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125 Not Out

Anonymous 07 December 2015

How can we start to champion the cause for London’s playing fields if we do not know where the existing pitches are and which areas might be suitable for future use? This was the question posed by our Victorian forefathers back in 1890 who were aware that, with the rapid expansion of the city, not only was there was an increasing demand for sport from the growing population but the open space and farmland was being consumed by housing and industrial developments.

Their response was to set up five sub committees across the capital to undertake an audit of pitches, an early precursor to Active Places Power. A total of 117 sites were identified including 36 private sports grounds and 47 sites available for public use. A further 32 sites, including some of the Royal Parks, were identified as potential locations for sports pitches. Amongst this list there are some grounds that are still very familiar to us today such as The Surrey Tavern Ground (now the Kia Oval), Regent’s Park, Wanstead Flats and Blackheath. However extensive Googling and pouring over maps from the period was required to identify the location of some of the sites which have been lost to development such as Capt James’s Ground, Welford’s Farm or L & NW Railway Ground. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some private sites such as “Mr Maxwell’s ground” in SW London or “Gospel Oak (near railway station)” just proved impossible to locate.

Click here to view our 1890 map of playing field sites: http://j.mp/1SPVkZ2

In 1890 the city covered 117 square miles and over the years its boundary expanded as outlying villages were subsumed into the London conurbation with the number of playing field sites in the capital subsequently increasing. Today Greater London covers 600 square miles and contains 1,500 playing fields but there is a great disparity in provision across the city. There are six Inner London boroughs that have less than ten playing field sites whereas the minimum number of sites available in Outer London boroughs is thirty.

During the charity’s lifetime London has faced numerous challenges in retaining its recreational space. In recent years, despite the promise of a lasting Olympic & Paralympic legacy and the recognised need to increase physical activity levels in order to address the obesity crisis, there has been an increasing pressure on land from housing developments in the capital. In such a climate recreational sites will increasingly have to be able to make a strong case for their retention.

In our 125th year our role in London is as important as ever. In order to safeguard the city’s playing fields we must be able to demonstrate the value of these ‘green hearts’ to the local community, not only in terms of the benefits to public health, but to the social and economic fabric of society. We are committed to safeguarding the capital’s playing pitch stock for use by current and future generations and are currently leading the way on two important pieces of work that will help to evidence this need:

  • A commissioned piece of research into the value of playing fields to the wider community
  • A comprehensive audit of playing fields in London