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Ludgershall – a not-so-brief history of our Play Area…
Where did the original idea of installing a play area in Ludgershall come from? Like a hot, August afternoon memories are hazy, but whoever came up with it should be justifiably proud.
My quest for information started at a Ludgershall coffee morning, where Joy Cox patiently told me everything she knew. My next port of call was Jim Goss, who came for Sunday lunch, and in return brought with him numerous old village photographs and copious sets of minutes dating back to 1995. John Cartwright, Anne Neale, Debbie Everingham and Claire and Aldo Di Marcello helped plug the gaps in my knowledge.
Amongst the paperwork Jim gave me was an interesting newspaper article dated 12th Dec 1974 (I was 6 months old at the time). It stated that a Mr Ronald Gore Langton, Lord of the Manor of Ludgershall (who resided in Australia) owned the 16-acre tract of land around the village, which included the site the play area now sits on. The villagers disagreed, believing the land belonged to them. The whole dispute ended up on the desk of Chief Commons Commissioner Mr G.D. Squibbs QC, largely because the Parish Council at the time registered the land as Common Land under the Commons Registration Act 1965. The dispute rumbled on… Via his solicitors, Mr Gore Langton issued a statement declaring himself as the freeholder, claiming ownership of the land by virtue of descent through his family. It made sense, he said for the village to own it, but he would not gift it. In short – show me the money.
Fortunately for the village, Clifford East, then the Chair of the Parish Council, generously stumped up the cash. This money was then re-paid by levying a penny on the rates. The village finally owned the land and it was all systems go. Thank you Clifford!
Julian Brown administered the legalities free of charge, and it was during this process he discovered the ‘Lord of the Manor’ title was also for sale. At the time, the village had no spare cash to purchase the title, nor was it particularly interested. Julian bought the title to prevent it going to a 3rd party, and to the best of my knowledge, still holds it today.
The original play area committee members were Joy Cox, Angela Goss, Marie Wright and Roger Hanley. Roger was also a Parish Councillor, and a very supportive link between the two groups. A sub committee to the Parish Council was formed and matters moved swiftly forward. There wasn’t any money, so the committee had to raise the necessary themselves. From barn dances to beetle drives, jumble sales to jam making, money started to roll in and the idea became a reality.
In 1986, the half-acre site now home to our beloved play area received some much-needed attention. It was basically an area of scrubland and a bit of a mess by all accounts. Ludgershall Bonfire Night used to be held there before being moved round to the High Street. Vince Daly removed all the debris, cleared the area and levelled it with top soil. Joy remembers the village kids (Rob Evans, Helena Cox, Jane Evans, Abi Bonnell, Claire Bowers, Richard Lee, Patrick Auger, Josephine Auger, Lee Cox, Julie Wright, David Lee, Ruth Tiffin, Stephen Wright, Martin Parker, to name but a few) collecting stones in their little buckets to prevent them making their way to the surface once the area had been grassed. The energy and enthusiasm shown by Joy Cox and all those involved at the very beginning is commendable.
Jack Fisher put much effort into the play area over the years, helped at times by his friend Austin Penn. For a few summers, Jack cut the site for hay and kept it mowed and tidy. He also managed to procure a blue metal bench (see pics) and when the play area purchased a new mower, Ken Tiffin kindly stored it at his house. Over time, new life was breathed into the half acre site. No-one can pinpoint exactly when the first pieces of equipment were installed but the pictures show how it would have looked initially.
When the Di Marcello’s bought the Old School House in the 80’s they discovered the metal climbing frame still in situ so they fittingly donated it to the play area. It’s still there now. Last summer I remember seeing a row of little girls hanging upside down from the bars like fruit bats, giggling because their knickers were on show! Aldo Di Marcello was Chair of the Play Area Committee for a spell, and he remembers organising a meeting at the village hall, to which everyone was invited. Opinions differed as to the best way forward. Some wanted to see the play area developed further, and others didn’t want it there at all! Aldo put out a few chairs, not expecting many to show, but was amazed that when the meeting commenced, there was standing room only. He remembers the vote to continue with the expansion of the play area was supported overwhelmingly.
A set of minutes I discovered from 1995 show those working to keep the play area going were Anita Cooper, Joy Cox, Helen Curnow, Aldo Di Marcello, Jane Miller, Sarah Miller, Melissa Mundy and Anne Neale.
Blenheim Saw Mills donated the climbing wall with integrated slide and Elliott the Dragon (who had previously lived at the Happy Eater on the Bicester Road) was donated by Trust House Forte. THF held a competition and Ludgershall won, courtesy of Sarah Lewis (nee Miller). Elliott settled in well (although I believe Pat and Richard had words with him about rooting around in their bins late at night). He was painted green to blend in with the environment and in time, he let the local kids climb onto his back in exchange for the occasional titbit (like their pet cat or dog). Elliott left us sometime in the 90’s due to old age, but I believe he is enjoying his twilight years at a retirement complex in Dorset.
Time ticked on and committees inevitably changed. Minutes from 2005 show those actively involved were Teresa Butler, Abi Argent, Angela Goss, Anne Neale and Julie Tiley. In late 2006 Naomi Thomas and Debbie Everingham also stepped up. These ladies were responsible for the second tranche of fundraising that made it possible for new equipment to be installed. This was carried out over two phases (one in 2007 and one in 2008). The cost was met by grants from WREN, Lottery Funding, AVDC and money the committee had raised themselves. Colin Baker, who lived in the village at the time, cut the ribbon at a grand opening of the ‘new look’ play area once the works were complete.
A special mention must go to Angela Goss, who being part of the fabric of the village for such a long time, knew when to hold fundraisers to maximise profits, and expertly guided everyone through the process. Angela stuck with it throughout her illness and was there for the opening of the 2nd Phase. Without people like her we wouldn’t have the play area we do today. To say that Jim Goss has ‘helped out’ with the play area over the years would be a gross understatement. When it comes to it, he is always there to give practical help and never says no. Archie Harris has also been unswerving in his support over the years. Thank you both!
Our current committee is made up of Debbie Everingham, Pat Crisp, Tom Chettle, Steve Lawson and me. We have a few maintenance issues on our plate, but with some much-appreciated financial support from the Parish Council we are pushing full steam ahead. On a personal note I’d like to say thanks to Pat for helping me wash down the equipment and litter pick the play area before the worst of last winter set in. We found some interesting items in the ditches, I can tell you J Thanks must also go to Richard who supports the play area wholeheartedly and is always ready with an offer of help.
There are many people who will have lent their skill and expertise to the development of the play area over the years, and many more that have done much to maintain it in terms of grass cutting and organising working parties. The importance of providing facilities like this for families in small, rural villages is vital. We should protect and preserve our play area, not only for future generations, but for all those that worked so hard to make it happen in the first place.
So on behalf of Ludgershall, may I say a huge thank you to everyone involved over the years. You know who you are!
The Play Area