The Park was founded in 1882 on the land that used to be The Grove, a country house dating from 1780 with a huge walled garden and grounds. It opened in 1888 as Victoria Park with tennis courts, a bowling green and a cricket pitch. It was half the size it is now. It expanded year on year as the Victorians felt the need for open spaces and access to recreation and fresh air.
The biggest expansion was when the St Mary’s Church glebelands, gardens and former Rectory were acquired and in 1898 they opened the Hamstead Road entrance.The lake was used for fishing, boating and ice-skating in winter. The bandstand was a focal point on Wednesday and Saturday evenings when large crowds gathered to listen to various bands.
The original design was by Richard Hartland Vertegans of Chad Valley Nurseries, who organised the planting of trees to provide a variety of sounds as well as a visual tapestry of seasonal colours. Wealthy locals provided drinking-fountains, benefactors also supplied ornamental stone vases for planting and ducks and drakes for the duck-pond.
In 1930 the Park was home to the first timber built Sons of Rest building which was then replicated across the city.
It hosted the Handsworth Flower Show which then became the Birmingham Flower Show from 1947 onwards. It was the setting for the Boy Scouts Jamboree, Birmingham Tattoo, horse shows and cycle races.
There was a decline in the area in the 1960s and 1970s and by the 1980s it was neither safe nor clean. Fear of crime kept people away. In July 1996 Simon Baddeley started the “Save Handsworth Park Group” which resulted in a grant of £9.5 million to restore the Park which was re-opened in 2006 for everyone to enjoy in safety.
Simon Baddeley, citizen of Birmingham, or as he calls himself “pretty much citizen of Handsworth”, works as a visiting lecturer at the University of Birmingham. He has always been interested in history, and the history of Handsworth Park in particular. He was central to the important campaign to preserve and refurbish this beautiful park.