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Page last updated at 07:22 GMT, Tuesday, 13 July 2010 08:22 UK
History of Upton Court Park land
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Upton Court Park
Land has been found to be contaminated in Upton Court Park

It's Slough's biggest park - but around 55 acres of Upton Court Park has been found to be contaminated with lead, arsenic and benzene.

And as the council decides what to do about the problem BBC Berkshire takes a look at the history of the park.

As with most of outer Slough, Upton Court Park appears to have been farmland.

Previous names include Upton Meadow or Lot Meadow and the Long Field or Lot Mead.

Bullocks and pigs

It was a mixed farm. Bullocks and pigs were reared for slaughter and many sheep were there to be sheared for wool and cows for milk.

Upton Court Park
Slough Council says there is no need to close the park

Chicken were bred and eggs sold. Hens were also set on pheasant eggs.

Frequently there were shooting parties. A memo at the end of an 1899 diary records that Mr John Merrick and Harry Buckland with Ben bagged 15 brace pheasant, 1 hare, 3 partridges and 3 rabbits, with a list attached of the people to whom these were sent.

Among the regular crops were potatoes, swede, mangold, lettuce, wheat, barley, rye and soft fruit.

In 1907 there were 201 cattle, probably mostly cows but also heifers and bullocks for slaughter and also at least one bull.

There were around 200 sheep for most of the time, but no mention of the number of pigs although in diaries we see that 20 were bought on one occasion in 1903.

Commercial sales of eggs indicate there were a considerable number of chickens.

The farm had several working horses, but horses were often hired with equipment for special purposes

The park may also incorporate some of the Upper Leye Field, as well as marsh, nineteenth century gravel pits and Upton Mill.

The site of Upton Court Park seems to have been acquired by the Corporation of Slough sometime between 1930 and 1937 and contained 147 acres of field.

However, by 1963 this expanded to 180 acres.

Since the site was converted into a park, it has offered the people of Slough many sporting facilities.

It has provided a long-term home for Slough Rugby Club, and during the 1960s it contained a temporary go-carting track, which is thought to have been the first provided by a local authority.

Today the list of facilities includes a jogging trail with exercise equipment, a motorcycle scrambling club, a BMX track where events are held, an area for model aeroplane flying clubs and a model car racing club area.

Upton Court Park has been the venue for many of Slough's festivals and cultural events, such as the 'Grand Country Fair' in 1977, celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the creation of India and Pakistan and the 2003 Youth Festival. Slough Bonfire still held every year in November.

How was the contaminated soil found?

Upton Court Park
It would cost millions to remove the contaminated land

"We were doing some routine work for installing children's play area and we came across the issue," said Nigel Dicker, assistant director environmental services and quality for the council.

"We have identified where the main areas are and we are going to look to deal with it.

"There are instances like this around the country from time to time. It's not under the soil, it's on the surfaces. It has been left from the 40s or 50s.

"We think it's some material from an old boiler or furnace which has been used to fill in some gaps and it was just spread around in those days.

"People didn't really realise the consequence of what they were doing and now it's come to light."

How will it affect park-users?

There are two main areas which are affected. The North East corner or bunds area and the North West corner near the main car park.

"There are no immediate risks and no need to close the park," said Nigel. "The way it might harm someone is if someone ingested or ate large quantities of it over a long period but it is an issue we need to deal with.

"There is always a slight residual risk and as a responsible land owner, the council, now that it knows of the existence of the lead, has to deal with it and we will be doing so within the next few years.

What can be done?

Upton Court Park
An option is that the council will spend up to 1m on a planting scheme

"There are several options," sais Nigel. "One is to cover it with new material - imported clean soil.

"The other one is to take away the material and provide a membrane or a cap over the affected area.

"Or another easier method is to plant it with dense vegetation and lay path so people can still have access through the area and you just prevent anyone coming into contact with the substance.

"It could be expensive. If you were to remove the material it could be into the millions.

"We're looking at about £600,000 to a million for a planting scheme so we will probably look at that option."

Dick Sable lives near the park but says it wasn't a big shock to know parts are contaminated.

He said: "Much of the park was used as waste dump through the 50s and 60s and a lot of people around here would remember when lorries were going in dumping stuff.

"Slough was an industrial town, with lots of manufacturing processes using heavy metals and radioactive materials.

"The probability is that in those days there were no controls over dumping of materials.

"The rugby club at the foot of the park suffers quite a lot of subsidence, simply because it was laid down over waste materials, which all decayed and the surface of the land collapses as the stuff underneath it rots away."

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