Living memories

Period: 1940s to 1970s

As part of the 2017 Spa Ponds Heritage Project members of the Forest Town Nature Conservation Group asked a variety of local residents about their memories of the site. This effort was led by Ann Childs and was used to inform the report ‘Living Reflections of Spa / “Gara” Ponds’.

Name of the site and locations

Responses from a community walk-in session held as part of the Spa Ponds Heritage Project in 2017.

Experience of the site

Christine talking about the site from 1940s

Are there any natural features/wildlife you remember?

Responses include: clean springs, tiddlers, tiddlers, enjoying the sun, kinfgisher, woodpecker, a possible golden oriole, rabbits, dragonflies, voles, stoats, frogs

  • Spring and tiddlers: “The spring was quite clear, and there were tiddlers all the way through and when the frogs were spawning it was black Sometimes you went and it was heaving with tadpoles, and you saw the frogs.” -Christine (who first visited site in 1940’s)
  • Spring and two ponds: “There were two ponds. And in between, on the path side, there was that fresh spring, spring water.” -Geoff (who visited the site from 1937 through the early 1940’s)
  • Clean springs: “The springs were always clean and were very sandy. There were also little springs popping up, mostly on the path side.” -Carol (who first visited site in late 1940’s)
  • Enjoying the sun: “Favourite bit was to sit on banking near the ponds as sun always shone on the banking and you could sit there all day with the sun on you. There was shade on one side but not the other.” -Christine (who first visited site in 1940’s)
  • Birds and rabbits, dragonflies and stoat, “There used to be birds nesting, and people would take the eggs. There were rabbits in the top fields. Loads of dragonflies. More recently, I remember seeing a stoat… We used to go into the Flood Dykes to pick the snowdrops.” -Christine (who first visited site in 1940’s)
  • Golden Oriole?: “I saw this flash of…It looked like a big blackbird with orange side panels on it and it looked like, from when you come back and have a look, it looked like a Golden Oriole. Now, was it or wasn’t it? It was there and gone.” -Chris (who first visited site in late 70’s)
  • Frogs: “There were thousands of frogs” -John early 1960’s (who firist visited the site in the early 1960’s)
  • Kingfisher and Voles: “There were all kingfishers along the river, and voles. A hell of a lot of voles.” -Ken B (who visited the site in late 1940’s to early 1950’s)
  • Springs and woodpeckers: “There was a spring first, then a pond, then a spring, then a pond. I drank from whichever one I came to…I saw shimmering blue dragon flies and some green ones.” -Ken H (visited site late 1940’s to early 1950’s)

How would you describe the site?

Responses include: Memory from 1940’s; more trees now; there was bracken, marshland and a straight to bridge; at one stage it was disintegrating.

  • More trees now: “Visited the site recently, and I didn’t notice many changes, just more trees.” -Carol (who first visited site in late 1940’s)
  • Bracken: “In the 1950s It was partly trees, chestnut trees, on the walkway down from where I used to live via Newlands Drive, being a local resident. There were sandy patches that used to be along its way, with lots of bracken. There is now a lot more trees which are now quite well grown. There were grass banks going to the edges, but now it is mainly treeline. We went along Clipstone Drive up to the top towards the wide gate and then down the main Packman’s Way.” -John early 1960’s (who first visited the site in the 1950’s)
  • Swampy: “I remember there were three ponds. Well, one didn’t look much like a pond, it was two big ponds. And like a little bit swampy, a bit muddy. Yeah, it was, you know, good times.” Ken H (visited site late 1940’s to early 1950’s)
  • Marshland and straight path to bridge: “You used to have to jump over the stream that came down and ran into the Maun and all that part between the pond and the Maun was all marshland, and we didn’t go down there because you’d be up to your knees in mud. There was only two ponds, and the bottom pond was marshland. The top one was full of willow. The path used to run straight down to the bridge, to the flood dykes. There is now a curve from the path to the bridge, but it used to be straight – if curved at all it was only a little. And there were swallows ness under the bridges.” -Peter (visited the site from the early 1960’s and the 1970’s)
  • Nice, then shabby, then nice: “In 1978 it was a nice feature to have in your locality within a couple of hundred yards, really. But we noticed over a period of time, because we didn’t go down regularly, that it started looking a bit shabby, you know what I mean. In disrepair. And I think that put us off going until more recently. It’s now looking refreshed, and if it carries on it’ll be a nice amenity. In 1978 I suppose it’s much as it is now, really. Apart from how it became overgrown in the middle period, but it looked as though it had not long had some work done to it, I don’t know who. I think it looked as though it had been maintained at that point, because it did look quite attractive. The wooded embankment has been there for donkey’s years and the footpaths have just meandered through trees.” -Chris (who first visited site in late 70’s)
  • Disintegrating: “At one stage the Gara Ponds was disintegrating, you know. It was shrivelling up back when I was a child. We used to enjoy it, it was lovely. I remember one pond and a spring. We used to get watercress and primroses from around the spring. It was a good walk which we did on a Sunday. I went with my Dad and set off about 10:30am and got home by around 2 o clock ready for dinner. There were trees and we used to call it Garibaldi Wood.” -Sheila (visited site in 1940’s)
  • Marsh and mush in the early 70’s: “I lived on Newlands estate, although everybody calls it Garibaldi. I used to go down there right from being 5 year old really, back in the early 1970’s. And it was just a mess. It was a big marsh then. There were no ponds. None at all. There was one little pond. From where the spring is, which has moved a few times, from there to the river was just reeds. Just one level. The only remnants of a pond was at the bottom of what we called as a kid Ponds Hill, the hill that’s now got trees on which never had any trees on then. There was a little water splash at the bottom and to the left hand side looking towards Warren Farm there was a little bit of a pond there, and that was it. And it was all just marsh and mush. The pond was roughly where the first pond is from the spring. The visible bit was a little stream and a little bit of a pond until Shaw-Browne excavated it out.” -Tony (first visited the site in the early 1970’s)

Stories from the site

Responses include: Fishing for tiddlers; trees chopped down; kites; concrete path edging; staying the night; falling into the river; sledging; groups, gangs and gadders; losing the pond.

  • Trees chopped down: “I can remember going down and the Forestry Commission had chopped all their trees down, and it was a bit of a shock.” -Christine (who first visited site in 1940’s)
  • Kites: “We used to take kites on top of hill overlooking pond. We used to make our own. And there used to be yellow box kites.” -Christine (who first visited site in 1940’s)
  • Staying the night: “We spent all day down there. We used to take a bunch of jam sandwiches and stay down there until it was nearly dark…When we were 10 or 12 we used to sometimes spend the night down there in the summer.” -Geoff (who visited the site from 1937 through the early 1940’s)
  • Fell into the river: “There is a story once where down at the bridge, the bridge over to the ponds, my brother drove his bike off the edge into the water, into the Maun so he was absolutely soaked.” -Phil (who first visited the site in the early 1960’s)
  • Sledging: “Wintertime, you used to go sledging. The middle pond, which is trees now, you used to go sledging down there and across the pond. But there’s old trees there now. You wouldn’t think you could sledge down.” -Ken B (who visited the site in late 1940’s to early 1950’s)
  • Groups, gangs and gadders: “We wouldn’t call it a gang, we’d call it a group first off. It turns into gangs when we got older. Before it were just friends who all used to get together and go down to places like that. I’d even slept down Garibaldi in a group, then get some lunch and went to work… The gangs didn’t start being called gangs until they started building the building the houses when the other miners came down from up north. They came down and they was in a gang, and so we had to have a gang because we used to fight ’em. It was only throwing stones and catapults called gadders. It’s what they used for fishing down for the bait. What you’d get to float. In them days it were stones stones. We’d make us own. You had to buy special elastic. It used to be square and a certain thickness, and you’d have to find a stick in the trees of the right shape so you could hold it and you tied it end to end and have a bit of leather like the tongue out of a shoe on that end and you’d be able to pull it back.” -Terry (who knows the site from the late 1950’s)

    “They wouldn’t let anything happen to the girls, they were never nasty. The boys was always nice to the girls. They were always there to protect you. It’s not like it is today, you know…. I can honestly say I’ve never had any trouble with any of the lads. They were all nice to all of us girls.” -Carol (who knows the site from the late 1950’s)
  • Lost the pond: “Wind erosion caused a lot of the problems with the ponds when I was down there. I went one morning, and the number one pond had disappeared overnight. It had filled in with sand that had washed down off all the fields, and it filled in with sand. And about a month later the spring moved further down.” -Tony (first visited the site in the early 1970’s)
  • Story behind the curved concrete path edging on the site: “I’m assuming that they donated a lorry load of these blocks to whoever was doing the maintenance work and set them on end as path edgings… we did several different ranges for different applications and they would have been what they were known as universal… Those would have been in probably five sections, to make up a ring, a circle… They would be two feet deep. If you were to dig one of those out, it would be two feet deep…. When they made them in the moulds, they just went down the lines and scratched a date in the back.” -Chris (first visited site in 1970’s)

Favourite parts and reflections

Other accounts of Spa Ponds (many with photos)

History of Spa Ponds:

Notes, sources and further reading: