As the mouthpiece of the Clissold Park Preservation Committee, I have had laid upon me the pleasant duty of thanking your lordship for having come here to-day, and for having made a tour of the park with a view of presently opening it for the use of the public for ever. We desire to explain to your lordship the steps that have been taken whereby we have attained our object.
It was in the year 1884, more than five years ago, that it became known that the owner of Clissold Park was desirous of realising the property, and it was on the announcement of this that an influential committee was formed to endeavour to make terms for its purchase as a park for the use of the public, it being the last open space left available in a district crowded with houses.
These negociations, however, came to no successful issue, and, in the year 1886, in spite of assurances to the contrary as to a portion of the property, all were astonished to learn that the interests in the whole of the estate had been purchased by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who had already prepared to plot out the land for building purposes.
Clissold Park, my Lord, comprises an area of 53½ acres, half of which was the freehold property of George Crawshay, Esq., and the other half was held under a perpetuity lease from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at a rental of £109 per annum and a fat turkey, with a provision that no trees should be cut down or building leases granted.
One half of the estate lay outside and the other half within the Metropolitan area, so that neither the Metropolitan Board of Works nor the Corporation of the City of London could deal with the purchase as a whole.
In no way disheartened by these difficulties, we determined to introduce a Bill into Parliament, conferring powers on the Metropolitan Board of Works to take the management of the Park, should sufficient funds be found for its purchase; and a deputation waited on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to ascertain from them upon what terms they would part with the estate for the purposes of a Park. In answer to this request they gave us the refusal at £95,000 with 4 per cent. interest until the completion of the purchase.
Public meetings were called in the neighbourhood, and three petitions, each signed by more than 12,000 residents, the result of voluntary efforts, were presented to the Corporation of the City of London, the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, asking them to aid us in our efforts. It would be unnecessary to detail the fluctuating prospects or the varied phases attending the progress of affairs. The Bill for its preservation passed through both Houses of Parliament unopposed. The Corporation of the City of London, through four or five of its Committees, viewed the park, and the Common Council unanimously recommended the Charity Commissioners to contribute £47,500 towards the purchase money, and to this request the Charity Commissioners acceded.
The purchase money was thus made up :—
- From the Charity Commissioners £47,500
- From the Metropolitan Board of Works £25,000
- From the Parish of St. Mary, Stoke Newington £10,000
- From the District of South Hornsey £6,000
- From the Parish of St. John, Hackney £5,000
- From the Parish of St. Mary, Islington £2,500
Whilst the Ecclesiastical Commissioners liberally forewent their interest which had amounted to some £5,000.
My lord, we have great pleasure in referring to the constant assistance we have throughout derived from the practical experience of John Runtz, Esq., one of our committee, and to his invaluable services when a member of the late Metropolitan Board of Works in smoothing down difficulties in connection with the purchase.
The cost of procuring the necessary Act of Parliament was provided for in the Bill, and the whole expense to the guarantors was under £200—a sum so small as hardly to deserve notice, were it not to act as an encouragement to others to undertake similar movements for securing healthy recreation grounds for the benefit of the people.
My lord, you have had an opportunity of observing the beauties of the spot, and, although in a very unfinished condition, it is sufficiently advanced to give an indication of what a valuable addition it will be to the lungs of the Metropolis, and we hope years hence memory may carry you back to the day when, without pomp or ceremony, as Chairman of the London County Council, you declared the park open to the public for ever, and that the remembrance thereof may be sweet.
The difficulties which have arisen will prevent our offering your lordship that hospitality we would desire ; but if at a more suitable time we should determine to celebrate the event by giving a banquet in a manner congenial to the sentiments of Englishmen, we trust that we shall be able to count your lordship amongst our honoured guests on the occasion.
Signed on behalf of the Clissold Park Preservation Committee,
JOSEPH BECK, Chairman.