Campbell Park, Milton Keynes

Overview

Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1467405
Date first listed:
18-Aug-2020
Statutory Address:
Milton Keynes Parks Trust Ltd, 1300 Silbury Boulevard, Campbell Park, Milton Keynes, MK9 4AD

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
Milton Keynes Parks Trust Ltd, 1300 Silbury Boulevard, Campbell Park, Milton Keynes, MK9 4AD

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District:
Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Campbell Park
District:
Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Central Milton Keynes
National Grid Reference:
SP8642639535

Summary

A public park opened in 1984, based on a design of 1973-1975 by Derek Walker, Stuart Mosscrop and Andrew Mahaddie, revised by Neil Higson around 1980, with later alterations and developments.

Reasons for Designation

The landscape of Campbell Park is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest

* Date and rarity: the park is one of the largest to be laid out in England in the C20 and C21 and takes influences from C18 and C19 landscapes and fuses them into a contemporary design;

* Architectural / Archaeological interest: the design respects the natural landscape and the industrial archaeology of the Grand Union Canal, but also forms a point of transfer between the city centre built on a grid pattern and the wide, natural landscape beyond. Its strong geometric forms are offset by a central pastoral landscape and the park is ‘magnificently generous and on the right scale for the city’ according to Pevsner and Williamson;

* Social history: the design is representative of the pioneering spirit of Milton Keynes, taking pride in forging a dynamic city from a disparate group of people, who came together to established their community in a new environment.

Design interest

* Designers: the site represents the inspiration of Derek Walker, Stuart Mosscrop and Andrew Mahaddie in designing a park which was to match the claims of Milton Keynes as ‘The Beautiful City', and the detailed refinement and implementation by Neil Higson of that outline design;

* Planning: the park forms a central feature in the unique plan of Milton Keynes, Britain’s most successful Post-War new town;

* Planning: the incorporation of planting and planning to encourage biodiversity on this scale, from this date, and in the centre of a developing city, is notable;

* Features: the site combines natural and artificial topography to produce an outstanding unified design, including earth moving, water features, the Grand Union Canal, a cricket pitch and an open-air auditorium and incorporates a series of sculptures from the 1990s onwards by noted artists;

* Documentation: printed and manuscript background information exists for the design and financing of the parks in Milton Keynes, including autobiographical accounts by two of the designers, and gives a clear indication of the evolution of the plan for Campbell Park and its various alternative schemes (see SOURCES).

Survival:

* the scheme as laid out in the master plan of 1980 has been little altered. When a feature such as the large, circular pond has been replaced by the Milton Keynes Rose, the new feature respects the spirit and form of the original.

Group value:

* the park has group value with the Shopping Building, Midsummer Boulevard, which shares its sense of scale and generous use of space, and the Central Library, Silbury Boulevard (both Grade II).

History

The area between the towns of Wolverton and Bletchley, two largely C19 industrial settlements, remained an area of small villages and poor farmland until the early 1970s. Its plateau of gravels and clays was bisected by two river valleys, the larger of which was followed by the Grand Union Canal of 1805 and the smaller by the London to Birmingham railway line. The site of Campbell Park was farmland, with a single agricultural building in the valley near its north-western corner.

A new city of 250,000 people (four times that of the first new towns of the 1940s) was first proposed in 1962 by Buckinghamshire County Council (Bucks CC) as a means of relieving overcrowding in the south part of the county and of fulfilling the county’s commitment to take overspill from London. Bletchley was already working with the London County Council / Greater London Council to receive Londoners as part of the expanded towns programme instituted by Act of Parliament in 1952, but with limited funding and ragged results. Bucks CC’s imaginative scheme, centred on Loughton to the west of the present centre and featuring a series of communities linked by monorail, was drawn up by Bill Berrett for the county architect Fred Pooley, earning it the name in subsequent literature of ‘Pooleyville’.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government in its South East Study published in 1964 similarly identified the area for a new town of far greater size than any previously designated, but placed its centre to the east of the railway line. Amongst the existing villages there was Milton Keynes, which gave its name to the new town designated on 11 January 1967. Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker & Bor were appointed master planners in late 1967 and produced an interim study in 1969 and two-volume final report in 1970, with Peter Youngman advising on the landscape. They established the grid of roads based on a kilometre square, identified the area of Central Milton Keynes and left the area to its east to be developed as two golf courses accessed by public footpaths with a hotel and convention centre. They were located there ‘partly to extend the space of the canal/Ouzel park, partly to bring the hard edge of the centre into sharp contrast with the space and partly to exploit the views over the ground that falls steeply to the canal’ (The Plan for Milton Keynes, part 2, Milton Keynes Development Corporation, 1970, p.325). Youngman’s landscape plan concentrated on the importance of landscaping the Grand Union Canal and the valleys of the River Ouzel and Loughton Brook.

Landscape work in the new city initially focussed on developing these linear parks along the existing water courses, and in screening the grid roads. Bor’s plan from 1970 showed landscaped squares within the city centre, but this element was revised in 1971-1972. The chief architect Derek Walker (1929-2015), appointed in 1970, set out on a personal mission to make the city ‘greener than the landscape around it’ (see SOURCES, Guardian) and brought in a new city centre team headed by Stuart Mosscrop, with whom he had previously worked in Yorkshire. Mosscrop noticed that the new centre was almost aligned with the rising sun on the summer solstice and accordingly made a minor adjustment; this was tested by assembling the team very early to check the results in what was then a muddy field.

Walker and his team revised the town centre as a series of large, isolated buildings and the land to its east as parkland. A grandiose strategy developed by Tony Southard (1938-2006, a landscape architect who came from the Greater London Council) and Andrew Mahaddie (the urban designer charged to create a continuous landscape) also included a City Club – a fashionable concept for an arts and entertainment centre indebted to Joan Littlewood’s unrealised ‘Fun Palace’ proposals of the 1960s, of which three versions were produced in 1972-1977. There was also to be an ambitious sculpture garden, with an education centre for artists and local children, for which Walker secured support from Henry Moore. Although these were the subject of captivating perspective drawings by Helmut Jacoby (1926-2005) and written about by Walker (Architectural Design (1994)), these two elements were victims of funding cuts in the mid-1970s. Mahaddie proposed an artificial hill inspired by Silbury Hill, as shown in a classic Jacoby perspective of 1971, which informed the treatment of the high ground near the city centre. In an aerial perspective of Milton Keynes in 1972 by Jacoby the circular structure near the entrance (now called the Milton Keynes Rose) and Belvedere in their sculpted landscape are shown substantially as realised. These ideas were conceived by Mosscrop as part of the structure of the City Centre and refined by Mahaddie.

A planning scheme of September 1973 introduced a central park for the ‘Park Grid Square’ to be flanked by ‘high quality’ housing and commercial developments beyond boulevards to the north and south. Campbell Park thus lies between Avebury and Silbury Boulevards, with Midsummer Boulevard leading from the park through the middle of the town centre to a new railway station at its western end. Newport Pagnell Rural District Council opposed the introduction of buildings to this square, leading to a long delay. The planner Bill Berrett explained that ‘the central park of the City should be more formal and urban in character than other areas of open space (such as the adjoining Linear Park, the 'Canal Boardwalk'), thus providing contrast and variety’ (letter of 18 January 1974, D-MKDC/4/4/158, Buckinghamshire Archives). The corporation produced sketches ‘of general intent’ in July 1975. They show a viewpoint with a play castle and a round pond on the highest ground to the west with to the north a cone and grotto leading to a valley walks and ‘winter walk’ that followed the stream that runs west-east along the park’s northern edge. The higher ground to the south was to be laid out as a ridge walk and sculpture park. Most of the park was, however, envisaged as ‘an informal “Woburn Abbey” type of parkland’ (1975 report, D-MKDC/4/4/158) sloping down to the canal and linear park in the east. These plans were approved only in 1977, although some planting began in late 1975.

Earth moving began in 1975 using surplus soil from the city centre and major roads to enhance the high ground and create the site of the Belvedere, where previously land had sloped in a shallow basin to the canal. Tree planting began the same year (Annual Report March 1976). Neil Higson (born 1936) had studied under Frank Clark at Reading and worked for the LCC, Basildon and Essex CC before making his reputation as a landscape architect at Runcorn new town. He was first head-hunted in 1975 by the general manager Fred Lloyd Roche, who had also come from Runcorn, but instead set up a small private practice in Stony Stratford partly supported by work from Milton Keynes. Roche persuaded him to join MKDC full-time and form the Central Landscape Design Team only in 1977. Higson inherited a landscape ravaged by Dutch elm disease. Also, 200,000 saplings had been killed by the drought of 1976, 40,000 of them in Campbell Park. He set out formal development plans and management programmes, which gave emphasis to the long-term ecological future of the landscape, and established a central plant nursery while using semi-mature trees and fast-growing species for quick results. He introduced conifers to give solidity during the winter.

There is a master plan of 1980 (D-MKDC/18/1871, Buckinghamshire Archives) which shows the park much as laid out, save that one of the major roads (V9) was still set to run through it – this was eliminated from the scheme only in February 1988. A set of planting plans dates from 1983 but, save for the cricket ground with its stepped grass bank providing an amphitheatre of seating (1981), only the western part of the park had been laid out when it was opened in 1984 by Lord Campbell of Eskan, chairman of the development corporation between 1970 and 1983. A more detailed outline development plan was produced in November 1985 (D-MKDC/18/431, Buckinghamshire Archives). It claimed that ‘In compact form Campbell Park will combine many of the characteristics of Holyrood Park and Princes Street, Edinburgh; St James and Regents Park London; the gardens of Hidcote and Rousham, and Central Park in New York, providing a climax to the Milton Keynes park system which will balance and complement the city centre.’ The relationship with surrounding buildings, which remains uncompleted in 2020, was thus very important. The open-air theatre and what was described as a ‘folk garden’ were added in 1987.

The Milton Keynes Parks Trust was created in July 1990 as a registered charity, and took over responsibility for the city’s parks and open spaces when the development corporation was wound up in 1992. Its work is supported by a dossier of commercial properties, including pubs and filling stations as well as sports centres, a garden centre, youth hostel and the Cofferidge Close shopping centre, housing and welfare offices. The Trust bought sculptures during the 1990s and in 2009 set up a Ten Year Public Art Plan for Campbell Park which has seen further additions to the landscape. This pattern of addition is likely to continue in the future.

Details

A public park opened in 1984, based on a design of 1973-1975 by Derek Walker, Stuart Mosscrop and Andrew Mahaddie, revised by Neil Higson around 1980, with later alterations and developments.

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM AND SETTING

Location: Campbell Park is the central part of a large grid square immediately east of Central Milton Keynes, bounded to the north-east by the Grand Union Canal. The central south-west to north-east axis of the grid square that runs through the city centre, is called Midsummer Boulevard because the sun rises along it on that day. This line continues into the park and terminates at the Belvedere. In many sources, the alignment of the park is often given as running west-east and this can make descriptions clearer and is used here. A path leading down the eastern side of the Belvedere links the city centre to the canal, from which a greenway runs through the adjoining grid square (Newlands) leading to Willen Lake a mile away, a settling lake created alongside the River Ouzel.

Area: 113.67 acres / 46ha.

Boundaries: the park is bounded to the south-west by Marlborough Gate (with the busier V8 Marlborough Street set in a cutting alongside crossed by a bridge from Midsummer Boulevard); to the north by Silbury Boulevard, to the south by Avebury Boulevard and a horseshoe block of flats, and to the east by the Grand Union Canal, with a bridge leading to a green corridor connecting the park to Willen Lake (see below). The double row of Lombardy Poplars which flank the canal towpath on its eastern side are part of a linear park called 'The Canal Broadwalk' which extends to the north and south.

Setting: the park forms the eastward extension of the town centre. The sites to the north and south were intended for high-value projects that would provide a worthy frame to the park, but are still only partly developed. However, there is a major project in progress in the south-east corner of the park by the canal.

Landform and Soils: the site slopes sharply down to the east towards the River Ouzel and Grand Union Canal. It has a distinctive central ridge made up by tipping of spoil, terminating in the Belvedere, with a steep valley to the north, and one less steep to the south where a wooded ridge runs along the boundary. The dry valley from the Belvedere runs into a stream. This follows the north side of the park which has more formal gardens.

The area is formed largely of Oxford clays, which dip south-east towards the chalk hills to the east and south. They are cut through by the valley of the River Ouzel, a tributary of the River Ouse that forms the northern boundary of Milton Keynes, and topped by glacial gravels that form the high land on which the city centre is built. The park drains from south-west to north-east towards the canal. Excavated earth from the city centre and road network was used to form the ridge of the Belvedere.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

The most important entrance is at the centre of the south-west boundary where a pedestrian underpass leads from the central reservation of Midsummer Boulevard, under Marlborough Gate and across a footbridge over Marlborough Street. Other access is from the boulevards to the north-west and south-east.

There are two important approaches which cross the Grand Union Canal on footbridges, one at an oblique angle from Woolstone and the River Ouzel, and the other from a wide grassy corridor that continues the axis of the park across the neighbouring grid square, Newlands, towards Willen Lake, with round pavement setts forming an exedra.

To the north-west, on Silbury Boulevard, the most important pedestrian entrance is marked by the sculpture Chain Reaction.

Cars can cross the park along Overgate, and a car park entered from the north on the Cricket Green roundabout serves the cricket pavilion and Parks Trust offices. Car parks off Avebury Boulevard serve the events plateau, with a smaller screened car park to the east and by the canal on Silbury Boulevard; there is also a helipad, close to the Events Plateau at the south-west corner.

VIEWS

There are views west to the city with its skyline of modern buildings, and dramatic long views to the north-east and east across the river valley (though the river and Willen Lake are concealed by a road bridge). Views northwards are deliberately restricted by banking and the landscaping of the City Gardens, and to the south by trees (the Woodland Ridge). The effect may change dramatically once the land here is developed.

PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS

The cricket pavilion also includes the offices of the Parks Trust, and opened in about 1998. A planned entertainments pavilion and café was delayed in mid-2018, but may be built in a revised form in the future, possibly including a play area for children.

To the south the park is overlooked by a horseshoe development of flats, Campbell Heights by Hadden Few Montuschi with Inbo Architecten Bna of The Netherlands, first envisaged as a terminating feature to Enmore Gate in 1980. The Plan: MK Draft Plan of February 2017 envisages the building of 3,500 new homes in the grid squares either side of the park. GSA/ Crest Nicholson and Urban Splash have been appointed to produce a design for development on the northern side of the park.

The Events Plateau area includes an amphitheatre with terraces cut into the grass. The stage area is circular and the built backdrop has gabion baskets with steel arches supporting a canopy.

At the eastern end of the park, the Grand Union Canal is crossed by two early-C19 canal bridges of brick and stone, neither of which is statutorily listed.

SCULPTURES

The Belvedere, the highest point of the site, is demarcated by the steel white beacon Light Pyramid by Liliane Lijn. It was lit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on 4 June 2012. A traditional fire beacon was erected here for the Armada celebrations in 1988 as part of the nationwide official chain of beacons, but was struck by lightning in 2002 and removed.

Milton Keynes Rose by Gordon Young, completed 2014, is an open-air circle bounded by hedges that replaced a round pond, with markings based on the mathematical beauty of a flower. On it stand 106 granite pillars of varying height, of which 64 have been engraved with dedications to past events in Milton Keynes' history, e.g. 5 July 1953, the date the first tea bag was produced in the UK at Tetley’s factory in Bletchley. New inscriptions are selected by a panel every two years. One is dedicated to Neil Higson and reads '‘My contribution to Milton Keynes can be identified in the making The labyrinth of freedom. I headed the Central Landscape Design team from 1977 with the brief to make the much publicised image of Milton Keynes as The Beautiful City believable and real. Look around you and BELIEVE…’ .

Cave, Ivan and Heather Morrison 2011 Formed of concrete and wood, it celebrates the relationship between Campbell Park and Milton Keynes Gallery and offers a shelter where the stream would have left the pond replaced by Milton Keynes Rose. It is a bench shielded by sloping shuttered concrete on two sides, with a concrete plinth forming a third, creating an open-ended triangle

Armillary Sphere, Justin Tunley, 1995 A sundial of laser cut steel with stone carving, date in Roman and Arab numerals MCMXCV 1995. It was located in the Labyrinth to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Milton Keynes Housing Association, then being renamed Midsummer Housing and relates to the latter’s sundial logo.

Animals in War, Ronald Rae, 1998, sited 2012. A granite memorial to animals who have died in wars, in particular the horses that served in the First World War. It was given by Rae in memory of Edna Read (1929-2012), who promoted public art in the city.

War Veteran, Ronald Rae, 1997. A granite relief sculpture of a land mine victim. On long-term loan from the artist.

Chain Reaction, Ray Smith, 1992 Laser cut mild steel, painted red. Created specifically for the northern entrance to the park, a model of figures balanced like acrobats in a seemingly endless chain. It is the most prominent piece, sited near the centre of the north side of the park.

Circle Dance, Claire Wilks, 1997 A living sculpture created from fresh willow wands threaded through a structure of steel rods. Commissioned by MK Craft Guild and Commission for the New Towns for the 1997 Midsummer Art Show, it was sited near the canal in 1998. The sculpture represents a group of figures holding hands.

Head, Allen Jones, 1990 A fine piece formed of Cor-ten steel, it comprises a series of 2D silhouettes used to create a three-dimensional form, which slowly reveals the face, prominently set on high land on the south side of the park.

Gnomon (Shadow Caster), Peter Bowker 1994 Ffestiniog blue slate and bronze, commissioned by the Parks Trust. A ley-line is believed to run through the centre of Milton Keynes and the sculpture references this.

Onwards and Upwards, Robert Koenig, 2011 A totem pole carved with three figures from a single piece of 8m high sweet chestnut, representing the growth of the park and the city. It replaced Koenig’s Metropolis which was removed in 2000 due to deterioration.

Many of the sculptures are tall and provide prominent features in the landscape as well as being works of art. Their scale and setting are reminiscent of obelisks, urns or figurative sculpture in C18 landscape design.

LANDSCAPE

The park comprises five principal interconnected zones, although the boundaries between these are deliberately blurred and there are numerous smaller areas within the overall scheme.

Next to the city centre at the west end of the park is a high plateau overlooking the surrounding landscape. It was always high – it is the end of the main gravel plateau – but has been enhanced by tipping. It was the first part of the park to be laid out, before 1984, with conifer hedges and spring bulbs. In the north-west corner is the circular Labyrinth maze of turf and brick paving, set within a thick evergreen hedge. At its southern/south-eastern end is an Events Plateau that includes an open air theatre with amphitheatre seating terraces cut into the grassed bank on its west. A circular reflecting pool was redeveloped as The Milton Keynes Rose in 2012-2013. Tipping extended this high ground eastwards in the dramatic form of a long ridge where a path leads above grassed banks to the Belvedere, from which there are views across the valley towards the Bedfordshire clay vale.

By contrast the central area of the park is pasture land, sometimes grazed by sheep who are kept in by wrought-iron parkland fences and cattle grids. Interspersed within this grassland are clumps of native trees. The wild flowers and unpaved paths that wind through much of this area give the impression of being within tranquil countryside, and it is left uncut in the early summer until mown for hay. At the eastern end of this area is the Cricket Ground, created in 1981 within a shallow bowl, with terraces for seating graded into the slope. A large old oak tree was carefully retained on its north-west side. The contrasting nature of these elements with the surrounding landscape is similar in concept to the balance of formality and informality on the west side of the park.

Along the north-north-west edge are the south-facing City Gardens, gardenesque plantings of trees and largely non-native shrubs designed to be an urban park with seating. A semi-circular series of beds and hedges opens out from Chain Reaction (see above) as the centrepiece of what are called the Hanging Gardens, with terraces and zig-zag paths planted with non-native species in 1987-1989. Higson wanted to plant examples of all the species used in the landscaping of the new city, but now the planting mainly consists of ground-hugging shrubs and small trees, with jasmine and roses to give scent. A stream bed, often dry, but with ponds (including a settling pond at its upper end) and a weir crossed by steel bridges and a small gazebo, bounds this area and it is protected by red stained, resin impregnated fencing that adds to the formality. The ponds provide a habitat for amphibians and other species. In the middle section of the park, the watercourse is diverted into a series of rills and pools edged with granite setts alongside the main pathway. Downstream it becomes more natural and in the Lower Park water gardens terminate in an informal pond.

On the south edge is a woodland ridge on high ground with paths and vistas. It is planted with native species such as oak, ash, birch and hawthorn, and the remains of an ancient hedge, recognised for its value in retaining and encouraging wildlife. This area, known as Woodland Ridge, is managed by traditional methods of coppicing of the trees and layering of the hedgerows. There are laurels and evergreen shrubs as well as bulbs and cowslips. Paths are bark chipped for a natural look.

Beyond Overgate on the flat land towards the Grand Union Canal is the Lower Park, where the band of woodland cuts northwards and narrows the grassland area, with a separate clump of small trees. To the north is an informal pond (see above) with a decorative bridge.

ADDITIONAL ELEMENTS OUTSIDE THE PARK

North-east from Campbell Park, in Newlands, and separated by the theme park Gulliver’s Land and a sports centre, is the Tree Cathedral. Laid out by Neil Higson in 1986, it is based on Norwich Cathedral, with hornbeam and lime for the nave, evergreens for the central tower and spires, and flowering cherry and apple as focal points in the chapels. It is orientated on the Midsummer Boulevard angle north-east towards the midsummer sun rather than due east.

Further north of this, west of the northern part of Willen Lake is the peace pagoda and labyrinth; Japanese temple and garden, with between them a viewing point formed of spoil from the lake.

Sources

Books and journals
The Heritage of Milton Keynes: The Story of the Original CMK
The Heritage of Milton Keynes: The Story of the Original CMKLiving Archive: Neil Higson interviewed 5 March 2019
Milton Keynes Development Corporation, , Art at Work in Milton Keynes, (1992)
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, (1994), 517
Higson, N, 'City of Trees' in Landscape Design, , Vol. 168, (Landscape Design, August 1987), 24-29
'Milton Keynes Annual Reports' in Milton Keynes Annual Reports, , Vol. D-MKC/4/4/158, (1973-1978), 1
Websites
Buckinghamshire Gardens Trust Research and Recording Project, accessed 18/10/2019 from http://www.bucksgardenstrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Campbell_Park-MK.pdf,
Guardian article on founding of Milton Keynes, accessed 04/06/2020 from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/03/struggle-for-the-soul-of-milton-keynes
Other
Derek Walker and Andrew Mahaddie Archives, City Discovery Centre, Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes

Legal

This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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