Remembering HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had a long relationship with the Lee Valley and was instrumental in getting the Authority created.
Flying over the area in a helicopter on his way to the north east – something he recalled in the foreword to From Wasteland to Playground, the book authored by London School of Economics Prof Tony Travers which chronicled our first 50 years – he saw what was below and described it as “a pretty average mess”. Few would have disagreed.
He became an early advocate of what was to become Lee Valley Regional Park. A key moment was an agenda-changing conference which followed the publication of a report by the Civic Trust called “A Lea Valley Regional Park: an essay in the use of neglected land for recreation and leisure”. This report set out an astonishingly ambitious plan for the valley - fun palaces, a motorcycle scrambling track, courses for water-skiing and powerboat racing, restaurants, open spaces, leisure venues, riverside gardens, footpaths, cycleways and playing fields.
As Tony Travers explains: “In July 1964 the report by the Civic Trust was presented to a conference of MPs, councillors, statutory bodies and other organisations with an interest. The event was held in a disused Metropolitan Water Board pumping house in Lea Bridge Road, Hackney. It is a measure of the power of the concept that Prince Philip was the key speaker.”
This conference, and no doubt Prince Philip’s involvement behind the scenes, was the pivotal moment in garnering the political support needed to create the park, and the one body to oversee it – which would become Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.
The Prince remained closely interested in the park. in 1971 he visited the new LVRPA headquarters and Picketts Lock, the Rye House boatyard and Dobbs Weir picnic area. He returned in June 1973 to open the Picketts Lock Centre and then again in 1977 for a tour of the area by helicopter during the Silver Jubilee week. The Prince piloted a craft of the Queen’s Flight to visit the Eastway and Lea Bridge centres in June 1977.
He came back in 1992 to celebrate our 25th anniversary and the opening of River Lee Country Park, then a newly-created area which had required a 10-year programme of landscaping work; and again in 2004 to open Gunpowder Park.
We had invited him to return in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the park at a special event at Lee Valley White Water Centre. Unfortunately, the Duke at that point was forced to scale back his royal duties and had to withdraw.
Below, you'll find the foreword he kindly wrote to From Wasteland to Playground, as a memory of our long standing relationship with him.