Commercialising Bradgate Park an act of desecration
Peter Tyldesley's recent column in the Leicester Mercury seemed, in part, to be a response to my letter of February 21, in which I questioned the need for the proposed Shakespeare play in the Bradgate Park ruins and the display of outdoor art in the park.
In his piece ("Plenty of room for both activity and tranquillity", First Person, March 5), Mr Tyldesley explains his conviction that Bradgate Park is a place which is capable of providing for the "inhabitants of Leicestershire and visitors thereto" an opportunity to learn about care and appreciation of the environment.
He writes that the Bradgate Park Charitable Trust faces the problems of balancing quiet enjoyment with the provision of visitor facilities, and of passive management with active public engagement.
The phrase "quiet enjoyment" he acknowledges features regularly in discussions about the park (including the letters page of the Mercury) but says that "interestingly" this phrase does not appear in either the original Trust Deed or the Charity Commission scheme which now governs Bradgate Park activities.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
He claims that "Bennion's vision of a public park and recreation ground sounds like something very different".
Nevertheless, the words "quiet enjoyment" emanate from the plaques placed in the park to commemorate Bennion's gift.
One plaque is on a rock alongside the road to the ruins, the other on the eastern side of Old John tower, and they read:
"In grateful remembrance of Charles Bennion of Thurnby in this county who, in the year 1928, with the helpful concurrence of the heirs of the Greys of Leicester, purchased from them this Park of Bradgate and presented it in trust for the City and County of Leicester that for all time it might be preserved in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire. His true memorial lies around."
The plaques were put in place in the early 1930s, after the death of Bennion in 1929, as a memorial both to him and to his generous gift to the people of Leicestershire.
Edward Haslegrave was agent (estate manager) to the Grey family from 1913 and, after the sale of the estate, continued for over 30 years in charge of the park.
Mr Haslegrave never used a motor vehicle and walked everywhere in the park – it only takes about half an hour to cross the park on foot in any direction.
Involved and well respected in the local community, he continued working until a month before he died in 1961, at the age of 84.
He would have been well acquainted with the Greys and it can be surmised that the wording on the plaques accorded with the wishes of both the Grey and Bennion families, represents their true intentions and met with their full approval.
With recent annual visitor numbers approaching 900,000, it is not an exaggeration to say that these plaques must have been read by hundreds of thousands of people over the years.
Their message could not be clearer. The inscription was surely felt to capture the sentiments of the man and the spirit which he hoped would live on in his gift.
The increased commercialisation of the park continues to concern me and countless others who cherish it.
I understand that the covenants stipulate that there should be no commercial activity within the park boundaries.
Why does the Bradgate Park Charitable Trust flout these? Why do they need more and more income?
I appreciate that a four-wheel drive vehicle is required, but are so many vehicles needed?
The landscape is suffering from the over-activity of herds of rutting Land Rovers.
As to the theatre proposal, I have been told that owls and other birds roost in the ruins.
These birds are active at dusk and into the night.
Will the wildlife in this historically important site for nature conservation be disturbed by such a performance?
Will there be artificial lighting or a sound system?
Charles Bennion presented the park to future generations "in trust" and laid down simple "rules and conditions". Would he feel betrayed?
To gradually dismiss, discount and choose to ignore these covenants is an act of desecration, not an act of trust.
Why not display the covenants at the park? There is nothing to hide and what a fascinating and educational display they would make.
Mr Tyldesley informs us that the park will be launching a visitor survey later this year "so you can tell us if you think we have got the balance right". What is this balance?
Surely as the latest in a long line of temporary guardians of the park, it is his duty to do all that he can to protect and preserve that unspoiled natural space, so close to our crowded city.
This sounds like a big enough challenge in itself and, as Edward Haslegrave would no doubt confirm if he were still around, a lifetime's work for any man.
Dave Rigg, Newtown Linford.