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Memories and rich history of Charlton's parks unlocked by The Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project
A TREASURE trove of vivid memories of Charlton’s six open spaces - weaving a "history" of the wider community - has been unlocked by The Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project. SARAH TROTTER unearths some hidden gems.
FROM open air schooling, to picking leaves from Britain’s oldest Mulberry tree for silk worm food, Charlton parks’ rich and varied uses over more than 100 years are now ready to explore.
A two-year project - mining photographs and stories about Hornfair, Charlton, Maryon Wilson, Maryon, Gilberts Pit and Barrier Gardens parks - was collated by 24 volunteers including budding historians from John Roan School.
They uncovered a host of quirky anecdotes about clambouring around Gilbert’s Pit in search of ammonites or listening to wartime jazz at Maryon Park bandstand - as well as revealing the open spaces to be at the heart of community life.
Coordinator of The Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project Carol Kenna said: "People really feel that the parks are central to their lives and have helped them through seriously tough times - health worries, but also through periods of depression and tough times when they may not have had jobs.
"We are very lucky having six parks or open spaces just in Charlton and I think the importance is it’s brought people together and helped them feel that their memories are important.
Ms Kenna added: "I have always believed it is not just the history of kings and queens that are important but the history of everyday people."
Snippets from the past
Charlton Park boasts what is claimed to be the oldest Mulberry tree in England - planted around 1609 under the rule of King James 1 - and visited by Barbara Whitaker in the late 1930s when she used to secretly pluck its leaves for her pet silkworms.
Ms Whitaker, then aged around 10 years old, said: "I had silkworms and my family said, ‘You’ve got to feed them on mulberry leaves.’
"I used to feel terribly guilty and thinking that, you know, the park keeper was going to come and say, ‘What are you doing?’ Because I knew then that it was the oldest, the first mulberry tree ever planted in England."
George Burton recalls ‘open air’ schooling in Charlton Park in the early 1940s when it was sometimes too cold to hold a pencil and the class were made to do laps round the school to warm up.
Aged around eight years old, he was sent to the outdoor learning environment - where classrooms consisted of a few poles and canvas - as a perceived cure for his asthma.
He said: "It used to get absolutely freezing. If it was really cold we had to use pencils because we couldn’t use ink because the ink wells were frozen.
"If we were exceptionally cold we would have a run around the school. If it got too cold to hold the pencils we did oral lessons."
To delve into more stories from the past and to contribute tales view the full project - funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Viscount Gough - online at charltonparks.co.uk
A free paper copy version will be available from Greenwich libraries, Greenwich Heritage Centre and Charlton House later this month.