Saturday, 12 March 2011

Historical Overview

Ongoing research; last updated 19 June 2017

This volume continues the historical overview of Selly Oak Park; the earlier years having been reported in the previous histories (see column on right) and in the book, “The Heydays of Selly Oak Park”. Again the clippings, listed in the column on the right, contain the more extensive detail upon which it is founded.


On the 9th February, a willow sculpture was constructed by the children of St. Mary's School, Selly Oak and the Friends of the Park, under the guidance of willow sculptor, Bob Green.  The children chose the name "Cyril the Squirrel", for that was the shape of the willow structure through which the children were subsequently able to romp and play.

Cyril the Squirrel, newly born.

On 11th March a new Nature, Art and History Trail around the Park was launched by Councillor Robert Wright, following short introductions from Tracey Hewitt (Neighbourhood Manager), Ken Pugh (Park Historian) and Andrew Schofield (Chairman, Friends of Selly Oak Park). This Trail, funded by Birmingham City Council and Grassroots, was developed by Birmingham City Council and the Friends of Selly Oak Park in partnership with children from St. Mary's School, and the Lapal Trust who also made a donation. Tracey Hewitt had taken the lead in the whole project. After the formal opening invited guests (including two grandsons of the first park-keeper) and a group of school children from St. Mary's School walked the Trail, stopping at the various features for explanations from local experts. They were able to watch Dick Tilly, Spirit of Wood, sculpt an acorn and nuthatch on a broken tree, as well as talk to the other artists - wood carver Graham Jones, and willow artist Bob Green. The children helped with the planting of some Hawthorn and Oak trees donated by the Birmingham Trees for Life project.

Tree planting during the launch of the Nature Trail (Photo: Sue Griffith, Birmingham Trees For Life)

Graham Young, a journalist with the Birmingham Mail, had a regular feature in the Friday editions of the newspaper, entitled "A Walk in the Park". On 8th April his very complimentary piece was devoted to the Nature, Art and History Trail newly established in Selly Oak Park.

The 8th April also happened to be the date on which the plaque on the stump of the old Selly Oak Oak Tree was removed for conservation measures and safe keeping.  A replica of the plaque was re-positioned on 18th September 2011 after the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Selly Oak Park.

The Spring issue of "Lapal Link", the occasional journal of the Lapal Canal Trust, published an article on the history of the Park; this contained the material from Ken Pugh very similar to that published in both the Local History Magazine and the Brummagem Magazine in 2010.

Throughout the year the Friends of the Park kept Park issues under review at their committee meetings and worked hard preparing for the Selly Oak Festival in the Park on Saturday, 18th June.  Advertising was more intense than in immediately previous years - house to house distribution of fliers, and a notice in the Birmingham Mail on the Friday evening beforehand were very effective.  The modern day Festival has grown from just 2 stalls in 2008, three stalls in 2009, about a dozen stalls in 2010, until in 2011 there were more than 20 stalls.  As well as these usual fete-type activities, and the now annual junior five-a-side football tournament, 2011 saw major entertainment provided by a falconry team (with a group of birds in a static display, and two 30 minute flying demonstrations), and also Bloco Louco, the Birmingham Samba Band (again two 30 minute performances, sandwiching an hour long session during which visitors were encouraged to drum and rattle under the guidance of the Band members).  Despite a couple of heavy, though thankfully short, downpours, the otherwise bright sunny day was enjoyed by a steady stream of visitors, so that all the time the arena looked alive and busy.  Undoubtedly this was the biggest of the 21st century festivals to date - but was still way behind the attendance at the festivals at the beginning of the 20th century.  As in previous years the Festival was held during Robert Wilkinson's Fun Fair's visit to the Park (this year the Fair visited for two weeks).

Bloco Louco performing at the Festival
(There are other photographs of the Festival on the Friends website)

On 1st July 2011 a piece of video photo montage of the Fun Fair was posted on Youtube;  See:

Towards the end of September Sainsbury's announced a revision of their development plans for Selly Oak - (the park is shown lower centre on the plan).  They had originally proposed a major waterside development involving the restoration of the first section of the former Dudley No. 2 (Lapal) Canal as it branched away from the mainline Birmingham and Worcester Canal as far as a new canal bridge over Harborne Lane.  This would have made a watered canal corridor right to the edge of the Park and paved the way for the Lapal Canal Trust to take forward their restoration project along the northern boundary of the Park (see the commentary for 2007 in the previous history).  However, the new proposal involved a different layout of the site with just a green walkway to the Park - plans for re-watering the canal had been dropped.  There was a vociferous outcry against the proposal and strong lobbying for reversion to the original plan.  By December the indications were that the developers had modified their proposals to include a simple canal corridor through the development (

On 24th October 2011 an article about the Nature Trail in the Park was introduced, and subsequently updated, on the Birmingham Environment website:

On 2nd November 2011 a video sequence showing the stump of the old Selly Oak oak tree was posted on Youtube:

On 16th January 2012 the Friends of Selly Oak Park (FOSOP) installed a bench in the park in memory of Geoff Bartlett.  Geoff, a founder member of FOSOP, and an engineer by profession, had died on 4th January 2011; the date of the installation of the bench was very close to the first anniversary of his funeral.  The bench, with an engineering theme, was designed and carved from a single piece of oak by wood-carver Graham Jones.

 The memorial bench for Geoff Bartlett

   The Inscription

                                                                                                                   Job done!
                                                                              Andrew Schofield (Chairman FOSOP, seated left), Graham Jones (Wood
                                                                                                           carver, seated right), and Derek Foley (Park-keeper, standing)

On Friday 27th January 2012 a party of school children from the Paganel Primary School, Selly Oak, paid a visit to the Park to explore and experience the Nature, Art and History Trail.  They made a video record of their visit which can be seen at:

The following day (28th January), a group of Ariel Scouts planted a number of tree whips which had beed donated by Sainsbury's in the area around the Millennium Wood.  That was also the occasion when a working party from the Lapal Trust continued the work they had started in December 2011 clearing the area of the former Lapal Canal near the new road bridge in Harborne Lane adjacent to the park.  And by the 9th March a Trust working party had repaired the footpath.

The view of the former canal beside the park (left) after the working party had finished.
(Photograph kindly supplied by Dr. Peter Best, Lapal Canal Trust)


The view from the bridge at the Harborne Lane entrance (park now on right)
(Photograph on right kindly supplied by Helen Jones, Lapal Canal Trust)
(Compare this with the photographs of the same area in 1929 and 1987 reproduced in the history of 1929)

At the start of February a development programme began in the Park.  The footpath network was extended.  A new pathway was created along the front of the park in Gibbins Road, from Harborne Lane to the Lodge, and another one in the north-west corner of the park, from near the Woolacombe Road entrance into the corner down near the canal.  These paths created a more continuous circuit around the Park.  The opportunity was also taken to fill in and reseed with grass some of the original (1899) paths which by this time were little used and had fallen into disrepair.

By early April the new paths were completed:-

A new bench had been installed:

Gates - bearing the inscription "Selly Oak Park - Opened 3rd April 1899" - had been hung at the entrance by the Lodge in Gibbins Road:

New bollards had been fitted at the Harborne Lane entrance:

And trip rails along Gibbins Road were nearing completion.

Thanks to the Park keeper and the maintenance staff, the park in its spring glory was looking fine:

At the end of February Selly Oak Library kindly hosted a display of the "Heydays of Selly Oak Park":

On 22nd February the Friends of Selly Oak Park became members of the Birmingham Heritage Forum (

On 27th February it was announced that the Birmingham and Black Country Nature Improvement Area (NIA) was one of just 12 NIA's, from amongst 76 applicants nationwide, that had been given ministerial recognition and approval with financial backing.  £650,000 was allocated to the NIA which was supported by over 40 organisations, which included the Friends of Selly Oak Park (represented by the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum)(

On 29th February Land Securities, the development company working on behalf of Sainsbury's lodged a planning application for their 13 hectare site off the new Aston Webb Boulevard in Selly Oak.  Whereas the former plan only provided a "green corridor" linkage through the site towards Selly Oak Park, this later plan included  "a canal link from the existing Worcester and Birmingham canal through to Selly Oak Park, which partly retraces the former Lapal Canal route.  This has come about through on-going discussions with British Waterways and the Lapal Canal Trust and their engineering advisers.  Although it is too early to provide full details on the canal and how it will be managed, the link will provide a fully navigable channel."

The Rugby Football Union ran free weekly Touch Rugby sessions for adult (aged 16 years and upwards) players at Selly Oak Park in Birmingham on every Thursday evening (6.00 to 7.30 pm) between April 26 and May 31 as part of the O2 Touch programme.

A table tennis table was fixed in the Park in June.

The annual Selly Oak Festival was held on Saturday, 30 June.  A description of this and some photographs can be found on the clippings page.
After the Festival the fair's departure from the park was delayed.  The ground was so wet that if they had tried to move the heavy rides they would have torn the ground up too much.  The park was wetter than it had been seen in recent times, even in winter, so wet that an unusual phenomenon occurred: water zits. These were large bulges in the grass caused by water welling up under the turf.

In July there were two further installations at the Park: on 13th July a new noticeboard was installed on the front of the Park near the Lodge in Gibbins Road,

and on the 16th July an interpretation board about the old Selly Oak oak tree. (Interestingly, when the holes were dug for the posts of the interpretation board, it was necessary to dig through layer of tarmac with a distinct edge exactly where the posts are, suggesting that the main path in the Park used to be at least 2 foot wider.)


New signs were also posted in the park:

Some video footage on Youtube gives an impression of parts of the park and the playground on Wednesday, 7 November - see

On Saturday, December 8th, the Friends were delighted when more than 150 people supported "Carols in the Park", an event arranged jointly with the Ariel Scouts, the Christian Life Centre, Vineyard Church, and St. Mary's Church.

With little notice, on 13th December Land Securities announced a public consultation to be held the next day, on 14th and 15th December, on "refreshed" plans for development of the former Birmingham Battery and Metal Company Site.   These plans had removed the channel for the Lapal Canal through to the Park, and if pursued would, at a stroke, end the possibility of the canal ever being restored!  They had even removed their previous plans from their website.


With the concern at the close of 2012 that the lastest proposals for the development of the Battery Retail Park seemed to be closing off the possibility of ever seeing the Lapal Canal rewatered and running beside the Park again, a Community Partnership was formed and a website ( opened, their purpose being to encourage the developers and the City Council to press ahead with the plans that had been given approval in 2007 and which did provide for a watered channel across the site.  But the process dragged on interminably.

At the beginning of the year, Nicola Clarke (Horticultural Manager, Quadron) and Simon Cooper (Area Parks Manager, Birmingham City Council), in conjunction with the Friends of Selly Oak Park, compiled management plans and the associated paperwork for the submission of an application (which was made at the end of February) for a Green Flag Award.  Green Flag judging day was on Wednesday, 19th June.  During the week before this date the park was "cleaned and polished", and neighbours and friends commented on how well the park looked.  Their efforts were finally rewarded when it was announced on 29th July - Selly Oak Park had been granted Green Flag Status for 2013-14.  The flag was raised by Councillor Karen McCarthy at a mini ceremony after the AGM of the Friends of the Park on 15th September.

The Committee of the Friends of Selly Oak Park with the Green Flag
(Ann-Marie McCarthy, Derek Foley, Adrian Langley, Nicola Clarke, Bob Curry,
Andrew Schofield, Ken Pugh, Dave Barker)

In the Spring, some of the trees in the Park were found to have had their bark stripped.  At first this was thought to be the result of vandalism.  But there seemed to be patterns in the way that the bark was stripped, and it was eventually suggested that maybe Montjack Deer were the culprits - Montjack had been seen in several other City parks, and were able to migrate along the long green corridors which linked many of the areas of Birmingham, including Selly Oak Park (e.g. along the route of the old Lapal Canal).  Then it was realised that Montjack were not tall enough to damage the trees to the height observed, and it was suggested that maybe Fallow Deer were visiting the Park and rubbing the trees with their antlers to shed their felt - a seasonal phenomenon of late Winter / early Spring.  Eventually a Fallow Deer was spotted in the park early one morning and seen running off in the direction of the Canal.  Deer had returned to an area that was a deer park in medieval times!  However the extent of the damage increased, as did the public awareness of it, and there were calls for some remedial action.  Deer repellant techniques generally are not thought to be very effective (  The best strategy is fencing, either of the whole site or of individual trees - but neither of these could be justified at the Park on cost grounds.  On 17 August some deterrent action was attempted; affected trees were painted with a concoction of clove oil, almond essence, pepper dust and flowers of sulphur - a repellant reported to have been effective elsewhere.

On Tuesday May 21st, Class 3 of St Mary's School, assisted by Nicola Little (Quadron) and Ken Pugh, planted several hundred bluebell bulbs.  Then on Thursday, 23rd May, Nicola and Ken were joined by Park-keeper Derek Foley to help almost the entire school from Cherry Oak plant more bluebell bulbs.

The annual Selly Oak Festival was held in the Park on a glorious Saturday, 29th June and attracted the largest attendance (3000-4000) of recent festivals.  A special feature in this festival was the static display, and then cavalcade, of old Ariel motorcycles by members of the Selly Oak Branch of the Ariel Motorcycle Collectors Club - Ariel, of course, having had their works in Selly Oak during the previous century, though long gone by 2013.  Also of note was the Bournville School Brass Band, because this was probably the first brass band to play in the Park for decades.  This year the full Fun Fair did not come to the Park, but instead its proprietor, Robert Wilkinson, provided a few children's rides which were integrated within the festival field (hitherto the Fair had been held in parallel with the Festival, opening at 1 pm, but in its own fenced compound, into which visitors had to pay an entrance charge).  A selection of photographs has been included in the clippings.

On 5th September Sainsbury's application for planning permission for the development of the old Battery site came before the City's Planning Committee.  There was a unanimous decision to defer the application on the grounds that it was not adventurous enough for Selly Oak and the City, that more could be made of the opportunity in relation to the biomedical science complex proposed as part of the development, and of the provision for any future development of the Lapal Canal, whilst at the same time the provision of student accommodation could be trimmed.  After further consultation and discussions the developers resubmitted their application and this was approved by the Planning Committee on 17th October.  The various perceived inadequacies of the earlier plans had been made good and, of particular interest for the future of the Park, the plan now included provision for reinstatement of the canal through the development site, providing the Lapal Canal Trust could riase some matching funds.

The Park year ended with a repeat of last year's "Carols in the Park", on a dry Saturday evening on 7th December.  About 140 people, young and old,  gathered around an illuminated tree beside the Green Flag, with their torches and glo-sticks, singing heartily to the strains of a small group of brass instruments.  The very congenial atmosphere continued into the Scout Hut where the young people provided refreshments to warm the company.

As in previous years, the Friends of Selly Oak Park, not only arranged the various activities, but generally kept a watching brief on Park matters in the interest of the local community.

On a quite humourous note, the old oak stump was the subject of an April Fool's send up this year!

The Willow Sculpture - Cyril the Squirrel - was badly damaged within the first year of its planting on 11th February 2011.  However it was allowed to grow again during the following two years.  On 25th February this year the pupils from St Mary's School, Selly Oak - indeed the very same children who had helped plant Cyril in the first place - came to the Park to help the Friends of the Park and Alf Dimmock, a Park Ranger, "repair" Cyril, by weaving in all the new growth.

Repairing Cyril the Squirrel

On the 16th March, as part of the Artsoak Festival, Circus Mash used one of the larger trees in the park to set up a Circus Tree for supervised aerial activities.

The Friends of the Park organised and hosted the Selly Oak Festival on Saturday, 28th June.  This year’s event benefited from sponsorship by the University of Birmingham as well as Robert Wilkinson’s Fun Fair.  Once again Robert provided the stage and children’s rides but – as last year – he did not bring his full fair.  To augment the usual entertainment, a Dog Show was organised by the Pampered Pet Company and a display of Flyball – a kind of racing game for dogs.  There was also live music from the folk trio "Where’s Mary".  The weather was not entirely pleasant and numbers were a little down on 2013 because of this.  The festival also saw the official opening of the new Exercise Zone.  This zone was entirely funded by Birmingham City Council and at the time was considered the best equipped outside Exercise Zone in the city.  The exercise zone has been well used by old and young alike.

In August the Park was the venue for a music festival.  This concert featured a number of tribute bands as well as local talent.  It was organised entirely by the Fake Festival franchise company and was well received by its visitors.

There were a number of tree removals from the park during the year due to disease and damage.  There were more confirmed deer sightings in the park but less tree damage than last year.

The park was awarded a continuation of its Green Flag status for 2014/15.

As members of the Birmingham Heritage Forum (BHF), and with the co-operation of the Ariel Scouts, the Friends of the Park were pleased to provide a venue (the Scout Hut) and host the Annual General Meeting of the BHF on 9th June - and conducted a walk through the Park for those interested. 

The Friends of the Park organised and hosted the Selly Oak Festival on Saturday, 30th June.  

The Park was awarded a continuation of its Green Flag status for 2015/16.

The Friends of the Park organised and hosted the Selly Oak Festival on Saturday, 18th June.  

The Park was awarded a continuation of its Green Flag status for 2016/17 - but ironically, just days before the announcement in July, the park was desecrated by the arrival and activities of some 30 traveller caravans.  They remained on the Park for almost a week before the authorities enforced an eviction order.  A substantial, and costly, clean-up followed.

As if that were not enough there was a second visitation by a group of travellers at the end of October.  It is believed these cut wood, lit bonfires, threw fireworks at passing cars and generally intimidated the local residents.  Again there was a dilatory response and only after 6 days was another eviction notice enforced.  Following this episode, representations were made to the authorities seeking more prompt attention in all the parks across the Birmingham and West Midlands area.

Fake Festivals returned to the Park, holding an event on Saturday, 20th August.  Their publicity stated  - "By popular demand, we're back in Birmingham this summer, this time with an awesome line-up of professional "touring-grade" tributes to Oasis, The Rolling Stones and U2, plus 5 local support bands. Don't miss this event!"

The annual carols in the Park was held on Saturday, 17th December.



On 18th February, Cyril the Squirrel (the willow sculpture), had his annual "haircut".

On 23rd February one of the trees in the Park fell victim to Storm Doris, a major storm that raged across the West Midlands for most of the daylight hours.

Photographs taken and kindly contributed by Gareth Stringer.

The spring of this year saw a particularly stunning display of crocuses in the Park.



Crocus Carpet on 9th March 2017.
(Photographs kindly contributed by Peggy Ball)

10th June 2017 - Selly Oak Festival

The occasion of the largest and best attended Festival of modern times, on an overcast day, but one which was warm and dry.