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Post-war push for Riverside Park in Bitterne Park, Southampton
Southampton was growing, the population rising, and there was an urgent need for wide open spaces for local people to relax and enjoy the fresh air.
Spring was just around the corner in 1949 when the Daily Echo revealed ambitious plans for the development of a new park, alongside the River Itchen in Bitterne Park.
“One day it should be possible for Sotonians who appreciate a summer riverside stroll to walk amid pleasant surroundings from Cobden Bridge to Mansbridge by the Itchen, a distance of some 2,000 yards,’’ said the Daily Echo.
The idea of creating Riverside Park had been in the Civic Centre’s “pending’’ tray for some years, but now the corporation decided that the area dedicated to open spaces and allotments in the districts of Bitterne and Bitterne Park needed to be doubled.
It was estimated, by the council, the whole scheme would take at least five years to complete and would have to include at least 565 acres for use as school playing fields.
On top of this, the authority was facing severe shortages of building materials after the Second World War.
Priority would also have to be given to creating twice the number of allotments.
But it was the plans for Riverside Park, which captured the imagination and symbolised the “new’’ Southampton shrugging off the drudge of the war years and looking forward to a time when people could relax and enjoy new public facilities, as well as the chance of indulging in the simple pleasure of just being outside.
The borough engineer’s department had almost finished reclamation of the foreshore between Bitterne Park recreation ground and Cobden Bridge.
The work had started years before and gradually the edge of the reclaimed land had crept nearer to the bridge, while the construction of a retaining wall, which would complete the scheme, was nearly finished.
It was proposed this reclaimed land should be used as an extension to the recreation ground and include a parkway strip with a riverside walk, much as the area is today.
To the north of the recreation ground was another reclamation area where work was also nearly completed.
The oldest part of the park was once known as Cobden Meadows, and together with the recreation ground was marshland.
Once upon a time cows grazed there but the land was liable to flood with water coming up to the back of houses in Manor Farm Road.
According to research carried out by local historians between the two world wars and into the 1940s, official and unofficial tipping of rubbish occurred at Riverside Park, mainly on the area now used for sport pitches and the pitch and putt course.
In 1952 the Woodmill rubbish tip was eight feet deep and contained 130,000 tons of refuse including debris from Second World War bombing raids.
The land was reclaimed, using a total of 5,000 lorries full of topsoil which was imported to the site.