Canal Fields is the main park in Berkhamsted. It is an attractive green space, centrally located between the High Street and Berkhamsted railway station, with a picnic area, skate park and a well equipped play area. The park also benefits from the presence of the River Bulbourne, the Grand Union Canal and Berkhamsted Bowls Club. Parking is available, with access from Broadwater. The park holds the Green Flag Award, the national standard for parks and open spaces in England and Wales.
In the 18th century the land now known as Canal Fields was largely wetland associated with the Bulbourne chalk stream. When the Grand Junction Canal (now the Grand Union Canal) was constructed in 1798, and later the railway in 1839, the land was raised using displaced soil and transformed into open fields.
In 1865 Lord Brownlow wanted to enclose Berkhamsted Common and was willing to give the town land for the purpose of recreation as compensation. Canal Fields formed part of the land considered, which was known at the time as St. Johns Brook.
Historical maps of the site from around 1889 onwards show the land divided into separate plots, which were probably used as smallholdings. A map from 1932 shows a nursery on the largest field. Watercress beds were situated between the canal and the River Bulbourne, owned and worked by the Bedford family for many years, until their closure in the 1960s. In 1906 Berkhamsted gas works were constructed east of Billet Lane, with an 18-inch gauge tramway across Canal Fields at the rear of South Park Gardens linking to a railway siding near the station. Horses were used to transport coal along the line until the closure of the gas works in 1955.
After 1923 the land was conveyed plot by plot to Berkhamsted Urban District Council, and then by devolution of title to Dacorum Borough Council in 1974.
Facilities and attractions
The River Bulbourne
The River Bulbourne is a chalk stream, a globally rare habitat, confined to north-west Europe and New Zealand. Chalk streams are fed from groundwater held in the chalk that forms the Chiltern Hills. Chalk streams provide habitats for some of the UK’s rarest species including the white clawed crayfish, water vole and brown trout. The corridors of land adjacent to the streams are a major wildlife resource and a priority habitat for protection.
Chalk streams are fed from ‘groundwater’ held in the underlying chalk bedrock. Chalk soaks up rainwater rather like a sponge, and a chalk stream is formed where water emerges at ground level.
The Millennium Garden
The Millennium Garden was developed by Berkhamsted Town Council and local volunteers to mark the year 2000. The garden is designed to promote biodiversity and sustainability and attracts a wide range of bees and butterflies throughout the flowering season.
Canal Fields has a large and well-equipped play area with equipment for toddlers to teens. There is also a toddler play trail by the picnic area and an outdoor gym circuit.
Berkhamsted Skate Park
Berkhamsted Skate Park was opened in December 2006 and allows skaters the freedom to practise and perfect their skills on wheels. Berkhamsted Youth Town Council, based at the Swan Youth Centre, was actively involved in campaigning for the facility. Young people from the Swan Youth Centre have helped plan and deliver skate coaching sessions to improve and share their boarding skills.
Berkhamsted Bowls Club
Berkhamsted Bowls Club offers a full range of bowling activities to suit all levels of ability. Founded in 1985, the mixed club offers men’s, ladies’ and mixed matches plus regular friendly ‘roll ups’. A pay and play facility is available to non-members. The club is open for bowls from 1 May to 20 September and offers a full programme of social activities and events throughout the year.