John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
.
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, Friends of Southampton's Museums, Archives and Galleries and 
West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
Copyright 2017



 
   Home      Vokes Memorial Gardens
 
 
p
 The following article by A.G.K. Leonard was published in the Journal of Southampton Local History Forum [SCC Local Studies Library] in 1999. Reproduced with approval of Alan and SCC Local Studies Dave Hollingworth. The Forum no longer exists but copies of the series of Journals still remain in the Local Studies Library. Note certain points in the article eg the metal sign etc are no longer applicable due to the passage of time.
 

Creator: A G K Leonard


Publication: The Vokes Memorial Gardens/Vokes Park [Southampton: in memory of Frederick Michael Vokes]; Journal of the Southampton Local History Forum, 8, Autumn 1999, pp 17-18

 
 
The aster cultivar "Alderman Vokes" was created at the Vokes Nursery, Sholing, Southampton as a flower suitable for the site of the new Cenotaph in Southampton [1920's]   Portrait of Alderman Vokes in his robes by kind permission Mr Philip Cook, grear great grandson.
 

THE VOKES MEMORIAL GARDENS/VOKES PARK

by A.G.K Leonard

“The Vokes Memorial Gardens” is the wording on a metal nameplate near No. 4 Dock Gate, at the beginning of the pleasant strip of grass and flower beds that extends westward along Platform Road; at the other end is a notice designating it as “Vokes Park”. Few passing motorists will have time to read either: those who do  might be prompted to ask, “who were the Vokes?” or speculate “what’s a voke?”

In fact, the gardens/park perpetuate the distinctive name of the man chiefly responsible for its layout some 75 years ago – Alderman Frederick Michael Vokes. As the energetic octogenarian chairman of the Council’s Public Lands Committee from 1923 until his death in 1927, aged 83, he initiated many improvements to Southampton’s parks and open spaces. These included new bowling greens and tennis courts and many flower beds, notably those along Platform Road, which happily beautified a previously drab area outside the Docks.

A native of King’s Worthy, Vokes ran a grocery business from the 1870s, in Eastleigh and Southampton. He lived the second half of his life at Sholing, developing a wonderful garden at his home, Birch Lawn in North East Road.

He was a leading figure in several horticultural societies, including Eastliegh Southampton and Romsey as well as the Gardeners Association at Sholing, of which he was founder-chairman. Mr Vokes delighted to share his horticultural enthusiasm with others, making his own garden freely available and presenting numerous trophies to encourage society competitions. He often acted as a specialist judge, while during World War I he lectured widely on allotment gardening and food production. Retiring early from business, he became very active in local affairs, serving from 1891 on the South Stoneham Board of Guardians and Rural District Council, of which he was later chairman, as also of the Itchen Urban District Council. After its incorporation into Southampton in 1920 he was elected  to the Borough Council and made an alderman in 1924. He also served briefly as Sheriff in 1926.

In February 1930 the splendidly named Sholing Amateur and Cottage Gardeners Mutual Improvement Association suggested that the land at the Platform should be called the Vokes Memorial Gardens, “knowing that its layout was at the instigation of the late Alderman”, and that an explanatory brass plate should be erected there. The Public Lands Committee agreed, on the basis that it should be provided “free of expense to the Council”.

A year later, the committee agreed the wording: “This tablet was erected by interested friends to commemorate the laying out of these gardens under the direction of the late Alderman F.M. Vokes, the Chairman of the Public Lands Committee, and to perpetuate the memory of one whose whole life was devoted to the practice of Horticulture.” In April 1931 the Council approved the Association’s design for a “memorial tablet, size 3 feet 2 inches by 2 feet 3 inches, in cast bronze, with raised letters on a matted ground.”

This was eventually unveiled on Saturday, July 29, 1933. Alderman W. Alford, chairman of the Public Lands Committee and President of the Sholing Gardeners Association in succession to Vokes, presided as the actual unveiling was performed by  Mr W.J. Collins – builder/Methodist/philanthropist, father of Herbert Collins, the distinguished housing architect. The original tablet was presumably a victim of World War II; its replacement gives no information about Mr Vokes.

At the inauguration ceremony in 1933, his son, the Rev. E.F.M. Vokes, expressed appreciation of the thoughts of prompting the occasion and said that “his father’s greatest work was in the encouragement he gave up and down the county to small horticultural societies: many a Vokes Cup was still competed for annually.”

The dual Gardens/Parks identity of what was previously called “the public gardens at The Platform” dates back to that day in July 1933, when the title “Vokes Park” was first bestowed upon it. In the Hampshire Advertiser of August 5, its columnist “Tom o’Wessex” wrote that “It was a thoroughly good idea to associate the laying out of these pleasant gardens with the name of the man who first thought of the notion. There are other reasons why we should remember the name Alderman Vokes with gratitude. He helped many of us to understand the beauty of the garden and its possibilities and worked imaginatively for the town on these lines. But the word “Park” doesn’t seem to fit. It presupposes a place of resort for the public and that strip of garden will never be like that. Parks in Southampton soon lose their identifying names. Only older folk apply them; the younger generation just lumps them together as the Parks and leave it as that.”

Even modest municipal fame is fleeting .... less than twenty years later, a mention of Vokes Park in the minutes of its Public Lands Committee coming before the Borough Council meeting in November 1952 caused Alderman ‘Tommy’ Lewis to ask “where did the name come from?” The Mayor, Alderman E. Burrow, said “I have lived in Southampton all my life and I have never heard this land called Vokes Park.” Alderman W.H. Stone, Chairman of the Public Lands Committee, could only say that the land at the Platform was referred to as Vokes Park because the committee had been told that was its name! It was left to Councillor Walter Greeaway to point out the connection with Alderman Vokes. His subsequently wrote to Mayor – and to  theSouthern Daily Echo – outlining his father’s public service and horticultural activities.

Footnote

The anomalous status of Vokes Park/Memorial Gardens is again illustrated by its omission from the list ad map of 50 Parks and Gardens in Southampton given in the leaflet Southampton, the Green City published in March 1999 by the Leisure Development Section of Southampton City Council.

Editor’s note

 

Readers may recall that Mr Vokes appeared in the Spring 1993 volume of our Journal. The Eastleigh enumerator at the 1891 census recorded that Mr Vokes, his wife, his nine children and his mother-in-law at Leigh Road. He also recorded Mr Vokes’ jocular comment: “Thank God we are all A.I. None of our deaf, dumb, blind, nor lunatic, imbecile, or idiot. In perfect health. You would think so if you were to see us feed.” 


Update [2016] Due to the popularity of the cruise ships the road leading to Dock Gate 4 was considered as a suitable project to take away the single file one way systems and replace it with an improved traffic layout. This partly allowed the adjoining Queen's Park with its memorial to General Gordon to become more accessible to the public and both City of Southampton Society and Southampton Common and Parks Protection Society were supporters of the new layout. However a downside was that the road widening would encroach into the existing Vokes Gardens [Park]. As the new scheme would benefit docks flow of traffic, ABP the owners of the docks came to an arrangement with SCC to take a docks car parking area and transfer it to SCC ownership to allow the Vokes area to be extended. CoSS/ SCAPPS encouraged a viewing platform to allow residents / visitors to glimpse into the Eastern Docks albeit through its boundary railings. To commemorate the historic use of the town cannon which used to be trundled along Platform Road from its normal platform by God's House Tower to offer protection to the docks in the times of threats of warfare [usually with the French] a suggested name for the new landscaped area was to be Vokes Platform but without any further consultation the new signage Vokes Memorial Gardens appeared on the granite viewing steps. The granite incidentally was shipped from China.
 
I was instrumental in contacting descendants of the Alderman mainly Mike Vokes MBE and Phil Cook who followed the project closely. ABP were very much aware that the Titanic commemoration stone just on the dockside of DG4 was no longer accessible to Titanic enthusiasts who often travelled great distances to photograph the stone. ABP consulted the British Titanic Society [secretary John Creamer] to see if the idea of moving the stone to an area accessible to the public would be accepted. Through my heritage contacts I followed the proposed move but became alarmed when ABP made arrangements to plonk the stone into the newly extended Vokes Memorial Gardens without consulting SCC the owner of the Park. 
 
With the assistance of Hilary Bradley [SCC Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre] I arranged for the extended family members of Alderman Vokes to attend on 23rd July 2016 to meet the Mayor Councillor Cathie McEwing at the recently landscaped area. The family kindly spent time clearing the litter prior to the photographer from the Echo and a freelance employed by ABP took the celebratory photos. As part of the event a vintage Southampton bus took residents and visitors on a tour of the docks - much appreciated by all.
 
As Alderman Vokes introduced a mauve aster flower to commemorate the recently built Cenotaph in Southampton I suggested  to Parks Manager that this would be appropriate to have a bed in the new Gardens. This so far has not materialised. The Vokes family are going to write to SCC queering the term "Gardens" as it is soley a lawned area with granite viewing steps hardly reflecting the bright flowers grown at the Vokes Nursery. Mike Vokes has offered to supply some plants but in probability council cuts, reduction in manpower means less and less formal flower beds.
John Avery
 
John Avery welcomes the Mayor of Southampton councillor Cathie McEwing to the Vokes Memorial Gardens [image courtesy Bruce Larner] Mike Vokes MBE with the Mayor of Southampton representing the Vokes family at the newly aligned Vokes Memorail Gardens [image courtesy Bruce Larner] The Titanic Commemoration Stone placed in the Vokes Memorial Gardens by the owners of the docks ABP. There is no connection to the Vokes family.
Descendants of Alderman Vokes attending the Vokes Memorial Gardens 23rd July 2016 [image courtesy Bruce Larner] 
 
 
snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple