Features

Published on November 13th, 2019 | by John OMeara

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HANDSWORTH PARK: OUR YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW

On Remembrance Day Handsworth Creative combined art and history to stimulate our imaginations about what Handsworth Park has been, and might be in the future. The Sons of Rest building was used to host presentations about the history of the Sons of Rest movement and of the Park, and to introduce an addition to the Arts Trail in the form of a mural by Claire Cotterill, which pays tribute to the grass roots movement founded in Handsworth to meet the needs of First World War veterans.

It was fitting that once Jan Kimber had presented the history of the movement, Simon Baddeley should give a potted history of the park* and building, and Rev. Bob Stephen of St. Mary’s should lead the remembrance, before unveiling the new mural outside the community garden, together with Councillor Hendrina Quinnen (“art and history always go together” she said).

Handsworth Historical Society were thanked for playing a major part in the background research, as was the grandaughter-in-law of Beatrice Bullock, Margaret Hill, for attending to commemorate the large part played by Beatrice in the establishment of the Sons of Rest.

The park represents layers of Handsworth history: from St. Mary’s church and cemetery, across the boats on the lake, over the railway, round the cricket pitch, through the bandstand, past the sunken garden, and up to the site of Park House now occupied by the Wellbeing Centre. Carry on round to the site of the 1977 African Liberation Day gathering, and more recently Simmer Down and Vaisakhi celebrations, and then loop back to the Sons of Rest itself.

The Arts Trail provides a new way of thinking about the park and the history of Handsworth. By engaging the imagination, about migration journies, about different ways of experiencing and acting in the world, it gives us a way in to those layers of history, and the identities which emerge from them. This is year 2 of a 3 year Arts Council and BCC funded project, and we look forward to where it will take us next.

One sad note is the current condition of probably the most expensive, and longstanding, art work: ‘Hands/Minds Speak’ by Lawson Oyekan. It is now almost completely buried in vegetation and invisible, although its theme speaks directly to those veterans of the 1930’s, and now provides a rallying cry for all those who seek to forge ‘community’ within our ever shifting diversity.

*Simon Baddeley (1997) ‘The Founding of Handsworth Park 1882-1898’ (Birmingham University)

Pictures by Gaelle Finley and text by John O’Meara


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