Friday, October 14, 2016

The Khyber Pass in Hull

'There are few sights in England that can quite equal the absurd charm of the imitation Khyber Pass in Hull's East Park.  This slice of South East Asia in the East Riding sits just a short stroll away from an animal house that is home to alpacas from Peru and a lake where oversized swan pedalo boats bob about.  Seeing it now is to feel, not unlike Lewis Carroll's Alice, that you have fallen into a dreamland where normality has been temporarily suspended.' - Travis Elborough, A Walk in the Park: The Life and Times of a People's Institution, 2016
I have never visited this park (or indeed Hull, next year's City of Culture), although I am familiar with Victoria Park in Hackney, where Travis was based during the writing of his new book.  In the chapter covering the Victorian period he describes how the landscape of Empire influenced the design of our urban green spaces.  After the Crimean war, captured Russian guns began to appear: in Bath, Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Halifax, Sunderland, Derby and Glasgow (where, during the Second World War, the gun in Kelvingrove Park was melted back down and turned into munitions).  A realistic model of Sebastopol was constructed in Surrey Zoological Gardens, a private park, which charged visitors to come and see a troupe of invalided troops reenacting the battle.  Meanwhile bandstands were designed in emulation of the kiosks of India and the Ottoman Empire. There is still one of these in Victoria Park and it is still used, although we now tend to prefer our music amplified from a big stage (the last time I went to a concert there, in 2015, it was to hear Patti Smith doing the whole of Horses).

Hull's East Park opened in 1887, with a ceremony on the day of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. As Travis describes it, the event seems not quite to have lived up to the occasion.
'In London, an Indian cavalry, headed up by the Maharao of Kutch in a diamond- and ruby-encrusted turban, and the no less resplendent Maharajar of Holkar, escorted Victoria to a special Service of Thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey.  Up in Hull, the park-opening was preceded by a somewhat more disorganised parade.  Led by the Knights of the Golden Horn and featuring Albert Loud Lodge of the United Order of Druids and a horse-drawn float carrying basket-weaving members of the local institute for the blind, it was branded the 'Jubilee Jumble' by a local newshound in the Hull Daily Mail, who deemed it a disgrace to the town and the Queen.'
East Park, Hull, 1914
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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