Submitted by on 19-07-2016 12:44:56
A mile south of the Firth of Forth lies Victoria Park. This popular green space and its surrounding area, today known as the Trinity district of Edinburgh, has a long history of name changes.
This blog post will explore the past and present of Victoria Park as part of 2016 Love Parks Week, the UK’s largest celebration of green spaces.
First known as Bonnington Park in the late 1700s, the green space was part of a large estate that incorporated much of the port town of Leith, which later became part of the capital city in 1920. At this time, the area was very rural, with only a few houses running along the two roads to Leith and Newhaven.
One of these houses was Bonnington Park House, a building constructed in 1789. It still stands today and has seen as many names as the park surrounding it. The building became known as Victoria Park House during the 19th and 20th centuries and has been renamed most recently to Bonnington House Nursery, reflecting its use as a children’s centre.
It is unclear who the original owner of the Bonnington estate may have been, but the National Library of Scotland’s maps reveal three potential owners: Mr Cundle (Ainslie 1804 Map), Mr Baron Clerk (Ainslie 1804 Map and Kirkwood 1817 Map) and a James Paterson Esq. (Kirkwood 1817 Map).
Richard Raimes (1797–1888), co-founder of Raimes Clark & Co. Ltd – the parent company of Lindsay & Gilmour, one of Scotland’s largest independent pharmacy chains – took ownership of Bonnington Park House around 1830 as his family business expanded.
As a result, the grounds became known as Raimes Park or Raimes Field and, while still private land, Richard Raimes arranged regular, well-attended events at the estate for the firm’s employees.
Records from the Lindsay & Gilmour archives reveal that there was a Staff Sports Day held on 5 September 1891, with sporting activities including the ‘egg and ladle race’, ‘throwing the cricket ball’, and ‘the married men’s race’ – though only men were permitted to take part in any of the activities. Inside the Staff Sports Day programme from 1891, the personal property of Raimes Park was made clear with the statement:
‘No one without an official badge is to be allowed within the course.’
Richard Raimes died in 1888, aged 90, and both the house and family business passed to his sons, John Fortune Raimes and Richard Raimes Junior. The park became public property shortly after his death. It was noted in The Scotsman on 5 February 1898 that:
“Bonnington Park, with the mansion and its quaint old surroundings [was purchased] for a very low price...”
The golden age of the railway saw new train tracks being laid wherever there was demand. The increasingly urban Bonnington area soon attracted the attention of the Caledonian Railway Company who built a station at Craighall Road, bordering the park to the west, in 1878. In turn, the newly improved transport links attracted middle class professionals and their families, leading to the construction of even more new homes and soaring house prices.
The City of Edinburgh Council's Character Appraisal for the Victoria Park Conservation Area reports that local plumber Henry Ward raised concerns about the housing boom, which saw self-contained houses selling £500 or more. In 1888, he began building more affordable housing to the east, creating Summerside Place, Dudley Avenue, Dudley Gardens and Dudley Crescent. These buildings were fully plumbed with hot and cold water throughout, internal bathrooms and heated towel rails. The area became known locally as ‘the Dudleys’, which may have led to yet another nickname for the park.
New train lines were constructed in the area in the early 1900s, bordering Bonnington Park to the north and the east. A track ran beneath Ferry Road and the grounds of Victoria Park before forking towards North Leith Station and Newhaven Station – the only station of the five Caledonian Railway Stations to survive to this day. The lines were reduced to a single track in 1917.
Parks are often named for a national occasion or after a famous figure. London’s Diana Memorial Playground is just one recent example and this is a trend seen all over the world.
‘Victoria Parks’ became popular during and after the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). The earliest Victoria Park in the UK opened in Bath in 1830 and in June 1897, Bonnington Park officially changed its name to Victoria Park to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Two letters published in The Scotsman newspaper on 5 and 7 February 1898, briefly described the scene at Victoria Park when it opened to the public for the first time:
“The park was largely visited and enjoyed last summer by the inhabitants of the burgh in thousands, and as a playing ground for children it is unequalled.”
“...all the flourish of trumpets, flow of champagne and Council oratory at the opening on Jubilee Day... the Victoria Park will become more and more a thing of beauty and a joy for ever...”
The first map to record the name change can be found in the Bartholomew Archive at the National Library of Scotland. The map from 1907 also reveals new bowling greens for public use within the park.
The railway lines surrounding Victoria Park had closed by the 1960s, but the City of Edinburgh Council embarked on an ambitious environmental improvement programme in 1983. The railway line that until then had bisected the park was removed and landscaped, leading to redesign of the park’s footpath network and the planting of trees. In places, the existing footpaths trace the original railway line.
The bowling greens, once much loved, became disused over the years. In 2015, sixteen new allotment plots were created on the site and are now in full use by the local community.
The research for this blog post was entirely desk-based, using online resources to investigate and trace the history of Victoria Park.
If you have been inspired to research the past of your town or city and share the stories you uncover, register as an Urban Detective on our website.
As an Urban Detective, you can contribute your own blog posts to the Scotland's Urban Past website, suggest new sites to National Record of the Historic Environment - one of Scotland's national collections - and upload photos and information about existing sites.