Paul Rabbitts FRSA FLI

Author, Parks Historian, Public Speaker



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The bandstand brotherhood!!

Posted on January 23, 2015 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (3)

I took a call from one of the reporters and correspondents at Horticulture Week this week wanting to run a story on bandstands and my interest in them. The question that often is asked is why? and what started it? Why is simple - their unique beauty and historical connections with public parks and entertainment within. I do get so excited on visiting a new bandstand I haven't seen before - this week East Park in Wolverhampton - a remarkable restoration from the Lost Art boys. And what started it? MY bandstand I brought back as part of the Albert Park restoration in Middlesbrough. I loved the fact I was responsible for bringing it back. 

But I am not alone surprisingly in my love of these pavilions for music, these 'concert groves', these icons of parks, public spaces and seaside resorts. Others have been loving them long before I started romancing on about Walter Mac, George Smith and good old McDowall Steven!! This was re-iterated to me this week too. A call from a real expert saying that Walter MacFarlane dropped the capital F and traded as Walter Macfarlane from c1860 onwards which was throughout their bandstand manufacturing heyday. At least I have been consistently incorrect. But anyway, bandstands have been loved and celebrated, preserved, researched, restored and valued by guys like Jim Mitchell (Industrial Heritage Consulting) and David Mitchell (Historic Scotland, and Scottish Ironwork Foundation), John Bolton and Maurice Bradbury (researchers, historians), Dominic and Damian Liptrot (Lost Art Ltd, restorers of too many to mention), Dr. Stewart Harding (Parks Agency and former HLF Director). I am just a novice and learning daily but glad to be part of the bandstand brotherhood. 

Wolverhampton, East Park - BEFORE

Wolverhampton, East Park - AFTER

A Welsh enquiry?

Posted on January 16, 2015 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I rarely answer the phone if it comes up unknown caller - usually PPI or some idiot attempting to flog me something. But for some reason, the call on Wednesday morning at 8.30am seemed to say "answer me". Glad I did, as it was BBC Radio Wales. "Is that Paul Rabbitts? the bandstand man??" Cutting to the chase - the bandstand in Abersythwyth is being demolished and replaced and they wanted to talk to me about it and bandstands in general in seaside towns. Absolutely so by 10-15am I was locked in the photocopy room yakking to a presenter on BBC Radio Wales all about bandstands and some great plugs for the book. If you want to listen, click on the link and scroll in 16 mins 50 secs!!

As for the bandstand in Aberystwyth - its not a beauty but it does have wonderful heritage and I'm not impressed with its replacement. What do you think??? 

The replacement??

Happy New Year and 2015 beckons....

Posted on December 31, 2014 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (1)

Well 2014 is almost over and its been a year of achievements for me that I am really proud of. Four books delivered in a year:-  on Richmond Park - From Medieval Pasture to Royal Park, one on London's Royal Parks and latterly Cassiobury - The Ancient Seat of the Earls of Essex (with Sarah Kerenza Priestley) and Bandstands of Britain both out this year and so proud of them. I also completed a book on Hyde Park- The People's Park which has been an ambition - its done and out in 2015. I started the PhD this year too at Salford and I am really getting into it now. This will be a long haul and I expect highs and lows but have rediscovered an immense amount about why I love parks so much. But the highlight is having my eldest Ashley and Holly move south to start Uni in London this year. To have them so close rather than in Carlisle means so much. 

Many of you have teased me over the year in relation to my OCD and obsession with bandstands - I still can't explain the obsession and the excitement of finding new ones, long since lost and wondering why, what it looked like and seeking it out. Its incurable thankfully. As part of the research on the PhD, finding that many of the London Parks had Lidos and outdoor swimming pools - this has pricked the interest - check out  . Anyway the bandstand database grows and is now over 1,100 and it will grow on this website as I eventually get it uploaded over time. Thank you so much for those that have helped with this (Sarah Kerenza Priestley, David Lambert, Stewart Harding, David Mitchell, Lost Art, and the many other contributors).

So 2015 - my 50th year - ye gods! Its a few months to this milestone and have yet to decide what to do to celebrate it. But whats in the ether for 2015 - work will be challenging as ever and Watford Borough Council will continue to push above its weight - very ambitious and a great place to work; the PhD clearly has to be a priority in what spare time I have and many trips back oop north to see Carole and Deborah - the poor souls who have me as their PGR!!; a few gigs to look forward too - Europe, Thin Lizzy (now Black Star Riders), Thunder (welcome back boys); the agony of supporting the Toon; I may perhaps squeeze another book out if I can (Decimus Burton intrigues me); but most of all, now my 2 fabulous eldest children are now esconced in the capital at University - seeing them as much as possible and spending time with them both. I know my youngest is loving seeing them again so much. 

So, 2015 - whether you are weirdly wonderful from Walsall, wisely wacky from Watford, terrifically talented from Teesdale, brazenly from the Boro, crackers from Cumbria, or from anywhere, I wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR and ALL THE BEST for 2015 and leave you with of course.... a bandstand.... my favourite one and where I will be today - Brighton sea front



Christmas Bandstand pics

Posted on December 14, 2014 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Its Christmas so a few snowy scenes of lovely lovely bandstands 

Clapham Common

Darlington, South Park

Albert Park, Middlesbrough

The Links, Nairn

Mary Stevens Park, Stourbridge

Heroes and expectations

Posted on December 9, 2014 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

We all have them - those we look up to and admire for a whole range of weird and wonderful reasons and they change throughout our lives. Some of my earlier ones are now considered well dodgy so lets not go there, but some we cling onto and some become a bit more bizarre as we get older. I had the amazing pleasure of "being one of mine" at the works Staff Excellence Awards and Christmas party last Friday night as part of a dance routine  - Slash from Guns 'n' Roses and I absolutely loved it - lived the dream for 45 seconds with the intro to Sweet Child of Mine ringing in my ears as 14 colleagues joined in and 200 party goers cheered on! Why? I have no idea - the inner rock god in me. 

But other heroes - Peter Beardsley - Newcastle Utd's greatest No8 and the greatest player I have seen; Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin - lead guitarist and founder member of the greatest band in the world - ever!!!; to the ones those may not know - Walter MacFarlane - the greatest exporter and manufacturer of bandstands worldwide whose grave I once came across in Glasgow and took a photo of BEFORE I even became aware of the guy and my subsequent obsession. Legendary among those who love them hence I get the same tingling when I find a new 279 or 249 to the intro of Sweet Child of Mine! Weird I know. Can't explain it. 

Meeting heroes - never really met any of them but once did a school visit here in Leighton Buzzard where the former drummer of Status Quo Jeff Rich was doing a workshop so took a CD with me to get signed - he was vile!! a disgustingly rude, obnoxious and arrogant man and was so disappointed, I refused to approach him with my CD. 

So I lived the 45 second dream as Slash - I hear he is a lovely man and as for Walter MacFarlane - no idea, I'm sure he had his faults but not sure he would have appreciated the intro to Sweet Child of Mine belted out from a 279 or a 249 - but I would!!! 

Walter MacFarlane

A poor mans Slash Tribute Act!!

Just gotta get cracking now

Posted on November 29, 2014 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Quick update this week. I finished my last book for a wee while now. "Hyde Park - The People's Park" was sent off to the publishers 8 weeks early as been really pushing on this one. A couple of reasons - I had set my mind to get it done before Xmas and sourced some lovely images and photos taken for it and I also need to get on with the PhD. The list for the Literature Review grows and enjoying reading Asa Briggs - Victorian Cities. Some great descriptions of London - "the great foul city of London" in 1865 as "rattling, growling, smoking, stinking - a ghastly heap of fermenting brickwork, pouring out poison at every pore - a cricket ground without the turf, a huge billiard table without the cloth, and with pockets deep as the bottomless pit". John Ruskin clearly was not a fan. 

I must admit I do love London and dipping into it. Couldn't stand the place a few years ago but now? love it and especially the parks - all the parks - the royal ones, the municipal ones to the shit ones!! And I love exploring them. 

So no more books for a wee while (still a few in me especially one on Decimus Burton burning to be done) and time to really get on with the PhD and really get into London's Parks!!

Dread turns to delight

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I was dreading this week.... I don't know why really as it turned out to be one of the best weeks of the year!! I knew I was going to be busy which I love but there were so many other aspects that were concerning me. I was on low batteries already but knew what was ahead. Too many things that were making me anxious.... but I really shouldn't have worried. 

Saturday morning - up early with Jules and Ellie and off to Keysoe - Cross Country Chilterns League and a 12 noon start for Ellie, with a respectable mid position finish. A difficult course, but I do know she can do better, but nevertheless, I am proud. 

But I had to be back in Watford - it was the big Fireworks display, 35,000 people turn up to this and I am the event manager for it, so a very quick turnaround and headed home and changed and off to Cassiobury Park in Watford. On the way, the heavens opened. The wind was getting up and I felt guilty for simply not being there with the team. Again, need not have worried, arriving and all was in control - 'part time Paul' was greeted with derision with Smiffy, Priestley and Potts in control. But the weather.... it threw it down, but Watford turned out and we had a belter of a display. Eldest daughter turned up too and even assisted. 

The lovely Cedar taken by Sarah Priestley

A late night back indeed. But brilliant. My park is a mess. 

Sunday morning - up at 7, as heading north - Mum and Dad's Golden wedding anniversary - 4 of us pile up the M1 to Teesdale, arriving at lunchtime at the Bay Horse in Ravensworth. Lovely meal, terrorised by my sister, back to my folks, missing the buffet and heading back south at 530 - home by 930pm. A long day and a long drive. But so proud of my folks for who they are , what they are and what they have achieved. 

Monday - work as usual but addressing Watford Writers that evening re the launch of Cassiobury - The Ancient Seat of the Earls of Essex with my co-author Sarah Kerenza Priestley. 35 turned out and we sold 10 books and we had such a hoot. Spontaneous conversations and off the cuff discussions with writers and locals, it was such a lovely evening. 

Tuesday - work - a doddle of a day!!

Wednesday - Salford University - "How to do a Literature Review" - brilliant. 2 hour lecture and very daunting and soooo useful and important for th PhD. Checked out a lovely park bandstand on the way up too - Mesnes Park in Wigan - another Lost Art piece of mastery. 

Thursday - oh my - the book launch at Watford Museum. A busy day at work already but the book launch. Interest is high in this lovely book. The wonderful Museum team working hard to put all this together - and ooohhhh what an evening. Amazeballs!! 140+ people turned up, the Mayor arrived, and we sold 84 books in 90 minutes - nearly a book a minute!! Out of the 200 we bought a few weeks back, we have 15 left - new order already in. What an amazing night. Thank you sooo much Sarah and her team and those who came and supported. 

Friday - catching up with work. Cancelled an interview I had with the Wicksteed Trust as a potential Trustee as worried I don't really have the time to do. 

And, throughout, I have been chipping away at the last book for a while - Hyde Park is now 99% complete - just a few captions to complete. 

As I said, dread to delight, one of the best weeks of the year and thank you to those who made it so! 

Best vs Favourite

Posted on October 26, 2014 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (1)

Last week Cassiobury Park in Watford was voted Britain's 4th favourite park! Now debate raged in the office as on twitter people were debating why it was Britain's 4th best park - BUT it was voted favourite park, not best! So whats the difference? I often get asked what is my favourite park?? I have a few but they aren't the best parks. Hammond's Pond in Carlisle, Cassiobury in Watford, Albert Park in Middlesbrough are among my favourite parks but they aren't the best parks. I would include Regent's Park, Richmond Park, Battersea Park, Saltwell Park in Gateshead, Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Lister Park in Bradford, People's Park in Halifax as some of the best parks (although Richmond Park is one of my favourite parks). 

Its a bit like voting for your favourite film of album but may be different to the best film or album. Here is my attempt:-

Top 5 fave albums 


  1. Appetite for Destruction - Guns n Roses
  2. Last Look at Eden - Europe
  3. Highway to Hell - AC/DC
  4. Led Zeppelin - IV
  5. Bon Jovi - Keep the Faith
Top 5 best albums
  1. Pink Floyd - Wish you were here
  2. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
  3. Pink Floyd - The Wall
  4. AC/DC - Back in Black
  5. Led Zeppelin - IV
Top 5 fave films
  1. Love Actually 
  2. Restless Natives
  3. Local Hero
  4. Highlander
  5. Hi Fidelity
Top 5 best films
  1. Schindler's List
  2. Braveheart
  3. Star Wars
  4. Lord of the Rings
  5. Pirates of the Carribean
So the question I get asked - the best bandstand and my favourite bandstand:-
The answer is always the same  - Brighton's sea front bandstand - its a MacFarlane one and it is unique - stunningly so!! End of!! 

Hammond's Pond - one of the first HLF parks projects

Richmond Park- courtesy of Alex Saberi

Saltwell Towers, Saltwell Park, Gateshead

Brighton Bandstand - New Years Eve 2013/14


Birthday Blog

Posted on October 26, 2014 at 5:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Well a year from the BIG birthday to go from today. For a number of years I have done an annual bucketlist of things I want to do. Its been pretty unsuccessful for a number of years but last years was a good one - mostly crossed off. This year has gone remarkably well too, looking at it in my diary. Mostly achieved and include:-

  • Another holiday abroad - DONE
  • PhD commence - DONE
  • Write Bandstands of Britain - DONE
  • Write a history of Cassiobury - DONE
  • Develop a personal website - DONE
  • Spend more time with more children - DOING
  • Re-assess personal finances - DOING
Those not done:-
  • Start running and lose weight - now I did start this but lasted 3 attempts and still need to lose that stone!! Struggling on this one. I even bought lycra!!
  • Start an ISA and sort other finances out - still to do!!
  • Get on with the BIG book on parks - STARTED!
  • Set up an enterprise called 'Bandmasta Ltd' to promote bandstands - STILL THINKING HOW TO!!
So overall pretty good. However, made me think as we were out dining last night with friends, as I approach 50, one thing I will and hope to be remembered for and known for is bandstands!! And as my Mum said, its strange how you and what you end up being into!!! Where obsessions start and end up. I do have big plans re these remarkable icons of a bygone era and everytime I find another one - in real life or just as a lovely old sepia postcard - it still gets me going!! 
Happy birthday to me!!! Roll on 50!! BRING IT ON!!! 

Re-visiting old ground!!

Posted on October 25, 2014 at 6:40 AM Comments comments (1)

I had the pleasure of attending a really good conference in early October called Victorian Cities Revisited which I was looking forward to but especially so as it was back in my old stomping ground of Middlesbrough where I had 8 challenging but largely enjoyable years. It was interesting seeing the town as an outsider or visitor and forgot what jewels the place has - the Transporter Bridge, Newport Bridge, the wonderful Victorian Town Hall, Dorman Museum, but to me it has to be Albert Park. I project managed the £4.4 million restoration of this amazing park, opened in 1868 by the Prince of Wales and donated by local MP and the iron man of Middlesbrough, HWF Bolckow. 

Now the Boro is a challenging place and I left as felt I could do little else for a number of reasons - difficult individuals, archaic ways of working and I like to take responsibility and make a difference. I despise lethargy and excuses. After completing Albert Park, I was so proud of the finish and the staff I left behind. But times changed and staff have left and in only 14 years since it was restored, it declined once again and I actually said I would never go back as it was too upsetting. Well I went back last week and despite the horrendous cuts to date, its looking OK!! I say ok as there are still things that need sorting - does a lick of paint really cost that much!! But the fountain was working agan, the bandstand was looking well (needs a paint too!), no litter, lake was looking well, play area well maintained, staff were knocking about and people were enjoying it. I felt proud I must admit that I had made a difference here. But I do worry. Middlesbrough is not on the brink - it seems to have gone over and the austerity cuts are hitting harsh here. My job in Watford is easy compared to what they have to deal with here. Bolckow gave Albert Park to the people of Middlesbrough nearly 150 years ago and it will still be there in another 150 years. But the Council have a challenge. In a way I wish I had stuck it out as I really missed the place and realised that despite its reputation as a place to 'avoid', it has much to offer - including Albert Park. I will continue to go back and keep a watching brief. My email to Mayor Ray Mallon though about getting the pavillion painted though remains unanswered.