King George's Fields

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Entrance to the KGV field in Worcester
Entrance Plaques for King George's Fields

A King George's Field is a public open space in the United Kingdom dedicated to the memory of King George V (3 June 1865–20 January 1936).

In 1936, after the king's death, the Lord Mayor of London formed a committee to determine a memorial that was not solely based on the idea of a statue. They arrived the same year at the concept of funding and erecting a single statue in London and setting up the King George's Fields Foundation to carry the late king's name forward through future generations with the aim:

To promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people.

Each of the playing fields would:

Be styled 'King George's Field' and to be distinguished by heraldic panels or other appropriate tablet medallion or inscription commemorative of His Late Majesty and of a design approved by the Administrative Council.

Money was raised locally to buy the land, with a grant made by the foundation. After purchase the land was passed to the National Playing Fields Association, to "preserve and safeguard the land for the public benefit". Land was still being acquired for the purpose during the 1950s and early 1960s.

When the King George's Fields Foundation was dissolved in 1965 there were 471 King George Playing Fields, all over the country.[1] They are now owned by the National Playing Fields Association and managed on their behalf by either the council or a board of local trustees.

There are strict covenants and conditions that ensure that the public will continue to benefit from these open play areas.

History of the King George's Fields Foundation[edit]

[2]

Introduction[edit]

On 30 January 1936 upon the death of King George V, the then Lord Mayor of the City of London set up a committee to consider what form a national memorial to the King should take. In March 1936, the committee decided that there should be a statue in London and a philanthropic scheme of specific character that would benefit the whole country and be associated with King George V’s name. As a result in the November of that year, the King George’s Fields Foundation was constituted by Trust Deed to give effect to the scheme. The urbanisation of the twentieth century in Great Britain was bringing home to many public-spirited people the fact that lack of open spaces must restrict the rising generation physically.

The aim of the Foundation was "to promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people every such playing field to be styled 'King George’s Field' and to be distinguished by heraldic panels or other appropriate tablet medallion or inscription commemorative of His Late Majesty and of a design approved by the Administrative Council."

The trust deed defined a 'Playing Field' as "any open space used for the purpose of outdoor games, sports and pastimes."

The project was to be a flexible one, focusing on urban areas, but not exclusively so, and carried out in each locality according to its requirements. It would enlist local interest and support, gratefully accepting gifts in the form of monies or land. Each field would have a distinctive uniform tablet as an appropriate visible commemoration of George V.

This was considered to be as the King would have wished, particularly in the service rendered to youth through providing for them an environment and opportunity for open air exercise, for the benefit of individual well-being and the general welfare of the nation.

The National Memorial Fund and 'Grant-in-aid Policy'[edit]

The purpose of the Foundation was to secure a living memorial by way of playing fields to the late sovereign, and that these open spaces be directly associated with that memory by being named 'King George’s Fields'.

Playing fields were to be acquired, planned, equipped, maintained and safeguarded for recreational purposes in towns and villages throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, the cost required to acquire, construct and equip such fields for public use would prove too costly for the King George’s Fields Foundation (KGFF) alone. To determine the best ways and means in which to remember George V, and to put in motion the necessary machinery to raise the required funds, a national appeal was set up. £557,436 was raised in the period just before the Second World War.

The Foundation found at the outset that half a million pounds was not enough to meet the costs of acquiring fields and maintaining them for all the places in the country where they were needed. The National Memorial Fund Committee had concluded that the maximum results might best be achieved by 'distributing the funds by way of grants-in-aid towards the capital costs of as many fields as possible', the balance of the capital required for each scheme to be raised by the local authorities or local bodies of Trustees managing and accepting responsibility for their maintenance as King George’s Fields.

The plan of action came in the form of what was to be called Grant-in-Aid Policy set up on 1 March 1937. However, this could be made possible only through the valuable support of members and donors, and local authorities commitment and co-operation.

In order to avoid duplication of effort and to minimise administrative costs, the Foundation took the natural step of consulting the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA), the national voluntary organisation, which, since 1925, was the recognised authority on all playing fields matters, and its affiliated county organisations. The National Playing Fields Association would act, as administrator, to look at and consider proposals in order to allocate grants.

The amount of grant to be given rested with the Foundation. Among the factors taken into account by the Grants Committee were the population, number and size of existing playing fields, and local economic conditions. No size or standard of field, or particular facilities, were prescribed. The view was held that local people best knew their own circumstances. At one end of the scale, some very large schemes emerged. The largest King George’s Field in Enfield, London covers approximately 128 acres (0.5 km2), providing many pitches for a variety of games. At the other end of the scale, there are smaller playgrounds. The smallest King George’s Field in the City of London is less than 1/4 acre in location, where the most urgent need was to keep children off the roads.

Certain conditions had to be observed. The Foundation, very much aware of the concept of a National Memorial, required security of tenure over the land and its dedication for permanent preservation as a 'King George’s Field'. Funds were not made available for schemes that might disappear after a few years. Clearly, too, the land had to be developed in some suitable way for playing on. Ornamental gardens and parks, for example, were not accepted.

Additionally, each scheme was to have an entrance to the field designed to provide a sufficiently dignified setting for the heraldic panels that distinguish a field as a 'King George’s Field'. While no particular style was adopted by the Foundation, it discouraged indulgence in ornate or very expensive entrance gates. In the first instance, it recommended the use of local materials.

The impact of the King George’s Fields Foundation[edit]

Between the opening of the grants policy on 1 March 1937 and the outbreak of war in September, 1939, the Foundation approved 462 schemes out of a possible 1,800 preliminary applications. Approximately £400,000 of funds had been allocated as grants to various schemes in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country. However, during the seven years that war raged in Europe, construction work on playing fields was all but at a standstill. After 1945, with changed circumstances and social political issues in need of urgent prioritisation - for example, health, education and housing - many of the original approved schemes had to be abandoned, though in a number of cases alternative schemes were approved and grant-aided. All schemes were eventually completed in the 1960s.

It was to be some time before all the "King George’s Fields" were completed in every detail. Table 1 shows the final list of the approved schemes under their respective countries. Table 2 summarises land ownership.

Table 1: Summary of King George’s Fields
No. of
Schemes
Area Capital costs
£
Grants allocated
England 344 3,210 acres (13 km2) 3,433,876 458,407
Scotland 85 723 acres (2.9 km2) 379,849 93,495
Wales 35 329 acres (1.3 km2) 253,070 53,840
Northern Ireland 7 26 acres (0.1 km2) 32,135 11,375
Totals 471 4,288 acres 4,098,930 617,117

Notes:

  1. Statistics for England include the Channel Islands.
  2. 19 fields are included, which were financed entirely by local bodies, without grant aid from the Foundation. The schemes were recognised as 'King George’s Fields' and provided with heraldic panels.
  3. The Foundation was not authorised to spend any funds outside the UK but accorded the style "King George's Field" and issued Heraldic Panels to sites in Barbados, the Falkland Islands, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen (then Aden).
Table 2: Distribution of bodies in which the freeholds of the King George’s Fields are vested
Principal local authorities Parish, town or community councils Local trustees NPFA
England 203 105 25 11
Scotland 71 14
Wales 17 11 6 1
Northern Ireland 5 1 1
Totals 296 116 46 13

The dissolution of the King George’s Fields Foundation[edit]

The 1960s brought about further change. Almost thirty years had passed since the Foundation came into being and the time had now come to hand over responsibility to the National Playing Fields Association, of which HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is President. It was never the intention that the Foundation should remain a continuing body, with its own trustees. The NPFA assumed total responsibility as the trustee of the charity, as agreed through a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners on 1 December 1965. Residual funds in the sum of £41,251 were transferred to the NPFA, which was then charged with the responsibility of paying £12,200 of allocated but unspent funds for certain purposes in connection with the approved 'King George's Fields'.

More importantly, under the Commissioners' Scheme, responsibilities of the National Playing Fields Association as trustees of the charity, were extended to include the "preservation" in addition to "establishment" of the King George's Fields. This meant, and today still means, that any plans by a local trustee, including all local authorities acting as trustees required, and today still require, the consent of the NPFA, which was and is judged against the best interests of the charity as a public playing field.

The NPFA was also given powers to use the remainder of the funds available for repairs or renewal of items of a capital nature including the replacement of heraldic panels.

Conclusion[edit]

The King George’s Fields were set up as a living means of remembering the late King George V. Today, over six decades later, these sites remain at the heart of their communities, still being of key value for children and young people in particular. They are, in most cases, established on charitable trust and protected ‘in perpetuity’.

The real measure of the country’s response to the idea is reflected by the Foundation’s aim back in 1936, to make its funds stretch as far as possible. The total capital value of the 471 'King George's Fields' in 1936 amounted to approximately £4,000,000, measured by total expenditure on acquisition and development of land, undertaken by the local bodies concerned, with the aid of the grants made to them by the Foundation.

It is no exaggeration to say that the 'King George's Fields' remain a fitting memorial to the king in that they still provide today for the people, especially children and young people, valuable open spaces and facilities protected into the third millennium and beyond.

Importance of memorial entrances and maintenance of heraldic panels[edit]

[2]

Introduction[edit]

Stone heraldic panels in a King George V Field gateway

As every 'King George’s Field' (KGF) forms part of the national memorial to His Late Majesty King George V, it was, and still remains, an essential condition that the land is legally dedicated as such, and that the terms of its tenure should ensure its preservation for public recreation. It was also a condition that for every scheme the Foundation’s architect should approve the design of the entrance on which the Heraldic Panels were to be displayed. The governing factor with regard to the design of the entrance was ‘appropriateness’ – simple designs of character and materials suited to the neighbourhood. The local bodies were encouraged to employ an architect of their own choice, but, where desired, the Foundation's architect gave the necessary guidance.

The history regarding the importance of memorial entrances and their purpose goes back over six decades. On 3 November 1936, the King George's Fields Foundation (KGFF) was constituted as a charitable trust to give effect to the scheme. The objects of the trust were "to promote and to assist in the establishment of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". All the playing fields were to be styled and called 'King George’s Field' and were to be distinguished by heraldic panels of a specific nature.

These heraldic panels were issued, free of charge, as a gift by the Foundation to all approved schemes and became the official emblems of the national memorial to the Late Sovereign.

Although there was no set recommendation on the design of memorial entrances as a suitable tribute, it was agreed that every field should bear a unique insignia, which would associate it forever with the sovereign it sought to commemorate.

Designs to be approved by the Foundation[edit]

The arrangements between the Foundation and the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA), the national voluntary organisation, which, since 1925, was the recognised authority on all playing fields matters, were as follows:

  • Playing fields were to be acquired locally, planned, equipped, maintained and safeguarded for recreational purposes with the help of a Grant-in-aid Policy set up on 1 March 1937.
  • All schemes, or proposals for schemes, were submitted in the first instance to the Foundation. Those that became eligible to become a 'King George's Field' were remitted for inspection and report. The Foundation's final approval of each scheme for official recognition as a 'King George's Field' carried with it the provision of heraldic panels, and the grant to be given.

The NPFA's, as trustee of the Foundation, approval is still sought for any schemes or proposals for King George’s Fields.

The Foundation, in pursuance of its national memorial purpose, had to prescribe certain conditions as to the design of the entrance. Highly ornate and expensive entrances were not encouraged. For many schemes designs were adopted by the local bodies to meet the Foundation’s minimum requirements. In this instance, local conditions and local materials were taken into consideration as an essential part of the design.

The width, material and size of entrances were governed by the size of the particular field, and by the size of community most likely to use it. It was suggested that wherever possible the actual gates should be set back from the boundary line of the field next to the road so as to provide a clear space outside for children leaving the field. In cases where a field was unfenced no actual gates would be necessary but piers bearing the heraldic panels might be placed as pylons to mark the most important point of entry.

Consideration also had to be taken into account regarding the type of stone used for the pillars. Particular attention was given to using quality local materials. For instance, stone piers in Bath would have been treated quite differently from those of Derbyshire or Cornwall. In counties where buildings and walls were predominantly built of stone, the piers would be built of the local stone. Where a field had a stone wall enclosing it, it might well be that piers would be unnecessary and that a simple raising of the wall would provide an appropriate setting for the heraldic panels. Brick piers were built of a narrow brick, not machine-pressed brick, and excessive or elaborate mouldings were avoided.

Bronze heraldic panels in a King George V Field gateway

The most suitable field entrance for many villages was a wicket or field gate of English oak properly framed and pinned, hung to oak posts with hinges wrought by the local blacksmith. Where iron gates were more suitable over-elaboration was to be avoided. Designs had to be simple, made of wrought iron, and of such a type as could easily be opened and closed by children. Consideration too had to be given that the gates were strong enough to withstand rough and constant usage. The memorial panels were to be set on the upper portion of each gate pier.

The heraldic panels[edit]

Heraldic panels were made of either stone or bronze and, in some cases, brass. These panels were, and still must be, displayed at the main entrance to the field; the Lion panel to be fixed on the left of the entrance and the Unicorn panel on the right, except Scotland. Where the piers of the entrance are of brick or stone, the panels were of stone 2 ft (1 m) high by 1 ft 6 in (0.46 m) broad. Where wooden posts form the gate-supports, smaller plaques in bronze were issued - 11¼ins high by 8¼ins broad.

In the case of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the panel on the left is the Lion, holding a Royal Shield, with the words 'George V' underneath, and below them 'A.D. 1910-1936'; and on the right is the Unicorn holding a similar shield with the words 'King George’s Field' underneath. In the case of Scotland, the relative positions of the Lion and the Unicorn are reversed, and the Scottish arms take prior place in the Shield and the Unicorn wears a crown. The wording below is identical.

These panels are essential to the heritage of the Foundation. Subject to the Deed of Dedication, the fields are, in most cases, established on charitable trust and protected in ‘perpetuity’. The NPFA gives initial guidance and the necessary information on the specific design.

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Final Report of the King George's Fields Foundation, 1965, p. 14
  2. ^ a b Source - The National Playing Fields Association. Reproduced with their permission