Gloucester Park, named after the Duke and Duchess of
Gloucester*, who formally opened the park on June 26th 1957, is situated close to the town centre.
Laid out over 250 acres on former farm land previously farmed by Brewitts and Hunts, the area bore virtually no resemblance
to the park it is now, having no fishing lake, athletics stadium or cricket pavilion etc. The original plan, conceived in 1951 by Basildon Development
Corporation, was for a 355 acre park, and this included a Gloucester Park extension area on land
between St. Nicholas Lane and Basildon Road. This area was never developed though parts are still
left as natural woodland. In the early 1960s another area of the park was lost to housing when
the Ghyllgrove housing estate development commenced but the Development Corporation did create
an artificial lake on land adjoining the estate around 1960. It was some years later on 5th May 1963 when the Phase 1 & 2
developments began with a turf cutting ceremony carried out by then Chairman of Basildon Council,
Bert Phelps. The first phase included around 10 football pitches, a cricket square, and the
eventual Murryfield pavilion changing facilities and live entertainment social club.
landscaped hills created out of soil excavated in building
the new housing estates dominate the north eastern side. These were created over a number of years
with the last deposits occuring around the completion of the fishing lake in 1973. The hills were
officially named Sharpeville in 1985, to mark the 25th anniversary of a racially motivated
massacre of innocent protesting blacks in the township in South Africa on March 26th 1960, during the years of
apartheid and white rule.
An inscribed memorial to the event stands at the summit which reads as
follows: These hills were officially named the Sharpeville Hills to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sharpeville
massacre of 21st March 1960 when sixty nine black demonstrators were shot dead by South African police
whilst taking part in a peaceful protest against the Apartheid Pass Laws. The massacre caused the United
Nations to call upon the South African Government to abandon its policies of racial discrimination and
separate developments and inspired the formation of Anti Apartheid movements throughout the world. The
memorial stands as a permanent symbol of solidarity of the people of Basildon with the black majority population
of South Africa in the struggle to overthrow Apartheid and achieve freedom in their own country.
At the southern end stood the town's main championship-size swimming pool Gloucester
Park, opened in 1968.
During the early 1970s a six acre fishing lake with an artificial
island was constructed, opening on July 28th 1973. This was achieved by widening an existing
watercourse and digging out a new channel to create an artificial island and two coves on the southern
banks. The two acre island is home to wildfowl and heavily populated with willow trees. At the same time,
the eastern side of the lake was landscaped with more artificial hills.
A boating lake with two artificial islands was also completed adjacent to the swimming
A wooden building, known as Blackmore Hall and accessed from Ghyllgrove, was also erected
around 1973 for use by the 7th Basildon Scouts group and other social functions. This survived until
the late 1980s and is thought to have been destroyed by fire.
A 400 metre athletics track was opened on July 21st 1973, which
would later feature a covered spectator enclosure. Football finals are often held
there, and the venue, once known as Gloucester Park Bowl or Basildon Bowl due to the nature of
the hilly landscaping, is now called Gloucester Park Arena.
Another building completed in 1973
was the Gloucester Park Play Centre (GPPC) which opened in September. This was built to the rear of the Swimming Pool car park and used
in the council run Play Leadership scheme. It was later used as a child nursery and since April
2001 has been called Parklands Women's Centre and manned by Basildon Women's Refuge.
Further development in the mid 1970s saw tennis and netball courts added, a bowls green, crazy
golf course and the town's bandstand erected. Also in the 1970s, a cycle speedway track with
floodlighting was laid out at the northern end to the left of the main entrance off Cranes Farm Road.
A whole range of sporting activities including football, tennis, bowls, fishing, cricket and athletics can now be
enjoyed within the parks grounds.
The park has also played host to many other activities. Travelling fun fairs have set up
in the field behind the swimming pool regularly since the 1960s, as have various circuses like
Chipperfields and Gerry Cottle, and the Basildon Carnival used to end its procession
there. Basildon Round Table have held their annual Firework Fiesta in the park most years
since the mid 1970s. A memorable Fiesta occurred in the early 1990s when the event was held
adjacent to the main fishing lake; the fireworks issuing forth from the island lighting the
dark waters. A summer feature since 2001 has been the annual Basildon Festival, previously
held at Wat Tyler Park, Pitsea.
In 2009 work got underway on the new 'Sporting Village'
at the northern end of the park. A 50m International sized swimming pool is at the heart
of the new development which also included a sports hall and fitness suite. The Sporting
Village opened on 30th April, 2011. The athletics building and grandstand was removed during
2010 and the Murryfield pavilion was demolished later in the year. The former cycle speedway
track; once home to Basildon Cycle Speedway Club but unused and in disrepair for years, was also
taken up and is now an overflow car park. Gloucester Park swimming pool closed on 24th April,
2011 and was demolished during September/October 2011 along with the former Play Centre facility.
*The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (Henry William Frederick Albert; 31/03/1900 – 10/06/1974),
the 3rd son of King George V (03/06/1865 – 20/01/1936) and uncle to Queen Elizabeth II.
Alice, Duchess of Gloucester (née The Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott; 25/12/1901 – 29/10/2004).