Past, Present and Future
The St. Helen’s Park Estate Preservation Society was formed in 1955 to help save the land from development. At a public enquiry the Minister deemed it of great importance as a public open space.
The Society and the land it owns is in the stewardship of a Council comprising volunteers who take the responsibility of continuing its aims toward preservation of the land and of ensuring the financial probity of Society affairs. However, these administrative duties would be ineffectual without the support of the membership and in particular, of the Working Party that undertakes much of the day to day maintenance required and of the Events Committee that organise and run the fundraising events that take place throughout the year. The names and faces change over the years, but the work goes on. Here for example, is a pictorial record of a Working Party in action. As you can see from the clothing, this is not a recent picture!
Can you identify where in the woods this work is taking place and what they are doing?
Funds to purchase most of the land were donated by Miss Isabel Blackman a lone benefactor In 1959. The gift from Miss Blackman enabled the Society to obtain ownership of the Park. It was made with the intention that it should become a permanent memorial to her father, the late Alderman Blackman, a local boy who went on to become Mayor of Hastings and Baron of the Cinque Ports before becoming an Alderman. There is a plaque to Alderman Blackman in the Park as a tangible memorial. This photogragh is courtesy of the Isabel Blackman Foundation, That Foundation came to our aid again in 1985 and 1994 with funds to help purchase an additional 34 acres.
The estate has many historic associations with notable people, including Sir Peter Scott, the internationally respected naturalist and chairman of the World Wildlife Fund. Sir Peter held the post of President of the Society until his death in 1989. He is commemorated in the Park by the Sir Peter Scott Glade.
The world famous authoress, Catherine Cookson lived in Hastings for many years and was a keen supporter and founder subscriber of the Society, holding many of their meetings in her home. She and her husband were both actively involved in the work of the Society and they are now Honorary life members.
Archibald Stansfeld Belany, a local boy who later became known as Grey Owl is now internationally recognised as a naturalist and conservationist. As a youth, he spent a considerable amount of time in St Helens Woods, learning the art of tracking and other practical skills prior to travelling to Canada to live amongst families of Red Indians. It was there that he witnessed the destruction of woodlands and wildlife and developed his thinking about conservation.
In 2010, the Society reached a significant milestone, its Golden Jubilee Year. Special celebrations were held to mark that occasion, most notably a very successful Summer Fayre opened by renowned comedienne, Ms Jo Brand. We hope to continue to build upon that level of membership support in the coming years
Also in recognition of our 50th anniversary year in 2010, local author Edward Preston published his book “St Helens Park 50 Years On”. That beautifully illustrated book gives an historical presentation of the work of the Society from it’s inception and reflects factual and anectodal information of huge local interest. It is well worth a read and is available from the Society for a small fee.
Over the years some rare and exotic trees have been planted. Present management plans aim to reverse this trend by planting more native trees, which will attract a far greater variety of wildlife. Volunteers carry out most of the practical management and members of the society organise public events such as barbecues, fayres and walks. Without human intervention the woodland will take over and the variety of plants and animals would be reduced.
The estate promotes a better quality of life for the community and is essential to wildlife.
The society and its members will continue to protect and enhance this open space for the benefit of all, for years to come.