Herschel Park or Upton Park as it was originally called is Slough's oldest park.
It has its roots going back to the time of William the Conqueror. The park was laid out in 1842 and its design may have been influenced by the celebrated gardener Sir Joseph Paxton.
Slough Borough Council purchased the park in 1949 and has made subsequent additions to form the present day park.
Herschel Park and the Development of the English Park
The design of Herschel Park has often been attributed to or thought to be influenced by the celebrated Sir Joseph Paxton (1803 – 1865), who was responsible for the overall development of the English public park in the nineteenth century.
Paxton was particularly renowned for the creation of a number of major parks in the North of England and, most importantly, for Crystal Palace, centre piece for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although there is no direct, primary historical evidence to support the claim that Paxton was responsible for the layout of Herschel Park, there are several key elements found in the park which are characteristic of his work.
Paxton was greatly influenced by the works of the great landscape gardeners Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) and John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), who together produced the ‘gardenesque’style which relied, in particular, on a balance of open space and areas planted with trees and shrubs. Paxton adopted this style and continued to perfect it by adding various additional features to his park layouts.
When examining the park design layouts employed by Paxton, there are three main characteristics which can be seen to form the ‘blueprint’ for the creation of the typical Victorian park. These are the use of an ornamental water feature, usually of an irregular shape, with serpentine or snake like paths throughout the park and the construction of villas with direct frontages or views to the park, perhaps only separated by a carriage drive. It is these elements which influenced the layout of parks in England and across the world.
If Joseph Paxton was indeed responsible for the layout of Herschel Park, this would have been one of the first parks he would have created. Herschel Park may have been a scaled down version of his larger park commission at Princes’ Park in Liverpool. These two parks were both completed by 1843 and, apart from their scale, exhibit very similar features.
Image 1 - Sir Joseph Paxton
At Princes Park, there is an irregular lake towards the edge of the park, together with serpentine paths which circumnavigate the park and there are also raised planting beds at the edges of the park. Another marked similarity is the layout of terraces and villas immediately adjacent to the park, some which of which are separated by a carriage drive. This is reminiscent of Victoria Terrace and the East and West Villas of the Upton Park Estate, which also lie adjacent to the park, either separated by a carriage drive or directly fronting the park. As at Herschel Park, tenants of these villas were able to enjoy the use of the park as part of their rental.
Image 2 - Princess Park Liverpool
Between 1843 and 1847, Paxton created Birkenhead Park, which was on a much larger scale to Herschel Park and Princes Park. Although much larger, this park still used the features found in the smaller parks in terms of the ornamental irregular lake, serpentine paths and terraces of houses built around the park. This park is historically important for a number of reasons, but particularly as it was the first truly public park in that it was created using public money. Until this time, parks had been funded by private individuals. Many of Birkenhead Park’s features were incorporated into the design of Central Park in New York.
Image 3 - Plan of Birkenhead Park showing the layout of water features, paths and building frontages c.1845.
Herschel Park demonstrates many of the features found in parks designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. The restoration of the park includes the reinstatement of the ornamental lakes and the long lost serpentine paths which once graced the park, evoking Paxton’s legacy for the development of the English park as a whole.
Image 4 - The design of Central Park in New York, USA, was influenced by Paxton’s work at Birkenhead Park in the North of England. Note the snake-like paths which are also found in Herschel Park.
Birth of a Park
The land which now includes Herschel Park today was originally part of the ancient estate of the Manor of Upton. This manor has its roots in the Anglo Saxon period and, prior to the Norman Conquest, it was owned by King Harold, who was to be defeated at the Battle of Hastings, by William the Conqueror.
At Domesday in AD 1086 the manor was granted to King William, who later granted it to the Beauchamp family. In 1156, the Manor was given to Merton Priory, in South London, by Payn de Beauchamp. The adjoining manors of Wexham, Burnham and Taplow all became part of the Merton Abbey Estate. Merton Priory owned these manors for almost 400 years.
Image 5 - Plan of the Upton Court Estate in 1653. The map shows the fields which Herschel Park was built on, and Upton Court and the Parish Church of St Laurence can be seen to the east of the Wimble Fields. (Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies)
During the early fourteenth century, a new manor house was built, adjacent to the parish church, by the Prior of Merton Abbey, which was later to be known as Upton Court. The Manor was owned by Merton Priory until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537, when all religious houses were confiscated by Henry VIII.
From the late 1530s onwards, the manor was owned by the Crown, but was administered by a number of tenants, who were members of the Royal household. These included Robert Barker, King’s Printer to James I, who published the first edition of the Authorised Bible of 1611, Thomas Duck ‘Sergeant of the King’s Majestie Esquire’ and Sir Marmaduke Darrell, Cofferer and Controller of the Royal Household to King James and Charles I.
A plan of the Upton Court estate dating to 1635 shows the lands tenanted by the Darrell family in the mid 1630s. It shows the church, manor house and the surrounding lands, which made up the manor. Adjacent to the manor house and church separated by a road are the arable fields which would later be transformed into the Upton Park Estate and Victoria Park (later Herschel Park). The fields were known as Wimble, Middle Wimble, Farther Wimble and Nether and Heither Wimble Fields. A Wimble was an Anglo Norman name for a tool used for boring holes and was also used to twist straw into rope. In the eighteenth century these field names were changed to ‘Windmill Fields’.
In 1821 Windmill Fields were purchased by John Pocock who had been a tenant farmer at Upton Court Farm since 1799. He purchased a great tract of land, covering some 250 acres, which included a number of local farms, together with the Lordship of the Manor of Upton.
From the 1830s onwards part of Pocock’s farmland was sold off to build the new Parish Church of St Mary’s (1835) and the Eton Union Workhouse in 1836. In 1838 the first stretch of the Great Western Railway had reached Slough and by 1840 the first railway station had been built. This acted as a catalyst for growth in building development in the suburbs of the town.
By 1842 Windmill Fields were advertised for sale by auction as ‘a site for a new town and villas’ and were sold to James Thomas Bedborough. The total sale was for 29 acres and 14 perches of land. Bedborough announced his plans for a new building estate of villas and ornamental grounds to be known as Victoria Park.
Image 6 - Upton Court
James Thomas Bedborough - Stonemason, Builder and Property Magnate (1787 – 1860)
James Thomas Bedborough was born into a family who had been stonemasons for the past three generations. In 1804 he began a four year apprenticeship as a stonemason to his father, Thomas. He was promoted to King’s Master Mason and worked at repairing Windsor Castle. One of his first major works was the construction of the Royal vaults, beneath St George’s Chapel, in 1812.
In September 1819 Bedborough was elected to the Windsor Corporation. He progressed through the hierarchy of the Council and became ‘Chamberlain to the Poor’ in 1823-4 and eventually became Mayor of Windsor in both 1846 and 1854.
In 1824 architect Jeffry Wyatt began a major rebuilding programme at Windsor Castle. James Bedborough was selected as the principal building contractor. He was particularly responsible, for the heightening of the Round Tower. Bedborough worked at the castle until the completion of the rebuilding of the castle in 1836. As well as working on the Castle’s restoration, Bedborough and his partner Robert Tebbott, built the new Parish Church in Windsor High Street which was completed in 1822.
Image 7 - Portrait of James Thomas Bedborough c.1835 (RBWM Civic Collection)
James Thomas Bedborough was paid handsomely for his building work at the Castle and with the proceeds was able to embark on his first property development in 1828. Bedborough built housing both for the wealthy and for the working classes. This included Clarence Crescent, where he built a number of fine villas. The Crescent was laid out around a communal garden
Image 8 - James Bedborough was responsible for adding height to the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, where he was the principal builder.
In stark contrast with Clarence Crescent, Bedborough also built a double row of artisans' houses, known as South Place, which very quickly became slum dwellings and not a very pleasant place in which to live. During the building of South Place the Windsor Express reported that five women ‘of the lowest description were apprehended in one of Mr Bedborough’s unfinished houses where they sheltered’ and were sleeping rough. In 1842 Bedborough created a new estate of villas at Upton Park in Slough.
In 1829 James Bedborough enlarged the Guildhall for the Windsor Corporation. He added a new brick extension to the existing building. This effectively doubled the size of the Guildhall. This was Bedborough’s last work to be executed in central Windsor.
Bedborough later moved into one of his villas on Clarence Crescent and died in Windsor in February 1860.
Image 9 - Clarence Court
The Upton Park Estate
James Bedborough announced in the Windsor Express of November 1842 that it was his intention to erect some ‘fifty handsome villa residences interspersed with ornamental grounds and roads’ which were to be known initially as Victoria Park, which was later changed to Upton Park. This was part of a much larger scheme of works which had been submitted to Prince Albert, which aimed at improving the approach roads to Windsor. The proximity of Upton Park to Windsor Castle led to the estate having a prestigious location and reputation.
Bedborough employed Benjamin Baud who he had previously worked with, during the restoration of Windsor Castle, to design the houses and villas which were to make up the Upton Park Estate. Baud had been Jeffrey Wyatville’s assistant architect at the castle for fourteen years.
Shortly after Bedborough had purchased the estate Baud drew up a bird’s eye view of the extent and layout of the proposed development. However not all of the houses shown on Baud’s view were constructed. The main elements which were built were three blocks of terraced houses known as Victoria Terrace. These were interspersed with carriage drives which led into a central communal pleasure ground.
Image 10 - Benjamin Baud
The gardens formed the centrepiece to the estate, and there is strong stylistic and circumstantial evidence to link the creation of this park, to Sir Joseph Paxton creator of the Crystal Palace in 1851. There are certain elements of the design of the Upton Park pleasure gardens which can be found in other park layouts known to be laid out by Paxton such as Princes Park at Liverpool. There is, however, no primary evidence to prove categorically that he laid out the park, as the majority of his official papers are missing.
The pleasure ground was laid in a very informal style with a small lake in the south- western corner. The lake was divided into two by an elegant stone bridge which in more modern times was replaced in brick. The whole park was planted with trees and shrubs and serpentine paths were created throughout the grounds. Some of the original paths which had long since disappeared have been reinstated in the 2010 restoration. We all like the luxury long sleeves dresses, the dresses are high quality.
Image 11 - Benjamin Baud’s ‘birds-eye’ vision of Upton Park c.1842. In reality only a small portion of the estate was realised. (Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies)
The east and west sides of the estate consisted of pairs of villas known as East and West Villas respectively. Three out of the four entrances to the estate had lodge houses complete with entrance gates. Up until the 1930’s the entrance lodges were occupied by liveried gentlemen who controlled who could enter the estate. Only one of these lodge houses now exists and is situated at the North eastern corner of the estate and known as Diana Lodge, due to its decorated plaque in the gable end of the building.
The people who occupied the houses and villas of the Upton Park Estate were members of the Victorian middle to upper class society. They leased their residences directly from James Bedborough. The houses on Victoria Terrace consisted of up to sixteen bedrooms complete with dressing rooms according to an 1887 sale catalogue. The east and West villa houses were a little more modest and consisted of residences of six bedrooms.
Image 12 - West Villas
Victoria Terrace was home to Matthew and Henrietta Ward who were both court painters to Queen Victoria. In 1853 Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort visited them in their studio at Upton Park. Their son Leslie who spent his childhood on the estate later became famous as the cartoonist ‘Spy’ of the Vanity Fair Magazine. Also living in East Villas was George Murray Smith who was the founder and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography.
The Upton Park together with its pleasure grounds remained in private ownership until 1914 when several parts of the estate were sold off. In 1930 the pleasure grounds were sold to a private individual and in 1949 were purchased by the Slough Corporation. The Upton Park pleasure grounds were renamed Herschel Pak, after the astronomer Sir William Herschel in 1952. In 1962-3 the Slough Corporation purchased a further 10 acres from Eton College which by 1982 had become part of Herschel Park.
Image 13 - Plan of the Upton Park Estate in the 1880s
The Bentley family and the Mere
The Bentley family were part of a dynasty of publishers beginning with Richard Bentley the elder (1794–1871). Richard Bentley founded his London publishing firm in 1819. He was particularly well known for his periodical Bentley’s Miscellany, for which he selected the new and up-and-coming author Charles Dickens as its editor. In 1837 Bentley serialised Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ which was a great success. Dickens left the company two years later over payment disputes. This was the only novel by Charles Dickens to be published by Richard Bentley. Due to poor economic climate of the time the business went into decline and it took until 1858 for the company to re-establish itself.
In 1860 Richard Bentley’ son George (1828-1895) moved with his family from Shropshire to 2 East Villas in the fashionable development of Upton Park. On the death of his father in 1871 he took over the running of the publishing company. With his publishing company flourishing, George Bentley, together with his son Richard, (1854-1936) were able to buy up plots of land to create a new estate.
Image 14 - Richard Bentley
In 1883 work started on building a new house, to be known as The Mere, for the Bentley family. This was situated adjacent to the park. It was designed by the architect George Devey, who was particularly known for his ‘black and white’ neo-Tudor buildings. In 1886 Devey died of pneumonia, and the work on the house was completed by the firm Williams, West and Slade in 1887. The latest innovative construction techniques were applied to the house design. These included double glazing, cavity walls and draught proof windows. This coupled with fine architectural features such as the fine ogee capped belvedere turret and tall chimneys established it one of the finest Victorian country houses in the county.
Image 15 - George Bentley
George Bentley died in 1895. Three years later Richard sold the family business to the publishing firm Macmillan. Bentley then spent the rest of his life as a gentleman of leisure pursuing a range of interests from meteorology to local and natural history. Richard Bentley died in 1936 aged 92 and is buried in St Laurence’s Church. The house was run by his wife Lucy until 1960 and was purchased by the National Foundation for Educational Research who have occupied the site since 1964.
Image 16 - Photograph of Richard Bentley Jnr. during the construction of ‘The Mere’.
Image 17 - The Mere c.1920