Hearsall Common, a Haven of Nature

Hearsall Common, 2009
Originally uploaded to Flickr by Sheep Gammie, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Reassigned recreation land in 1927, Hearsall Common is the city’s most extensive common. Not that the cessation of pannage and commoners’ rights was ever recognised by Farmer Green. As a ten year old at the end of World War 2, I well remember his pigs regularly accessing the common via the communal entry bisecting the back-to-back housing of Kingsland Avenue and Queensland Avenue. More than a few unsuspecting residents emerging from their rear gates were unceremoniously up-ended.

Idyllic playground

After the blitz, Hearsall Common was the dominant attraction for local schoolchildren. An idyllic playground, it yielded generous bounty; abundant flowers to pick, plentiful pig nuts and crab apples not to mention prolific blackberries and raspberries (red and yellow), escapees from the allotments. Many households took advantage with annual pie and jam-making sessions. Recreation flourished in the wake of the war with football and cricket while Bertram Mills’ Circus became a regular feature. The famous Crock Fair resumed, providing the opportunity for people to purchase high-class brands of china at affordable prices.

For us children, life passed pleasantly, the cycle of seasons an enjoyable progression from summer’s leisurely days to winter’s snowballing and tobogganing on the slopes of the clay banks. Primarily oak woodland with thickets of holly, the common was home to a thriving population of squirrels and birds; but, for me, the denizens of the allotments’ big pond and brook sparked a life-long interest in aquatic life. Sticklebacks, frogs and newts abounded. The great crested newts fascinated me. Many times I watched with morbid interest as they preyed voraciously on myriads of unfortunate tadpoles.


Lizards were widespread, lightning-quick to vanish if disturbed; sometimes I’d glimpse a tailless one that had narrowly escaped a predator. Grass snakes, slow worms and adders could all be encountered. Of historic interest, a commemorative plaque is dedicated to Frank Whittle of Spitfire fame who witnessed the landing of a plane on the common in 1916.

Threat of war

As the threat of war materialised, a static water tank was erected together with bunkers near the allotments. Dark and mysterious, they presented a daunting challenge of exploration to local children. Some ventured far along the dank, lengthy passages until arriving at the right-angled pitch-black continuations where their nerve invariably failed. Now, all that exists are their flattened in-filled remains.

Eighty years on, preserved within the sights and sounds of the big city, Hearsall Common continues to be a haven of nature.

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