Next month (November 2015) will be the 125th anniversary of the opening of the rotunda in Lambton Park in 1890. The park itself is older, and had a very uncertain beginning. The main difficulty was that much of the land east of Morehead St through to Hamilton was the “Newcastle Pasturage Reserve” or “Commonage”. Many people had built in this area without having any legal title to the land under their houses.
As early as 1871 Lambton Council was making application to the Minister for Lands to have some of the Commonage dedicated as a Park, but the legal uncertainties meant that nothing happened for years. The current site of Lambton Park began to be developed as a recreation ground about 1877, but without it being officially gazetted, the council and residents were reluctant to invest much time, money or effort into the park.
Frustration at years of government inaction finally came to a head in June 1883. At a public meeting, Mayor Thomas Croudace led the way in addressing the principal problem of what to do with the residents who had built houses on the park site. He offered cheap sites in the new subdivision between Pearson and Kendall streets, arranged for financial compensation, and even the physical relocation of their houses. The offer must have been good, for two weeks later the paper was reporting that …
“The work of removing houses from the proposed Recreation Reserve is still going on, under the supervision of his Worship the Mayor of Lambton, who has a large staff of men, together with teams of horses, engaged in the work. Four have now been removed bodily on rollers; their appearance and transit through the streets is a novelty and causes quite a sensation.”
Eventually 43 houses were moved, development of the park then progressed rapidly, and its future was finally assured when the government gazetted the land as a public park on 21 May 1887.
The article above was first published in the October 2015 edition of the Lambton Local.
Timeline of events
Note that the date shown is the date of the newspaper article, not the date of the events they describe.
|12 Sep 1871||Petition from ratepayers asking Lambton Council to request the Government to allocate 6 acres of land at Griffith’s Flat as a public recreation reserve. The residents have already stumped,cleared and leveled the ground.
Griffith’s Flat is the area around the southern section of Verulam Rd, as shown shaded in purple below
|10 Oct 1871||Council to survey the area of ground at Griffith’s Flat requested by the residents as a recreation reserve.|
|4 Nov 1871||12 acres surveyed at Griffith’s flat. The young men fond of cricket have cleared the area of trees and stumps.|
|18 Jul 1872||Minister favourable to granting application for reserve, but still nothing done.|
|23 Nov 1872||Discussion on the legal problem of the Commonage, and a call to have some uninhabited area of the Commonage reserved for public recreation.|
|22 Mar 1877||Lambton council to make yet another application to the government for Griffith’s Flat to be dedicated as a recreation ground.|
|2 Apr 1877||Newspaper suggests that the Griffiths Flat site is too distant from town, and suggests that the council should request the site adjoining the east end of town (the current park location) instead. This site is already being used as a cricket ground.|
|9 Oct 1877||Brass band performance on the new recreation ground. If the Council had a legal claim upon the land, more improvements would be made.|
|27 Jul 1878||Council intends to fence the new recreation ground bounded by Morehead St, Elder St and Howe St, to prevent people building houses on it.|
|5 Sep 1878||R.A.A. Morehead, manager of the Scottish Australian Mining Company writes to the council indicating that the company is willing to forego its rights to the land, and co-operate with the council in getting the land dedicated.|
|14 Nov 1878||St Leon’s circus operating on the new recreation ground.|
|25 Dec 1880||Minister for Lands refusing to grant any land for a recreation ground “until the Commonage question was settled”.|
|17 Mar 1882||Council meeting discussing the proposed recreation reserve, including a description of the boundaries of the 35 acre site. Much of the meeting was taken up with the principal problem of what to do with the residents who had built houses on the Commonage land where the park was proposed.
One suggestion was to dedicate the whole proposed area, and allow the residents to remain, but with a condition that they not be allowed to make any improvements and “that the houses be allowed to decay by the effusion of time.” Presumably the thinking was that as the houses fell into ruin the occupants would eventually abandon them and that in the end the whole area of the recreation ground would become available.
A second suggestion was to allow the residents to remain by reducing the size of the recreation ground by “three chains” (66 yards) on the Elder, Morehead and Howe St sides. This would have resulted in a park 35% smaller than the current park, as shown below.
|23 Aug 1882||A letter from the Department of Lands stating that “respecting the appropriation of an area of land at Lambton for public recreation, I have the honour to inform you that the necessary provision will be made”.
This turned out to be a bit of an empty “honour” as it was nearly five years later that this promise was finally fulfilled.
|20 Jun 1883||The pivotal public meeting, chaired by Mayor Thomas Croudace, in which the principal difficulty of what to do with the residences on the park site was finally resolved. Mr Croudace, on behalf of Lambton Colliery resolved to assist residents who would need to move by
The meeting also resolved to raise funds from the community for compensating residents.
|21 Jun 1883||Already £50 has been collected from public subscriptions towards the compensation fund.|
|23 Jun 1883||Mr Melville, the local member of the state parliament indicates that if the residents willingly remove from the park site then he will get the site gazetted, but there is little hope that the Government will contribute to the compensation fund.|
|29 Jun 1883||Houses are being removed from the park site. “Mr. Croudace kindly sent men and horses to assist in the removal, and proffers assistance in removing others.”|
|6 Jul 1883||“The work of removing houses from the proposed Recreation Reserve is still going on, under the supervision of his Worship the Mayor of Lambton, who has a large staff of men, together with teams of horses, engaged in the work. Four have now been removed bodily on rollers; their appearance and transit through the streets is a novelty and causes quite a sensation. The removal, of course, causes inconvenience to the owners of the houses for the time being, but this they appear to bear cheerfully, seeing that a public benefit in the shape of a recreation ground will ultimately be the result.”|
|16 Jul 1883||Entertainment night in the Music Hall for the purpose of raising money for the compensation fund.|
|8 Jul 1884||“The amount of money spent in removing houses; fencing and improving the reserve up to the present is over £600. For about £500 of this the residents are indebted to the liberality of the Lambton Company and their manager.”|
|8 Apr 1886||After years of doing nothing, the Government is about to gazette the Lambton Recreation Reserve, but some correspondence from the Mines Department alerts the Council to the fact that the government is about to dedicate the wrong piece of land! They were going to gazette the small area of land on Griffiths Flat that the council had requested 10 years previously in 1877, not the current recreation ground adjacent to Lambton township.|
|31 Dec 1886||The park is still not yet dedicated but already it “has been fixed with a sawn picket fence, cleared, drained, borders trenched and planted with trees and shrubs.” The Government promises a £150 grant when the ground is dedicated, which prompts the Lambton Mayor to caustically reply that he expects that time “judging from past experience may be five years hence.”|
|9 Jul 1887||“The land at Lambton, which was dedicated for the purposes of public recreation on 21st May, 1887, is to be a public park within the meaning of the Public Parks Act of 1884, and is to be known by the name of Lambton Park.”|
|31 Oct 1887||Public meeting to present a testimonial to Thomas Croudace for his work in establishing the park.
In his return speech, Mr Croudace “recollected the time when the late Dr. Hill had told him that they would never get typhoid fever out of Lambton till they had that part of the Commonage now known as the park thoroughly drained. They should urge their representatives in the Council to carry on tree-planting, also lay out plots for flower beds in the western part of the reserve, and to prevent cattle running upon it.”