All Points East: a look at the history of Victoria Park
- Credit: Archant
Victoria Park - or ‘Vicky Park’ as the locals know it - has been the setting for many important events over the years. Here, we take a look at its unique cultural history.
Established in 1845, Victoria Park was the UK's first public park to be created by an Act of Parliament and was originally opened to improve the health of local residents by encouraging outdoor pursuits.
Before the outbreak of the war in 1939, the park was famous for its public speaking area near the Victoria Fountain, where anyone could mount a box and wax lyrical to passers-by - a sort of East End version of Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner.
Since then, what became known as 'the people's park' enjoyed a long and colourful history of political rallies, demonstrations and open-air concerts both small and spectacular. This week, the Gazette looks at some of the prominent events which have shaped Victoria Park's unique history.
East London Suffragette rallies
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Victoria Park's political past can be traced back more than a century to when it was used for May Day rallies and drills of the People's Army - a volunteer force set up to protect the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) from police brutality.
The People's Army was formed by Sylvia Pankhurst and Norah Smyth, who would often use Victoria Park for political protests and processions. In May 1913, Pankhurst led a march from the East India docks to Victoria Park to bring awareness to the campaign for votes for women. Speaking platforms were set up in the park for campaign supporters - including Labour MPs and trade union leaders - but the gathering was quickly broken up by police.
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Pankhurst and her supporters returned to Victoria Park the following May on another procession from East India Docks, but once again the police were there to put an end to their efforts.
Rock Against Racism
One of Victoria Park's most iconic events was the revolutionary Rock against Racism concert in 1978.
On April 30, a 100,000-strong crowd marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to the East End to enjoy an open-air concert headlined by Tom Robinson and the Clash with support from Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, Patrik Fitzgerald, The Ruts, Sham 69 and Generation X.
The music-focused event was part of Rock Against Racism - a political and cultural movement which emerged in 1976 - and was organised to show unity against prejudice from far-right organisations such as the National Front Party which had been gaining increasing support. At a time when the prospect of a multi-cultural society was under threat, Rock Against Racism demonstrated the power of music to highlight important political issues and bring about change.
Pride Festival 1995
After 10 years in south London, Pride Festival moved to Victoria Park in 1995 for its 25th anniversary. Hundreds of thousands of supporters turned up to celebrate the lesbian and gay community for what was to be one of its biggest festivals to date.
The day kicked-off with a colourful procession through central London before festival-goers made their way to Victoria Park to enjoy a day of live music and entertainment. The festival's main stage featured various performers, including headliners Erasure, Boy George and Jimmy Somerville.
Completing the festivities were market stalls, beer tents, a woman's- only disco, a Ministry of Sound tent and various LGBT entertainment, including cabaret, comedy, spoken word, magic and drag.
Founded by DJs Groove Armada in 2002, Love Box moved around various clubs and outdoor parks in London until arriving at Victoria Park in 2005. The two-day music festival enjoyed 13 years in east London, with prominent headliners including Groove Armada, Jamroquai, The Flaming Lips, N.E.R.D, Florence and the Machine, Dizzee Rascal and Snoop Dogg. Alongside the main acts there were various dance tents, cabaret arenas and funfair rides.
Love Box was replaced by All Points East in 2018 and now takes place in west London's Gunnersby Park.
All Points East
After securing a five-year contract with Tower Hamlets Council, AEG Presents hosted the first All Points East festival in Victoria Park last summer. In a nod to the park's history, their weekday festival featured All Points Equal, which celebrated 100 years of votes for women and featured a Q&A session with a panel including Sylvia Pankhurst's great granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst. This year's event will take place from May 24 to June 2.
To find out more, visit allpointseastfestival.com.