10 May 2015
Seeing the wisteria in bloom on my Saturday walk to work made me think of the wisteria arch in Andrews Park and there and then I decided to visit it on my Sunday walk. Back when I worked in the centre of Southampton and had an hour for lunch every day I used to walk in the parks all the time. These days I don’t get as many chances to watch the seasons change in them and I miss that.
Commando was off for a two hour run while I was walking so, after the wind and rain of the previous week we were both glad to see it was at least dry and not too blowy, although the skies were grey when I set out. Originally I’d planned to walk across Cobden Bridge and check out the swans by the slipway then walk up through Beovis Valley to the park. This entailed getting across the Main Road and, for some reason, it was busy so, rather than stand around waiting, I turned towards Chessel Bay instead.
A train was stopped under the station bridge as I crossed the Chessel Bay bridge and I almost got distracted by the bluebells on the woodland path along the bay. In the end I just peered over the gate, making a note to visit again soon, and walked through the tunnel of new leaves towards the river. On the corner by the skeleton ship the rock roses were flowering and the path was strewn with their wrinkled silk petals. To me they always look as if someone needs to iron them.
For a Sunday morning the road was still fairly busy when I reached the Big Bridge, perhaps there was a cruise ship coming in or going out. To keep away from the traffic as long as possible I walked along the daisy peppered embankment where the white beam trees now have their leaves with a few flower buds hiding amongst them if I’m not mistaken.
Eventually I had to go back to the road of course and, for a while, there was nothing much to see other than cars and houses. Because I wanted to start at the top end of the park I went under the underpass that always makes me think of Craig David and took the back streets towards the old Mad House building. As I climbed the old Mad House steps the familiar butterflies started up in my stomach even though I knew I would never have to go inside again. Then it was across the road and into the park.
The beautiful parks running through the centre of the city have their origin in the Lammas pastures that surrounded the town centre from medieval times until the ninteenth century. Green Flag winning East Park, also known as Andrews Park, was once the East Magdalens, or Marlands, lands belonging to the leper hospital of St Mary Magdalene. Entering at the north east corner, I started off along the mendering path towards the west under the spreading chestnut trees with their beautiful candelabras of white flowers. Two squirrels were foraging on the grass and I crept towards them hoping for a photo. They spotted me almost at once and scuppered my plans.
The wisteria may have drawn me to Andrews Park but there were other things I wanted to see first, not least the little alpine garden. As I was about to turn off onto the crazy paved path towards it I spotted my first roses of the year, single yellow flowers with a delicate scent that made me smile and think of summer. Beside them the silken frills of flag iris in matching yellow stopped me again.
The alpine garden was a mass of tiny flowers, not all of which I could identify. There were squills, I think, grasses, aquilegias and grape hyacinth. Close to the first wooden bridge more flag iris, these ones purple, caught my eye. Then there were the anemonies, almost over now but their spiky seed heads are almost as good as the flowers. Here and there the odd Welsh poppy has beaten the ones in my garden into flowering.
These gardens were built in the 1930’s and there are two ponds, the first I reached is a wildlife pond but I didn’t spot any frogs. The second pond, on the other side of the garden has carp, but they were hiding too. Once there was a bird aviary on the north west corner of the park beside the ponds but feelings about such things have changed over the years and it is long gone, now there are trees and grass instead.
This end of the park is dominated by a circular area enclosed by a wide path and divided into quadrants by more paths. The northen quadrants are bisected by the Queen’s Peace Fountain, part of the Millennium Project. The circular fountain is on slightly raised ground, a circle within a circle. It was opened in 2001 and is surrounded by stone benches, making it a pleasant place to sit on warm days with the gentle spray of water on the breeze. Back when I worked at Mad House we often sat beside it on hot summer lunchtimes.
On Sunday it had a distinct smell of chlorine to it and I wondered if this had anything to do with the tramps we saw washing in it from time to time back then. The calla lilies partly surrounding the fountain don’t seem overly concerned by the chlorine and are making a great show. The sun was trying to come out by this time so I sat for a while watching the water and smiling to myself.
Next I made my way to the centre of the circle where the statue of Richard Andrews, who the park is named for, stands. Andrews was born in 1796, the son of a wheelwright, and during his life owned a coach building business on Above Bar Street. This became one of the leading industries in the town and Andrews was a kind employer and philanthropist, promoting self reliance of the working man. He was so well respected he was elected Mayor of the town five times.
In 1861, two years after his death, the Bath stone statue was erected in his memory. Sadly the stone has not weathered well and the statue, designed by Philip Brannon and carved by local stonemason Benjamin Brain, is shadow of its former glory. Originally there was a rather grand pedestal and, in 2000, it was mounted on a new, much plainer, Portland Stone plinth. Since I last came this way, Andrews seems to have acquired a halo, possibly courtesy of the students from the neaby university. Given his good works and our local football team, The Saints, whose emblem is a stick man with a halo, this seems quite appropriate.
On my way to my next objective, the mosaic garden in the south east quadrant of the circle, I came across another squirrel. This time I was slightly more successful in my attempts to get a photo. He let me get quite close before he scurried up a tree and sat looking at me from the branches. Unfortunately, the iPhone was not quite up to the job.
The mosaic garden is another millennium addition, installed in 2000 to replace a water feature I can’t quite remember. Designed by artist Caroline Ishgar and built by Gary and Rob at Wallscapes it represents a fishpond made of ceramics and vitreous glass. It is actually best seen in the rain so maybe I’ll come back on a rainy day for more pictures. The portland stone benches, inlaid with more mosaics, remind me a little of Gaudi’s Guel Parc but without the sunshine. This is another pleasant place to sit in contemplation but I pressed on, eager to see the wisteria that had drawn me to this park…