The magic of a Bandstand. Interesting compositions within suburban surroundings of a former Spa Town.

Upon first appearances the town of Ilkeston — in Derbyshire might come across as being “ever so slightly ragged around the outside” and to some degree it is, although once you eventually scratch below the hypothetical ragged elements of the town, it is one steeped within history, sadly though the history that it is steeped in, remains largely unknown, and situated on a hill — it has views across the Erewash Valley towards “DH Lawrence County” which is a stone’s throw away over the border in Nottinghamshire, from the town it is possible to see the Bennerley Viaduct, one of the rare few surviving viaducts in the country, and it is this old Iron Giant, that hints like a whisper that Ilkeston might have more than meets the eye. And it certainly does, on one hand it has many old Victorian buildings, houses and a high street that you can glimpse into the past, at the facades of buildings that if they were anywhere else in the world would have at least had some restoration work to preserve them and keep the history alive.

At the top of the high street in Ilkeston is the 14th Century “St Mary’s Church” that overlooks the town and the subsequent surrounding area, a journey through to yesteryear and the Market Square along with the Church would have been very different, with frequent tram services ferrying locals around on a small but perfectly formed tram network, which for a “bath spa town” would have been considered something of a luxury. But as the town grew, goodbye was said to the tram network that would have been in place. But what would have happened if you had wanted to escape the rushes and business of this once busy town centre? Well you would have visited either the former baths at the bottom of the aptly named Bath Street — or if you wanted to relax and feel like you were well and truly on holiday then the local park would have beckoned you to visit.

And the park in question is something of an “urban lung” and triangular in shape. Ilkeston Victoria Park, is a park with a lot of history and it is one that throughout lockdown when we were told that exercise was actually allowed — compare that to the draconian restrictions of being cooped up inside, like people in Italy and Spain, found themselves and here in The UK, we thankfully had some of the lightest restrictions placed upon us. Yet the ability to discover places on the doorstep that we had perhaps never visited before or passed but never taken the time to discover because of the rushes of life — well suddenly and somewhat seemingly the rushes of life all grinded to a halt, as we were told to quite simply,

“Stay at home and protect the NHS. To exercise but with caution, to travel but stay local.”

Rules that at first confused a lot of people, but to me as a landscape photographer it was something of a blessing. Staying local of course meant that any plans that were made for the year 2020, some two years ago now, had been scuppered because of the pandemic. However, thinking outside the box meant that invention and innovation had to be used, and one of the places I found myself visiting was Ilkeston Victoria Park, this triangular shaped, yet small and perfectly formed urban lung within a suburban setting.

But was I the first person to have discovered the joys of this park? This urban lung surrounded by suburbia? No, of anything I was not. Ilkeston Victoria Park, dates back to 1852 when land reclamation took place, of course back then things would have been slightly different, however in the years after 1852 the park itself would have grown and the Victorian residents of the town would have found themselves with a place to escape the busy and thriving town centre. But here I was in 20020, discovering a place that I had passed many times before but never really had the chance to discover — yet thanks to a pandemic I had finally found the time, what with a slower pace of life, to discover something new that happened to hypothetically be right under my nose.

Throughout various stages of lockdown, no lockdown and lockdown and again, no lockdown the ability to explore this little sanctuary of a triangular shaped urban lung within suburbia became something that I would keep doing, and the exploration of Ilkeston Victoria Park was one that uncovered various photogenic compositions of curiosity. Curiosity of course because of the way that the park has been shaped and the subsequent internal landscape of the park itself.

Colours of the park.

As you can see from the above photo taken in December of 2020, I was left feeling amazed at Victoria Park, the layout and the design of the park stems back from yesteryear, and yet not a lot has changed, the design itself has pretty much remained the same and this within itself means that the park is full of curious angles that can make it interesting for photography, kudos as well to Erewash Borough Council, for the truly exquisite floral displays that always change with the seasons.

But there is another hidden treasure that Victoria Park is known for, and that is one that is an architectural gem which provides something of a centre point, which from anywhere on the park itself is difficult to ignore and it is not the following.

Parkland Passage.

“Parkland Passage” though does point towards one architectural gem, which is a covered pathway over which during the spring and summer trailing plants grow up and over, it really is a magical place to walk under, and this particular architectural gem itself uses old stonework from Nottingham Prison along with remnants from Shipley Hall, which is sadly now not there (apart from the ruins which can still be seen).

However in August of 1923 something else was constructed and subsequently welcomed to the park, and this is perhaps the main focal point of the park, it is covered but open to the elements on all sides and provides even today a point for entertainment, music, theatre and general being — I remember last year in 2021 standing inside of this majestic Bandstand that dates back to 1923 and a thunderstorm happening, yet I was sheltering underneath this old curious piece of architecture, grandeur and an experience within its own right.

Yet this bandstand somehow oozes something else, and for a landscape photographer the way that the bandstand blends in with the landscape of the beautifully curated parkland is quite something else.

“Autumn Bandstand”

Entitled “Autumn Bandstand” is a photograph of this delightful piece of stunning architecture, that dates back to 1923, cast your mind back to that time and things would have been different and the park and bandstand itself would have been,

“The place to be and to be seen, an ideal place for promenading”

Yet even in October 2021, a month that should have looked more autumnal, the glow of the bandstand was something else. And this bandstand itself lends itself to beautiful compositions which can be found from all around the park. Needless to say, that despite Autumn of 2021 not really taking place because of seismic changes in the weather, what little of autumn we did have made the above photograph of the bandstand look truly stunning, a golden glow and the slight hue of the autumn made things magical.

However last Friday, the 11th of February 2022, I found myself at Victoria Park — and whilst extra daylight hours have at long last arrived, the cusp of the last light was just seeping through and the encroaching darkness was getting nearer, if it had not been for the pandemic or lockdown and the joys of “lockdown discoveries” then the chances are is that I would not have been walking around this stunning piece of artistic landscape with the architectural artwork that is an old bandstand dating back to 1923.

Bandstand Glow — (Portrait) and Bandstand Glow — (Landscape).

Entitled quite simply as “Bandstand Glow” the following two photographs simply go to show that magic can be found right under our noses in the most simplistic and yet complex places. Yes one could say that parklands are simple green urban lungs that provide sanctuary — yet they are also complex places and when you have a piece of parkland, small yet perfectly formed and triangular in shape, steeped in history as Ilkeston Victoria Park, it says an awful lot. Sometimes the most interesting landscape compositions can be found in and around parklands, and when you add a bandstand into the picture, you really do get some interesting compositions within suburban surroundings and this is one of those places that you might simply drive by and never know the history.

Yet stop for a minute, slow down and explore and that local area of parkland or inner suburban park can provide so much more with stories that are just awaiting to be discovered.

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