Category Archives: England

The Playground – A 20th Century Masterpiece

Is this the most highly valuated painting depicting a playground?

The Playground (oil on canvas) 46.4 x 62.2 cm., LS Lowry – 1945. Click image to enlarge.

At its last sale price of £553,000 The Playground is way beyond my ability to consider acquiring to grace a wall in our home. I’ll have to settle for an offset print.

The Playground was one of 21 works by the popular 20th century British painter LS Lowry that was sold by millionaire bookie Selwyn Demmy. Proceeds from the sale helped to finance Demmy’s Hunter’s Moon animal sanctuary. The auction at Christie’s in November 2010 brought in £5.2 million.

Demmy was born around the corner from Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester. At the time of the sale Demmy reflected on the collection he had acquired over a nearly 20-year period. “For me, the works of Lowry have a very powerful personal resonance as they capture the heart and soul of the people and landscape which I have loved and lived in all my life.” He told BBC that his favourite piece of the lot was The Playground.

For my part, I love the bustle, the busyness – five kids whooshing down the slide in a perpetual zip of motion. The space is bursting with activity – a kid magnet. Adults are present but not in an overwhelming, take charge way. This truly looks like a kid’s show, kid’s play. In 1945, this painting shouted out hope, an end to six years of darkness and war in Europe. Children playing in the open without fear of air raids was a return to normalcy, a cause for celebration.

Here is the Christie’s description of The Playground excerpted from the news release publicizing the auction.

The Playground is a superb panoramic cityscape with enormous charm, illustrated right. The 1930s and 1940s are recognised as the greatest period in Lowry’s oeuvre, when his vision was strongest. This canvas, from 1945, is bustling with life and, as with the best of Lowry’s paintings, presents the viewer with a multiple of shared and private moments, with numerous smaller vignettes in front of, surrounding and beyond the central focus of the children’s slide. The playground’s fence in the foreground is a characteristic motif; many of Lowry’s works have a barrier in the foreground, in the form of railings or posts, which have been suggested as representing Lowry’s own loneliness: slightly removed from, and unable to become part of, the world around him. The bandstand in the left of the middle-ground anticipates the wonder of the Daisy Nook fairground, which Lowry depicted the following year. There is a lightness to the palette which contrasts the darker works of the earlier 1940s and the beautiful balance and dynamic of this composition with the painterly figures, joyous children playing and distant industrial cityscape make this substantial painting (18 ¼ x 24 ½ inches) very significant.

Imagine if the current owner were to place The Playground back on the market and maintain the momentum of Demmy’s gift of giving. They could donate the sales proceeds to non-profit organizations that support play. If he were still with us, that would probably bring a smile to Lowry’s face and maybe even all the ‘matchstick’ men in the painting.

More on LS Lowry.

Mr. Lowry, thanks for this fine playful piece.

ScreenShot Mondays – The Playground Rocking Horse Trust

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

The Playground Rocking Horse Trust

I recently happenstanced across The Playground Rocking Horse Trust and was delighted to find this site that so lovingly documents a marvelous piece of playground equipment. Until a few months ago, I had only seen these equine multi-riders in photos from the UK. Imagine my delight when I randomly bumped into one in a postage stamp park in downtown Montreal.

Click through and treat yourself to an elegant and simple journey to the playground rocking horse’s digital stables. You won’t be disappointed as you explore the photos, video, links and commentary. John, the site’s creator had an opportunity to study children in playgrounds in the early 1970s. It seems to have had a very positive influence as he is documenting 40 years on.

Through John’s site, I came across British Pathé’s online newsreel collection. I quite easily found a real treasure trove of archival moving images. It was a magnificent find for this playground aficiando which I posted yesterday. Thanks again John.

Here is my contribution to the digital stable. If you allow I’ll even give this fine Montreal mare a name – Joual – The actual word joual is the representation of how the word “cheval” (Standard French: [ʃəval], horse) is pronounced by those who speak joual.

Take a canter, no a gallop over to The Playground Rocking Horse Trust.

Newsreel Playgrounds – British Pathé

Thanks to the assignment editors, producers and cinematographers at British Pathé for this selection of playgroundabilia ranging from 1939 to 1967 in various UK locales.

Click on the image to be taken to the play page. Clips can be played at full screen and each has a detailed shot list. Enjoy and thanks again to British Pathé for making their inventory available for public viewing.

Hold on tight, there is royalty, glitterati from both sides of the pond and of course plenty of kids starring in these reels.

Bolton Schoolyard Playground – 1939 – Runtime: 00:50

South Bank, London – 1953 – Runtime: 01:24

Come Out To Play, Reel 1 – 1950-59 – Runtime: 06:11

Come Out To Play, Reel 2 – 1950-59 – Runtime: 06:56

Adventure Playground, Crawley, West Sussex – 1967 – Runtime: 01:46

Eden’s Fallen Log

Over a period of ten years, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England has transformed a disused clay mine into a lush and fertile oasis. Environmental, educational and cultural discoveries are the heartbeat of this wonderland.

The Eden Project also has a massive section of oak trunk that serves as a rustic play station. The trunk comes from an oak that fell naturally and was then hollowed and sandblasted by Touch Wood Enterprises Ltd.


Click for transform-a-log slide show.

The log took two weeks to prepare. After sandblasting and treatment with osmo oil, it should last in the vicinity of 25 years.

Thanks to @kindlinglily for bringing this lovely play space to PlayGroundology’s attention. Thanks to Touch Wood Enterprises Ltd. for the photos. Finally, thanks to the Eden Project for the imagination to make it happen.

Playgrounds Take a Hit in England

Playgrounds are big news in England over the last couple weeks. On August 4, people in cities and towns throughout the country participated at over 860 events organized to celebrate the 22nd annual Playday campaign.

This week The Guardian, Channel 4 News (with four minute video), the BBC and The Mail Online are reporting on funding cuts to the former Labour government’s Playbuilder scheme.

Formally launched in 2008, the policy initiative earmarked £235m to be accessed by 122 local councils (at £1.1m per council) to build 3500 playgrounds. Numerous playgrounds planned to proceed to the build phase this year risk being scrapped altogether.

In a letter to local authorities, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote, “…play has to make its contribution to tackling the deficit along with other important programs.” Communities are looking to see how they themselves can fund projects that are now in jeopardy of not proceeding.

Play England has issued a news release outlining its response to the Government’s plan to identify savings through reductions to the Playbuilder scheme. Numerous observers comment on the country’s soaring child obesity rates and the role that playgrounds may be able to play in reducing this trend.

This week, with plans for many playgrounds under threat, it’s not play as per usual. Parents can be forgiven if they’re not feeling quite as much love in jolly olde England.


Dunkinfield Park, Greater Manchester – Photo courtesy of Parklover

Update – August 13

See below opposing views on the cuts to the Playbuilder program from two bloggers in merry olde England.

In this corner, in support of the cuts – Of Playgrounds and Spending Cuts.

And in defense of continued playground expenditures – Milk and Playgrounds.