The Eagle Recreation Ground
Bounded by the railway to the East, a 1920s housing estate to the south, Victorian terrace housing on Eagle Street to the West and the Aga Rangemaster factory to the north, the Eagle Rec is one of South Town’s little gems of green space.
It has access points to the Grand Union Canal, to Aylesford Street and to Shrubland Street and is traversed by a footpath whose origins go back at least to medieval times. (see www.leamingtonhistory.co.uk/?p=414 )There is some evidence from broken crockery that parts of the area may have been used as a tip in the late 19thC, and fragments of medieval pottery have also been found.
A line of mature lime trees with resident crows borders the railway, while groves of smaller trees (birch and hornbeam) cover the western mound, where children run in and out around them in the summer. Other smaller trees bring dappled shade to the newly developing Nature Area in the south-eastern corner. Plantings of relatively young oak, ash and so forth have some well-managed undergrowth of brambles, while the children’s playground contains a substantial cluster of blossom trees – beautiful in flower, and producing delicious plums later in the year. Mixed blackthorn hedges screen the factory slightly and are a joy in early spring.
Local residents recall a time when one could hire rounders equipment from a stall and play all day, when football was played competitively on the Rec, when there were changing rooms, toilet facilities and even a park keeper who locked up at night. They remember the stream that ran under the (now) carpark, and the air raid shelter nearby.
The Rec has come through a time of relative neglect at the close of the twentieth century, when it had a reputation for harbouring ne’er do wells, drunks and druggies, pushed south by stricter laws in the town centre. As I understand it, the turnaround began around the year 2003 when local residents formed a community group, the Friends of Eagle Rec, whose aim was to make the Rec more accessible and attractive. This dedicated and tenacious group successfully raised funds from Natural England, from Lottery funding and from the Biffa Waste Management landfill tax. The Eagle Rec was declared a Doorstep Green with an 80-year covenant forbidding building development.
FOER also liaised with local residents and schools to establish what usage was most desirable, and pressured the council to maintain the grounds to a higher standard. The funds paid for a tarmac running track and fitness equipment dotted around the track; for a basketball practice area (much used for many ball sports); for equipment in the playground; and for beautification in the form of cast iron archways.
Benches with an ‘eagle’ motif were installed. Plantings of bulbs, trees and shrubs were funded and members donated their own time to put these in. One sees joggers of all ages using the track, along with kids learning to ride bikes and hip-replacement patients learning to walk again; dogwalkers love the open space; the basketball court is rarely empty, and children of all ages make good use of the playground. Photographers have taken beautiful pictures there; people without gardens come to watch the birds, and marvel at the starlings in their murmurations. The list of bird species spotted on the Rec is a long one. The Eagle Rec serves a densely populated neighbourhood, and (as my mother-in-law once said to me): ‘A small house wears hard’. The same can be said of our lovely green spot: it needs constant, dedicated care and attention.
Dates and dimensions
The Eagle Recreation Ground was established in 1896 – ownership of land was ‘transferred from Guy Earl of Warwick, Lord Leigh and Countess Aylesford to the Aldermen and Burgesses of Leamington Spa.’ (Quoting the Land Registry Deeds). This was the conclusion of a protracted campaign by the Council to establish a recreation ground for the health of the people of Leamington. At first the Rec stretched from a canal frontage to a hedge line halfway across the present Rec. (still visible on the Land Registry deeds), apparently on land that had been a cricket ground. Later the canal-side section was sold to Flavel’s and the right-of-way was shifted so that pedestrians have to walk around the Flavel’s factory extension to reach the ladder bridge over the Grand Union Canal. The Rec was extended southwards (by purchase of land) to its present boundaries, and the hedge removed.
FOER’s improvement works on the Rec took some years to complete, and the then members of FOER showed energy and dedication in following these through. Improvements included play equipment; a running track; a teen shelter; benches with an eagle motif; a tarmac netball practice area; and the much-loved iron arches.
In 2014 this all came in very handy when the Council and a developer wanted to build flats and houses on the western part of the Rec. Local people petitioned the Council in a wave of public support for the Rec, pointing out how valuable it is in the lives of people who live nearby, many of whom have no garden or other access to the natural world. Councillors quickly saw our point of view and the building plans were abandoned. Since then the resurrected FOER have negotiated with Severn Trent, to make good the damage caused by their pipeworks through 2014. Severn Trent were asked to have the wildflower areas planted, which were hugely successful through the summer, and to supply new benches for the playground. FOER liaise with the Council over tree management, litter picking and general improvements to the play facilities. New football goals replaced the rusty old ones in late 2014, and are much used now.
Please feel free to download and share the pdf flier for the Eagle Rec