Junk and Adventure – 20th century playground archive

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In August 2014, the V&A Museum of Childhood acquired the Donne Buck Archive of Play and Playgrounds. This internationally significant collection records the practice, people and politics of adventure play in Britain over six decades.

Over the next few months, I’ll be working on sharing more of this incredible collection online, so for now, here’s an introduction to the riches in store…

Donne Buck has been a playleader and campaigner for children’s right to play since the 1950s. A significant figure in the history of play, in his long career Donne has established and run adventure playgrounds in London, Stevenage and Peterborough. He has been an active campaigner for children’s rights and promoted the importance of play in education and social development, working with central government, local councils and international agencies. His extensive archive documents his personal role alongside the national picture of play in Britain. 

Indorr activities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Indoor activities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Outdoor actvities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Outdoor actvities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In the 1950s, Donne was working in the poorest areas of London, while the city was still reeling from the damage of the Second World War. Among the bomb sites and rubble, experimental and progressive educators found children desperate for places to play, learn and socialise. Adventure or Junk playgrounds offered “a means of supplying the lost vitamins to the urban child’s impaired recreational diet”[i]. Donne Buck worked in Shoreditch, Lambeth, and at the pioneering Notting Hill adventure playground. The archive contains hundreds of stunning black and white images from this time, documenting the hardships and potential of post-war London.

(c) John Hopkins/V&A Museum, London

(c) John Hopkins/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In the late 1960s, Buck moved to the New Town of Stevenage, going on to establish a ring of adventure playgrounds. In the 1970s and 1980s, battling with councils and developers, Donne became a staunch organiser. The archive records this period of campaigning and publicising, with an international reach.

As well as a wealth of unpublished photographs and correspondence, the archive includes children’s work, plans and designs for playgrounds, wonderful newsletters, posters and pamphlets from a range of groups, minutes and reports giving insight into the politics of the time, training materials for playworkers, many articles and books concerning the theories and practice of playgrounds, and rich sources for the history of playground safety.

The collection’s thorough documentation of debate, activism and practice holds much potential for researchers. The struggles to retain play services during Thatcher’s government (particularly 1983 – 1987) is well recorded, as are the ideologies of safety and freedom which shape conversations about play to this day.

Leaflet for top-down Play Board venture, adapted to Free Play for Children

Leaflet for top-down Play Board venture, adapted to Free Play for Children

Leaflet for National Association of Recreation Leaders

Leaflet for National Association of Recreation Leaders

Campaign newsletter for Free Play for Children

Campaign newsletter for Free Play for Children

Campaign leaflet for Free Play for Children

Campaign leaflet for Free Play for Children

Leaflet advertising safety equipment

Leaflet advertising safety equipment

Campaign poster for the National Out of School Alliance

Campaign poster for the National Out of School Alliance

Organisations Donne Buck was involved in, including Fair Play for Children and the National Out of School Alliance are documented in detail. Plus the archive contains material from playgrounds across Britain; the Playboard; the Council of Playground Employees; London Adventure Playground Association; the Association for Children’s Play and Recreation; National Playing Fields Association; International Play Association, and many more.

For more information and to access the archive, please get in touch.

 

[i] Joe Benjamin, In Search of Adventure: a study of the junk playground, Nuffield Foundation, 1961.

Campaign poster for Free Play for Children, 1976

Campaign poster for Free Play for Children, 1976

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10 thoughts on “Junk and Adventure – 20th century playground archive

  1. Jane Roberts says:

    I love that quote; junk playgrounds offered ” a means of supplying lost vitamins to the urban child’s impaired recreational diet.” still very relevant for contemporary society.

  2. Hi, love this post – great photos and invaluable material to share with a broad public. Looking forward to seeing more and finding out how much of the collection will be available for researching online. Readers of the PlayGroundology Facebook page really enjoyed the Notting Hill Adventure Playground shot with the fire in the foreground – http://on.fb.me/1w9tE2j. Thanks from PlayGroundology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

  3. I am fascinated by this blog and really interested to follow. I was sorry not to write a blog following the death of Shirley Barker whose photographs we all used in the early 2000’s. She photographed the streets of Salford both in the early 60s and 70s. An amazing record of Street play. This and her collections should be at least referenced if not archived together.

  4. I am thrilled that this archive is being preserved/shared! I was able to spend a couple of weeks with this collection when it was at the Children’s Play Information Service, and it is truly a remarkable record of adventure play policy and planning. Thank you.

  5. Quite interesting ways of children’s outdoor activities. They’ve used to draw joy doing simple things. Today, unfortunately, iPhones and iPads are of major priority

  6. Donne Buck says:

    I am very impressed with all that the Museum of Childhood has already achieved with my archive material, and look forward to the time when their work of digitizing the material is complete. Any further feedback from users will be welcome.

  7. Mia Harris says:

    This collection is really great. The photo’s really capture how adventure playgrounds started in the 60’s in deserted city spaces, also its interesting to read how playworkers have supported children’s rights to play in urban spaces and on old bomb sites. I work for Oasis Children’s Venture in Stockwell and I am currently co-ordinating a heritage project The Big Picture at our adventure playground. I have been looking at our archive of old photos, newsletters, reports and posters with children and young people and they have produced some great artwork in response to the Oasis Archive of the last 40 years. The Big Picture project is coming to an end in August and I wondered if there is any more need for more images or records of Lambeth Adventure Playgrounds?

  8. Nicola Embleton says:

    Hi I am doing my dissertation at Leeds University looking at The history of adventure playgrounds and the influences that have had an impact on them over the years. The Donne Buck’s archive of play and playgrounds would help with this, is there anyway of accessing this archive?
    Many Thanks

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