Playground and play facilities

Click on the photograph to open a large version in a new window

1929 a dedicated children’s playground

On the 13th March 1929 Bertie MacLaren presented proposals to the Parks and Gardens Committee for a children’s playground for The Level; the area to be covered was about three acres. He stressed that as it was practically a continuation of the Valley Gardens that the design needed to keep the dominant role of continuity, especially considering the number of the public who passed through the Valley daily.

Maclaren’s 1929 plan. Click on the image to open a large version in a new window – click again to further enlarge.

Amusements with an aesthetic design

MacLaren tried to combine children’s amusements with aesthetic attractiveness; the aim of the design was to make it as picturesque as possible. The plan was symmetrical with a central axis. The scheme had an ornamental model boating pool at its centre which was 1ft 6’’ (46cms) deep with two stone bridges. Curved stone pergolas either side camouflaged the playground appliances.

Detail of Maclaren’s plan for the southern area. Click on the image to open a large version in a new window – click again to further enlarge.

Catering for children of varying ages

There were ornamental Pavilion shelters either side for the children and the whole area was paved. One side was for girls and the other side for boys, both had identical equipment. The northern sections of each area were for children aged over the age of fourteen, and the smaller southern areas for younger children. The playground equipment consisted of merry-go rounds, whirling platforms, ocean wave, pendulum see-saw, plank swings, non-bumper see-saws, slides, see-saw ladders, swings, cradle swings, and horizontal and parallel bars.

Maclaren’s 1932 plan – shows portion of the plan not carried out. Click on the image to open a large version in a new window – click again to further enlarge.

The best play provision in Brighton

In the 1930s and 1940s, The Level play area was the best play provision in Brighton, and as a result was heavily used. Many park users recall that there was a strict rule for no adults to enter the southern area unless accompanied by children. Only individuals under 14 years old were allowed to use the playground.

MacLaren’s plans

The 1932 plan of improvements to The Level shows details to the North Lawns that were not implemented. The North Lawns in the original plan would have included a pathway following the line of central symmetry to create a walk to a sheltered seated area with a vista looking south through the park to St Peters Church. The 1934 plan shows a difference in the front bed at the southern entrance.

Comments about this page

  • Fantastic photograph. This had to be the scariest ride at the park. The Witch’s Hat as it was known.

    By Carol Homewood (03/02/2013)
  • That brings back memories. Why was the pond concreted in?

    By Rick Smallman (07/02/2013)
  • Wow what memories; my older sister was made to take me to The Level as a very young boy by our mum and dad. She hated doing it because she wanted to go off with her friends, so she would leave me playing and disappear. One time we were sent to play I was in a brand new coat and she wandered off as always, and I fell in the pond, new coat and all. Mum and Dad went mad at her (got my own back).

    By Trevor Jackman (16/02/2013)
  • I remember the lake well. I actually fell in with a massive duffle coat on about where the picture was taken trying to reach my own boat. I thought I was going to drown, it seemed like it was about 90 feet deep, but in fact can’t be more than two. Mum dragged me out and she walked me home sopping wet to Hanover Terrace. I was about 4 years old so it was around 1950.

    By Barry Eason (17/03/2013)
  • I showed this picture to my children as I was telling them about swing parks in the 1960’s, and what rides we had. The witches hat was monopolised by the bigger kids, and I can remember hanging on for dear life, when I had a go. I must have been quite small as my feet could not touch the ground and the crossbar was against my face. My mum would shop in the London Road shops on Saturday afternoons leaving our dad to look after us in the Level, which we loved. It was a fantastic treat to be taken there to play, while mum did the shopping. Great shame it has been left to decay for so long.

    By Sally Reynolds (19/03/2013)
  • I lived at 7 Firle Road, on the council estates at the top of Freshfield Rd in the early thirties, and after seeing boys like the one in the picture I wanted to sail a boat like that, but didn’t have the money to buy one. So I took the end off an apple box, bored a hole in the middle to insert a stick for a mast, and made a junk-like sail from a square of cardboard. I made a rudder from a small piece of wood. My “boat” sailed fine, but I got so tired from walking down to the Level from near the top of Elm Grove, and running round the pond all day, that I hardly had the strength to walk back up Elm Grove again to get home. I now live in the US, but visit Brighton every year or so, what a lovely town (oops, City).

    By Robert (Bob) Green (23/03/2013)
  • I also fell in (aged 5) whilst panicking to reach my new boat, from Bradshaws, as it glided out of reach across the lake. Same thing, Mum dragged me out and I dripped the walk of shame back to Newmarket Terrace :-(  Might be a clue there as to why it was concreted over.

    By Martin Witek (15/04/2013)
  • Ah, the Witch’s Hat. The bestest, funniest piece of dangerous playground equipment EVER. Good luck finding one today, because too many parents say kids might fall and get hurt.

    EXCUSE ME? Kids are SUPPOSED to fall and get hurt! Kids are SUPPOSED to bang their heads and chip their teeth and skin their knees! That’s what being a kid is all about!

    But thanks to parents who see dollar signs whenever their poor babies get a booboo on the playground, all the really FUN playground equipment will eventually be replaced by big piles of pillows … which is what our kids will eventually resemble.

    By Chuck Anziulewicz (26/12/2013)
  • What a nostalgic happy photo. It was about twenty or so years later that I would be playing on the same witches hat on the level. I loved the Level as a kid. I agree with the comments that Chuck has made. When I was a kid I got up to all sorts of what I would call adventures. My mum would have gone around the bend if she knew half of the “dangerous” things I did like hanging off of the wire on the wrong side at Black Rock cliffs. Or riding my fixed wheel bike along the sea wall at high tide on the undercliff walk. Maybe I am lucky to be alive, but adventure I had.

    By Mick Peirson (27/12/2013)

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