One of the oldest surviving playground rocking horses has been restored to its former glory and returned “home” after being rescued from a ditch where it had been abandoned and left to rust.
The ride, believed to date back up to 70 years, was one of the attractions invented by Charles Wicksteed, the man who created many of the playground attractions loved by generations of children.
He created swings and slides as part of his vision to inspire and encourage play as part of families’ health and well-being and installed them at Wicksteed Park, Kettering.
The park has become known as the home of children’s play because of its international significance and is now searching for other “hidden gems” so they can be restored too.
The ride was discovered in a ditch near Margate by a salvage yard and put up for sale on eBay, where it was seen by Oliver Wicksteed, Charles’ great grandson and Chairman of Wicksteed Charitable Trust, which was formed to ensure Charles’ work continued after his death.
The rocking horse – nicknamed Rocky by park staff – was brought back to Kettering and lovingly restored by staff at Wicksteed Playgrounds, the manufacturing business set up by Charles, which is still based in the town.
It’s now set to have pride of place next to the park’s free playground, where it will be enjoyed by children once more as part of a project to bring the history of children’s play to life.
Charlie Howard, Managing Director at Wicksteed Playgrounds, said: “We are delighted to be part of this great project. I am happy to say that, thanks to plenty of TLC and the skill of our staff, we were able to fully restore Rocky and it is great to see him in the park and being enjoyed by the children there.”
Oliver Wicksteed said: “Rocky isn’t just part of the heritage of the park or Wicksteed Playgrounds but he is part of the history of children’s play and how it developed as a result of the vision and foresight of Charles Wicksteed.
“The ride is a working history lesson for the children that enjoy it and we hope to bring many more pieces of play equipment back into use as part of our project to bring the history of the park alive to all visitors through physical interpretation and engagement.”
Charles Wicksteed, who made his fortune in engineering, opened Wicksteed Park to encourage young people and families to enjoy unrestricted outdoor play.
Before then, public parks were typically very formal places, where children were warned to keep off the grass.
The joy the children got from his primitive swings and slides pushed him on to create more and more play equipment, which became so popular that it was exported around the world.
In his 1928 book, A Plea for Children’s Recreation after School Hours and after School Age, Charles proclaimed: “I have good reason to believe that the park I have formed has changed the lives for the better, to a greater or lesser extent of thousands of children.
“I have direct evidence from mothers how whining, pale-faced children, complaining of any food they get, have come back with healthy faces and rosy complexions, ready to eat the house out after a good play in the playground.”
Wicksteed Park, near Kettering, combines 147 acres of beautiful parkland with attractions such as rollercoasters and rides.
It has a host of new attractions for 2017, including the fantastic new Sway Rider wave swing.