Bon voyage: Barking fleet sails into the sunset
MORE than five decades of motor-boating in the borough s oldest park are drawing to a close. Now that a multi-million Lottery fund has been secured, Barking Park, Longbridge Road, is entering a new stage of its 111-year history. The park, established in 1
MORE than five decades of motor-boating in the borough's oldest park are drawing to a close.
Now that a multi-million Lottery fund has been secured, Barking Park, Longbridge Road, is entering a new stage of its 111-year history.
The park, established in 1896, was opened to the public in 1898 by Cllr C L Beard, JP, chairman of Barking Town Urban District Council.
A 910-metre long lake and 30 hectares of land still house a wealth of features and facilities.
However, the park's heyday was in the 1950s, when it was hailed as 'probably the finest municipal park in East London' and saw the arrival of a miniature railway.
Three coaches were hauled by the steam locomotive 'Princess', later replaced by the re-gauged to 71/4" sit-in locomotive 'Little Nan'.
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Motor boats made their first appearance in 1953.
The lido with its ornamental cascade, opened to a fanfare in May, 1931, with music from the Beckton Gas Light Military Band and diving and swimming exhibitions.
Both the lido and the lake were extremely popular with visitors.
A converted paddle steamer, The Phoenix, was another great attraction until 1967.
The lido shut in the 1970s but an indoor bowls centre and sports pavilion were opened.
A �3,254,000 Heritage Lottery Fund will now provide for restoration and for the improvement of the park's many features.
But the motor boat fleet will now have to make way for another stage in the park's existence.
The boat workshop and storage will be demolished in 2010.
Alec Everitt, 61, has run the park's amenities for 30 years and enjoyed every day of doing so.
The retired fireman bought the miniature trains in 1980 after they had lain idle for some years.
He said: "I brought my two-year-old son to ride on the railway. Three years later I owned the train."
In 1982, Mr Everitt took over the motor boat fleet as well.
He said: "The lake was dug by hand just over a hundred years ago and there have been boats on it ever since.
"The motor boats have been here since after the war."
He is frustrated by the fact that his life's work is not going to continue but added: "I have had a great life.
"I'm never going to be a millionaire but I absolutely loved it. Not many people can say that.
"I hope that it will remain as a boating lake in some shape or form."
Mr Everitt prides himself on the impact he seems to have had on some of the borough's youths.
He said: "When we were sorting this place out, we had to convey a 'behave' message to guilty members of the public
"Some years later, a man in his mid-twenties walked up, shook my hand and said: 'I'm surprised to see you're still here. I'm now in the Irish Rifles.'
Mr Everitt could not remember who he was but guessed that he must have been one of those 'guilty' youngsters who had caused trouble.
He said: "He just had to come back and show me. He must have taken my comments to heart."
We can only guess what those comments were as Mr Everitt would not disclose them, but they have had a positive outcome.
The railway closed in 2006 but re-opened in April under the patronage of railway enthusiast, Ray Armstead.