Keeper’s daughter tells why she loved life in Barking Park

Christine standing in front of the lodge where she grew up at as her dad was park keeper.

Christine standing in front of the lodge where she grew up at as her dad was park keeper. - Credit: Archant

Christine Millard’s late father, Les Taylor, was the borough’s assistant park superintendent for most of his working life. For her entire childhood Christine, now 58, lived with her family at The Lodge, which still sits by the gates of Barking Park. Below is an edited extract of an interview with Christine about her life in the park she is so fond of, which formed part of Eastside Community Heritage’s oral history project.

Les Taylor in one of the Barking Park green houses circa 1948

Les Taylor in one of the Barking Park green houses circa 1948 - Credit: Archant

“My dad started his parks career as an apprentice. He went to college to study horticulture and learn all sorts of Latin names of plants.

The Phoenix boat in Barking Park

The Phoenix boat in Barking Park - Credit: Archant

At first he worked a lot in the greenhouses in Barking Park, which aren’t there any more. They used to grow all the plants for the park there. We used to go and wander around them – I was fascinated by those beautiful plants. It was fabulous, like a little mini Kew Gardens.

Barking Lido in its heyday

Barking Lido in its heyday - Credit: Archant

My dad worked his way up to being assistant park superintendent. A typical day for him would be doing his rounds, going to the parks and cemeteries and making sure the workmen were doing their jobs.

One of the green houses

One of the green houses - Credit: Archant

He’d always come back at lunchtime, pick us up from school and we’d all have a proper dinner together at The Lodge.


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Meticulous

He was very meticulous –he never let standards drop. That was one of the things everybody used to say, about how high his standards were when it came to maintaining the parks.

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Barking Park was kept so beautiful. People would come just to look at the it, especially the flower beds that were planted to show a coat of arms or the crest of a club or something. It used to take three men about a week to plant them. If they couldn’t find the right colours they used to dye the plants. It was fascinating to see these flower beds finished – they were superb works of art.

My brother and I used to go on the little train which was run by a bloke called Alec. There was a paddle steamer on the lake called the Phoenix. That went many, many years ago now. There were also motor boats and rowing boats and tennis courts.

My brother and I played in the park every day and I remember mum would sometimes watch us from The Lodge with her binoculars.

Mr Wight, who used to help with the swings and everything, used to push us over there. Sometimes we’d pick conkers from the conker tree which you weren’t supposed to do.

In the evenings there would be a dog patrol by a guy called Jock, a Scottish man with a big German Shepherd. Before he started his tour he’d stop off for a cup of tea that mum and dad would make for him. I was quite scared of the dog, but he assured me it would be fine.

I went to Northwood Junior and then Barking Abbey Secondary School which is just the other end of the park. When I played hockey, or whatever, I could see my house.

Every summer the pool would be open every day. I spent lots of afternoons after school in that beautiful pool with two lovely fountains and a cafeteria. It was freezing cold I might add.

There were big diving boards in the middle, though I think they actually took them away in later years because they found the water wasn’t quite deep enough for the height of the board.

I learnt to ride my first bicycle without stabilisers in the park with the help of my brother. We were outside The Lodge and he said: “Look, I’m going to hold the bike and you pedal away and I’m going to be here.”

And I kept saying “Are you still there Leslie, yes,” he said, “I’m still here.”

So I’m pedalling away and thinking: “Oh, this is good, one day I will be able to ride this bike on my own”. Then I said: “Are you still there?”

So he said: “Yeah, I’m still here.” I turned around and saw that he’d stayed at The Lodge and let me pedal away around 60 yards up the park on my own!

I loved living in the park. I had this back garden on my doorstep that was the envy of all my friends really. They used to come round and say: ‘Cor, isn’t this lovely, I wish I lived here.’”

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