Bowring Park

Edwardian-era public recreation ground that was a popular post-war haunt for many Wellingtonians in the summer of 1919. It was also the location for an unusual military gift to the people of the town given in recognition of their help with the war effort. 


By the end of the First World War, Bowring Park was still a relatively new feature on the local landscape. In 1910, it formed part of a bequest from the wife of the late John Crump Bowring — a Victorian entrepreneur who lived in the stately Bradleymoor House, which is located directly opposite the entrance to the park on Haygate Road. Initially consisting of just five acres of land, the park was a much smaller affair than the one we see today but it is really a consequence of its popularity in the immediate aftermath of the conflict that led directly to the development of many modern day features, such as its bowling greens, tennis courts and pathways.

Bowring Park from Holyhead Road

Passing Time

The adoption of shorter working hours was a key feature of the post-war landscape in 1919. Studies carried out in the munitions industry during the conflict had found no clear link between high productivity and long working hours — in fact, it appeared the opposite was true, and such findings helped to create pressure for change when the conflict ended. The principle of the eight-hour day was even included within the Treaty of Versailles and, in August, the British Government presented a general bill in Parliament that enshrined it in law (although it didn’t include those employed in agriculture). For the first time, many people found themselves with leisure time on their hands, which could help to explain why so many in Wellington began to flock to the Bowring Rec’ once the lighter evenings returned:

“Nothing in the urban area at present more delightfully signalises the end of hostilities and the advent of midsummer than the beauty of the recreation ground on Haygate Road and the animated scenes to be witnessed in the evenings. For nearly four years, it appeared to be tinged with the national gloom, and the incomparable charm of its surroundings and its facilities for pastimes were either the admiration of occasional visitors or the sole possession of the children living in that locality, but the transformation is now as complete in its vivacity as its aspect is enhanced in splendour”.

The Bowring Recreation Ground circa 1920

According to the Wellington Journal, hundreds were visiting the park and, within a year, a John Bowring Recreation Club had been formed. Its first meeting took place in May 1920 when 50 people attended a gathering chaired by a ‘Mrs Chubb’. They were not the only locals utilising the facilities either. In December, the Half Holiday Bowling Club met at the Fox and Hounds in Crown Street where its chair, Mr H Whalley, noted ‘the bowling green and the recreation ground attracted many young men to indulge in wholesome recreation’. By that time, however, the park was home to a much more unusual attraction, the presence of which was directly related to Wellington’s role in the war effort.

A Difficult Operation

In July 1919, the Trustees of the Bowring Recreation Ground offered the park to Wellington Urban District Council as a location for a gift to the town from the Controller of the National War Savings Committee, which was established in 1916. It promoted a number of national initiatives to raise funds for the war effort through the sale of bonds (such as ‘Business Men’s Week’, ‘War Weapons Week’ and ‘Thanksgiving Week’), co-ordinating the efforts of around 1800 local branches. Through a combination of general sales and by these various events, the Wellington and District Committee had raised over £497,000 (worth around £25 million today). Now, the reward for its notable achievement was to be the presentation of a fully-laden armoured tank!

The vehicle’s grand unveiling took place in March 1920 and appears to have attracted considerable interest, as the Wellington Journal reported:

‘The somewhat difficult operation of safely driving this massive weapon of war – fitted with two six pounders and machine gun – through the gates of the GWR good yard was witnessed with interest and curiosity’.


The World War One tank in Bowring Park being dismantled around 1937

From the railway yard, which was located on Bridge Road, a memorable journey followed along Haygate Road to the park, where the tank was manoeuvred over an embankment and ditch before coming to rest on a specially prepared bed of concrete. There, it remained as a lasting reminder of the ‘war to end all wars’ until the late 1930s, when the rusting edifice was broken-up. Interestingly, it was not the only relic of the Great War planned for permanent display in the park. In April 1919, Lt. Col. Hugh Oldham (who had recently moved to nearby Overley Hall) offered the urban district council a large gun captured in a siege during one of the final attacks against the Austrian army in Italy. When the Trustees agreed to host the tank they also made provision for the firearm, too, but it never seems to have arrived.