A manufacturer and philanthropist with a keen interest in engineering, Charles Wicksteed is credited with inventing the first children’s slide in 1922. The park he created, Wicksteed Park in Kettering, is recognised today as the first purpose-built safe play park for families and children in the UK.
Born 1847, in Leeds, Yorkshire, Charles spent his school days in Wales. He showed an early passion for engineering and this was reflected by his five-year apprenticeship at Kitson and Hewitson – a locomotive manufacturer based in Hunslet, Leeds.
At the age of 21, he set up his own steam plough business, working mainly in Norfolk. In 1871, he moved to Kettering to continue running his plough business there. He met Mary Jean Gibb and the couple married in 1877. They had three children – two sons and a daughter.
Charles’ ambition was to create an open park, where families and children could play in safety. In the early 20th century, many homes didn’t have gardens, so children had nowhere to play except in the street. He was inspired to create a playground that the local children could enjoy.
In 1913, he purchased a piece of beautiful Northamptonshire meadow, with the intention of creating the play area of his dreams. It became known as Wicksteed Park. Work was interrupted by World War I but the development at Wicksteed continued afterwards, with his play equipment being constructed to be enjoyed free of charge by everyone.
As the park developed, excited families and children arrived in droves to experience attractions such as the slide, charabancs – horse-drawn carriages with benches – and even a waterchute which was introduced in 1926. In 1928, a cycle track was built, followed by a pavilion and then the famous Wicksteed Railway in 1930.
Other attractions included a plank swing and a Maypole. In the early days, the girls and boys each had their own slide, although eventually all the slides could be used by everyone.
By this time, Charles owned his own engineering company, so the play equipment that he originally made for Wicksteed Park was soon replicated and supplied far and wide to other parks across the UK. After his death in 1931, his legacy lived on and the play equipment he invented continued to develop over the years, delighting generations of children right up to this day. Some of the original equipment remains in Wicksteed Park and the Wicksteed Charitable Trust continues the work and goals set out by Charles when he first created the play area.
Of course, there have been many changes since the first slide was built in 1922 but the principle remains the same. The original playground equipment was built of wood, whereas many of today’s slides, swings and see-saws are constructed with metal frames and moulded plastic.
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