overall that layout was considered to be incompatible with the Trustees' vision.
Once planning consent was received for the Park and purchase of the site was successfully negotiated with Morritts, the owners, a detailed design was required for construction purposes. Submissions were invited from three firms of Landscape Architects, resulting in the appointment of Land Art. The latter was a local design practice, based in Coleshill at the time.
The detailed design was prepared by Gabriella Pape with inputs from her colleagues – Andrew Miller and Isabella van Groeningen.
Whilst adhering to the favoured outline layout, the Gabriella's detailed design con
tained important features:
- the use of Sarsen Stones, symbolising the Millennium. These were acquired from a farm near to The White Horse;
- the retention of the best mature tree, consisting of four species: Yew, Horse Chestnut, Ash and Sycamore. These were considered to be very important in framing Park and softening the visual impacts of urban structures located immediately to the west and north of the site;
- the restoration of the perimeter fence, brick-cum-stone wall and wrought-iron gates;
- the removal of self-seeded young sycamore, which was fast becoming the dominant species throughout the site;
- the inclusion of an inter-connecting net-work of natural paths winding through the glades;
- the planting of new trees (small-leaved lime in particular) and a wide range of shrub species (all natives), as well as multitudes of spring bulbs: snowdrops, narcissi and bluebells;
- the siting of a series of poetry plaques, inscripted with words from Betjeman's best known works;
- the provision of facilities for the use and convenience of visitors: seats, litter bins and signs. The latter requested the exclusion of bikes, dogs and alcohol (the last by law).
The layout sought to cater for contrasting sensations of security, visual surprise, enclosure and openness. Hitherto the site boundary nearest to the Letcombe Brook had been lined with mature shrubs, which almost totally excluded views of the Brook. The new layout opened up partial views of often sparkling water, especially from the Park's higher ground.