In the 1880s Paddington Cricket Club began to find it more and more difficult to find fields to play on. London was expanding at an ever faster rate and fields which they had used for decades were disappearing under rows of new houses. Half of Saturday was spent travelling to distant grounds, while evening practice became impossible.
A huge campaign was waged which succeeded in buying about nine acres of land, but only after a long hard campaign. Beachcroft, a keen cricketer, was the leader in this as he was in so many things.
In 1887, Queen Victoria was celebrating her Jubilee with one of the greatest economic slumps in history. There was great unemployment this year. Thousands of even the most skilled artizans faced dire poverty, while unskilled labourers had to choose between starvation or the Workhouse. There was no Unemployment Pay or Old Age Pension at that time, so that the relief of local unemployment was a local problem. There was no national support. Local people had to relieve their own local unemployment, as they had done from Medieval times.
Relief funds were subscribed; soup kitchens and clothing depots opened, but much more was needed. A committee of local people, called together originally by Lord Randolph Churchill, raised a local Relief Fund of almost £1,800 but could not decide how best to employ it - how to relieve want in a society without any Unemployment Insurance or Old Age Pensions, without turning people who were only too willing to work, into Paupers. The Vestry was besought to find work - even if only stonebreaking - for as many of the poor residents as possible, but this hardly touched the problem.
R.M.Beachcroft again seized his chance. He offered to rent, even on a risky annual tenancy, an additional eleven acres adjoining the cricket ground, which had already been laid out at his own expense, providing that part, at least, of the Relief Fund was used in paying for labour to drain, fence, and lay out the land and to form a cinder track for athletics and cycling. He estimated that from forty to fifty men could be continuously employed in the work for eight or ten weeks. He entered into an agreement with the Committee of the Fund by which he would:-
Provide the cost of the materials for converting the fields into a Recreation Ground, pay rent for the fields, provide for maintenance, and to employ men sent to him by the Committee and no others, provided sufficient competent men were forthcoming.
As soon as he had recouped his costs by letting portions of the ground to clubs, etc, the Committee could take over the grounds if they so wished. If not, he would be free to act as he chose, save that out of any profits, he would refund to the Committee the cost of the labour provided by the Fund.
That the Ground should not be used for any political or public meetings.
The Ground, if open on Sundays, to be free to the Public, but for promenading only.
No intoxicating Liquors to be permitted.
In consideration for the above, the Committee agreed to send him such number of men as they thought fit fron the Unemployed in Paddington and tc pay their wages from the Fund.
This imaginative offer made it clear that Beachcroft, or his heirs, would not profit personally from the Recreatior Ground. All money, after providing for the yearly cost of maintenance ground-men, etc., would be set apart towards acquiring the present, or failing that, some other permanent cricket ground.
Five hundred men, of almost al trades, were employed for ten weeks it building the Ground. 35,000 yards of clay, 2,800 yards of ballast, 40,000 loads of rubbish were removed, and 1,300 yards of ashes laid to form the Grounds. A well turfed cricket field, tennis courts, a splendid cinder cycling track and a handsome pavilion with a terraced roof was constructed. Owing to Mr Beachcroft's generosity, the whole of the Fund for Relieving the Unemployed was paid in wages. He was responsible for all materials (about £2,500) and maintenance costs.
The first season was a financial success, with receipts of £1,100.
People from Kilburn, Queen's Park, North Kensington, Hampstead, and Maida Vale, all used the Recreation Ground and £8,000 was raised by these local Vestries. £13,000 came from private individuals and eventually, after two years of persistent work, promises and subscriptions exceeded £50,000. It was a high price the 1890s for a few fields, but this was prime building land. It had to bought by the foot, not the acre.
In 1893, the `Paddington Recreation Ground Act' was passed. A further one and a half acres of land was need round off the ground and this was eventually paid for by the London County Council.
The Recreation Ground is now taken for granted, with the struggle for its creation largely forgotten, but The Beachcroft Gate and the Churchill Gate are reminders of spirited people who persisted for years in an important endeavour.
Information from "The Playground of Paddington; how we secured it- to whom we owe it", by James B, 1902.
Paddington Recreation Ground