The history of the child play movement in the U.K is short, for generations of children play was condemned by adults as an intrusion into their world of work and leisure. For up until the 19th Century, once a small child had grown out of the nappy stage and could walk, the child was expected to play an active role in family life and all associated activities within the family unit. Childhood as a vocation, was not recognised as having any value, special attention, or provision.


In 1385, the Bishop of London complained of children playing around St. Pauls and later in 1447 the Bishop of Exeter also complained of children playing within the church cloisters during services. An Italian visitor to England remarked in his Revelation's of the late 15th Century.


"The want of affection in the English, is directly manifested towards their children."  " For often having kept them at home till they arrive at the age of 7 or 8 years, or 9 at the utmost". " They put them out to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them for another 7 or 9 years". In London, a Beadle was employed to whip children away from the Royal exchange.


 In 1910 Robert Owen operated special day nurseries at his New Lanark Mills;  


 It was however the teacher, writer and visionary William Barnes of Dorchester Dorset who warned of the future of children if their play spaces were lost to the cars and house building.

As he wrote in his visionary poem.




  Whilst church groups and others like the Childrens Holiday Fund and Fresh Air Fund, provided trips out to country areas for city children and other activity groups. These included the Children's Happy Evening Association, Band of Hope and Salvation Army activities.




Robert Baden-Powell operated the very first boys scout camp on Brownsea Island at Poole in Dorset, thereby forming the Scout Association in 1907.


Nearby at Shaftesbury (Dorset) Homer Lane had established the first free school in the U.K, which was called The Little Commonwealth.


This influenced Coldwell Cook with his book entitled, The Free Way, which was originally published in 1917.


Homer Lane with his Little Commonwealth School in Shaftesbury, had recognised the importance of free play in 1913, stating that ;


 "The child in the playground was not the same child who came to school, resourceful and purposeful, all qualities apparent in his spontaneous play".


 In later years A.S.Neil had opened his free school Summerhill.


 It was via The Royal Charter of 1925, which established The National Playing Fields Association N.P.F.A, (National Playing Fields Association) allowed them to become the only body specifically responsible for the development of play, playgrounds and recreational grounds nationally within the U.K.


It is only through the extraordinary work of the N.P.F.A, that organised child's play and the facilities of play have grown and become established. Many of the forerunners of childrens charities were established at their offices in Playfield House.


Voluntary organisations and play organisations were the subject of national campaigns aimed at the setting up and delivery of such community projects.


With the help of grant aid, resources and specialist know how, facilities for all ages and abilities including disabled children. Along with safety standards of play provision which were set in stone.


This was indeed the largest step so far taken, (all very long overdue) Nevertheless, things were now definitely happening for the sake of the children.


By this time a national conscience was aroused and the state itself accepted some responsibility for child welfare, more specifically regarding child protection.


However, it was left to the voluntary sector to monitor the play needs of children. There was previously at that time little in the way of national recreational provision until 1925, when the N.P.F.A was founded.



Pictures of Children playing on the streets and bombed sites of the city.


  Long before World War Two, the Danish Architect J.H. Sorenson had a vision of how children could best play, freely and imaginatively. He presented his views within his own personal blueprint document entitled "Open Spaces for Town and Country".

Sorenson wrote in 1913,


"That perhaps we should set up waste material playgrounds in suitable large areas, where children could play with old cars, boxes and timber".


For a brilliant article with extraordiny pictures of adventure playgrounds nationally, visit. 


 The Farmers in his den


 In later years, the adventure playgrounds were to meet these needs, places where children could express their efforts spontaneously.

There are many factors that led to the birth of adventure play, but none so important as the psychological theories of childhood which emerged in the 1930's. These new ideas about childhood and play entered the mainstream culture and began to affect politics, town planning and child care practices.


Within this climate of innovation Carl Theodor Sørensen a landscape designer and Hans Dragehjelm a school teacher, created their Family and Children's Park proposal.


For several years both men had been interested in designing and building appropriate play spaces for the children of Copenhagen.


Sørensen and Dragehjelm thought that natural play was the ideal play and worked best in natural and rural surroundings. Sørensen was not an opponent of playground equipment, but he wanted it limited to see-saws, swings and sand-boxes. He had long observed that the children in his area were attracted to playing on construction sites and not on the conventional playgrounds. They appeared excited by the endless possibilities that the construction site offered them in creating their own adventures. In a journal article in 1935


Sørensen wrote:


"Finally we should probably at some point experiment with what one could call a junk playground. I am thinking in terms of an area, not too small in size, well closed off from its surroundings by thick greenery, where we should gather, for the amusement of bigger children, all sorts of old scrap that the children from the apartment blocks could be allowed to work with, as the children in the countryside and in the suburbs already have".


"There could be branches and waste from tree polling and bushes, old cardboard boxes, planks and boards, "dead" cars, old tyres and lots of other things, which would be a joy for healthy boys to use for something". "Of course it would look terrible, and of course some kind of order would have to be maintained; but I believe that things would not need to go radically wrong with that sort of situation. If there were really a lot of space, one is tempted to imagine tiny little kindergartens, keeping hens and the like, but it would at all events require an interested adult supervisor..."


Sørensen's junk playground eventually became the first ever adventure playground in the deprived area of Emdrup, Copenhagen.


 It was opened in August 1943 as part of a housing project with 719 large-family households and was an immediate success. At Emdrup nothing was static or expensive. It was filled with junk - wood, rope, canvas, tires, wire, bricks, pipes, rocks, nets, logs, balls, abandoned furniture, wheels, vehicles, and an unimaginable assortment of other things.


  The first playleader of the Emdrup adventure playground was John Bertelsen who wrote in an article in 1946 stating:  


"The adventure playground is an attempt to give the city child a substitute for the play and development potential it has lost as the city has become a place where there is no space for the child's imagination and play".


 "Access to all building sites is forbidden to unauthorized persons, there are no trees where the children can climb and play Tarzan. The railway station grounds and the common, where they used to be able to fight great battles and have strange adventures, do not exist any more. No! It is now not easy to be a child in the city when you feel the urge to be a caveman or a bushman".


There are many factors that led to the birth of adventure play, but none so important as the psychological theories of childhood which had emerged earlier in the 1930's.


 These new ideas about childhood and play entered the mainstream culture and began to affect politics, town planning and child care practices.   


   In a publication entitled Planning for Play , Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote,


 "Adventure playgrounds are significantly different from one another".  "For they are influenced by the community, the nature of the site, the wishes of the children, the imaginations of the leader and the amount of money available".


 Lady Marjorie Allen was originally Chair of the Nursery Association and founder of the;Under Fourteen Council, later to be known as Save The Children Fund.


 They published their report on children's play in 1943, which was entitled; Play Space for Children.  It was due to her work that the Curtis Commission was formed which led to the 1948 Childrens Act.





It was the N.P.F.A through its national officers and work over the years led by Lord Luke, Lady Marjorie Allen, Mary Nicholson, Drummond Abernethy and the N.P.F.A's numerous retired officers from the armed services, who pioneered and developed play work initiatives nationally.


This radical step forward, led to the development of numerous national play projects and campaigns in the U.K. Thereby ensuring that childs play was taken seriously by government bodies and local authorities in the years ahead.


  Lord Luke of the N.P.F.A along with Lady Allen of Hurtwood spearheaded the initial and crucial meetings at N.P.F.A's headquarters in Play Field House. (London) To promote the development and growth of adventure playgrounds in the U.K.


Following an article in the Times newspaper on the subject of juvenile crime in 1951, the N.P.F.A offered grant aid for the first two experimental adventure playgrounds. Lord Luke was appointed by the N.P.F.A as the Chair of such a play committee in 1951.


Then by 1954 the N.P.F.A had their own published guidelines on the development of playgrounds, courtesy of Mary Nicholson, which were specifically based on the development of Adventure Playgrounds. Initial meetings of the newly formed Pre-School Play Association were also held at Play Field House.


Adventure Playground emerged from movements in 1960s Europe that worked to reclaim derelict urban spaces, many caused by the devastation of World War II. Filled with trash and debris, the sites were considered unfit even for parking cars and were therefore abandoned by developers. However, children had no qualms about these forbidden sites, often playing happily in rubble heaps.


PICTURE POST Article by Lady Allen of Hurtwood








 Children seemed to prefer the informality of dirt and scraps to formal jungle gyms. Eventually parents and park designers realized that these non-traditional materials inspired creative, thoughtful play. The adults and children worked together to construct the kinds of play spaces the children wanted.


 The playgrounds they built were not just play spaces; they were fodder for studies by child psychologists. Proponents for Adventure Playgrounds claimed that the play environment they provided would help kids retain resilient and positive world-views.



Adventure Playgrounds continually proved the value of learning experiences outside of school. Children could use the playground for exploring many real-life activities (and even the imagined ones). Many of the constructions were clubhouse-type buildings that fostered elaborate games of pretend. Other equipment was designed for children to create multi-media art projects.


British supporter Lady Allen of Hurtwood went so far as to argue that giving children opportunities to collectively play at cooking, building, and creating would work to eradicate those destructive energies that might lead some urban youth into delinquency.






Landscape design innovator and father of the Adventure Playground, M. Paul Friedberg confirms, “Our problem is that We want the child to be living in a padded box. But a child has to have the real world, fraught with challenges to overcome.” 


Friedberg’s conviction seems to have held true in England, as full-time employees staffed each adventure playground to oversee creative activities and aid in the general upkeep of the materials.


 The playgrounds’ need for heavy community involvement and much maintenance would later figure into their demise.










 Meanwhile in the United States, the movement caught on quickly. Adventure Playgrounds sprouted up in locations all over the New York, predominantly in Manhattan.


 The new layouts updated the 1930s playground’s repertoire of metal swings and sandboxes.


New ways of thinking about play space became fashionable, with prominent architects such as Louis Kahn and Isamu Noguchi’s proposing designs for Riverside Park.


Adventure playground builders designed with natural materials to integrate the play area into the land itself. The playgrounds “fit” in the colors of the materials used: stone, concrete, wood, metal, sand.


 Adventure playgrounds in New York City more often contained innovative shapes for kids to climb in and around rather than raw building materials as in the European sites. Federal regulations with high standards on safety stifled the use of rougher materials in playgrounds.


Many parents began to worry about the possibility of injury in the tunnels and massive play shapes that blocked visibility of their children at play. Others felt the constructions should be preserved as landmarks, especially the ones designed by famous architects.


Soon adventure equipment lost out to colorful catalog models with less sand and fewer moving parts. “Times change,” Commissioner Henry J. Stern proclaimed.


 (Reproduction of a Parks Department historical sign. Reprinted with permission).



 In 1948 Drummond Abernethy  had appointed as the secretary of the Childrens and Play leadership Department of The National Playing Fields Association Playground Committee.


Shortly after in 1950 the NPFA through Pathe News distributed the following film highlighting the need for play provision.



 Drummond Abernethys s energy and vision led to the establishment of other projects and played a significant role in refining Sørenson's ideas into adventure play.


 The name change from junk to adventure play was designed to create a more positive public image but it also marked Drummond's extension of the original philosophy.


 Drummond and Lady Allen together are widely viewed as the two most important figures in the development of adventure play in Britain.


 These early adventure playgrounds tended to be run with extremely limited resources and to be short lived due to lack of funds, loss of site or lack of local support. Lessons were learnt and the London Adventure Playground Association (LAPA) was established.




St Johns wood Adventure Playground 1963


Initially the N.P.F.A achieved much, to draw attention to the provision of recreational playing fields for the physical and mental welfare of the nation. Subsequently a Royal Charter incorporated this provision in 1933.


Around this time the first U.K. adventure playground experiment was created at Morden (Wimbledon) in the back garden of a local ladies home.


(Years later in I973 I was shown an album of pictures by this very lady when she visited the Pin Green Adventure Playground in Stevenage, when i was Pin Greens playground Manager.


Eventually a number of playgrounds were set up on permanent sites with adequate funding. This funding was increasingly provided by the local authorities, who had come to recognize the value of such facilities.


By 1973 when i was managing Pin Green adventure playground in Stevenage Herts, sixty one such playgrounds had been established across the country.


Adventure playgrounds for the handicaaped or disabled.


Despite these remarkable developments adventure playgrounds were still failing to meet the needs of one important group of children - those with disabilities. To fill this gap, a number of holiday schemes were set up in conjunction with the Cheyne Centre in Chelsea


The success of this venture fuelled enthusiasm for an adventure playground where children with disabilities could learn through free play. In February 1970 the Handicapped Adventure Playground Association (HAPA) opened its first playground in Chelsea.


H.A.P.A opened a further 5 adventure playgrounds across North, West and South London. In the 1990’s, H.A.P.A had changed its name to Kids Active and more recently merged with another charity KIDS.


Whilst working with local playgroups, Mrs Diana Casswell first had the idea that certain children she was working with would benefit from adventure play. From this idea Diana Casswell, along with her husband Reverend Peter Casswell, set about starting the first adventure playground for children with disabilities outside of inner London.


From the beginning, a group of committed and experienced people joined the management committee to see the creation of ELHAP.


The first major hurdle was to find a suitable site for an adventure playground and by September 1976 negotiations had been completed with the charity Bernardo's for use of this site.


Work to adapt it began immediately. A workable area had to be fenced off, structures and play facilities built and pathways laid. Indoor adaptations also had to be made including additional toilet accommodation together with provision for wet weather activities.

. In the summer of 1977 ELHAP opened, being well used from the start and as facilities and awareness grew the playground became increasingly popular. Within a short time of opening demand was such that a timetable of use had to be created to allow all the users to regularly visit. Without the dedication and determination of the Casswells and the other founding members, ELHAP could never have existed.

The Fair Play For Children campaign.


The Bishop of Stepney Trevor Huddleston appealed for massive support nationally to provide space and facilities whereby children could play safely. Subsequently his appeal was reflected by the intervention of the N.P.F.A, because of this intervention an action group was formed by the Bishop.


It had been revealed that a young lad and friend of the Bishop had been killed playing in the Regents Canal thus the Bishops letter to the Times.Appealing for play space for children.


Organisations and individuals nationally became involved in play provision, they worked together to mount a new campaign entitled Fair Play for Children, which is still operating to this day as a play pressure group.





The ThurrockDiploma in playleadership course.


These two distinct areas of child play, that of play leadership and the adventure play work movement, came together alongside a full time course at Thurrock College. Plus other comparative courses at Kennington College (London) and Stockport Technical College. Many other training courses followed in later years, all spearheaded by the N.P.F.A


From its first days ELHAP was fortunate in having the support of Drummond Abernethy. Drummond lived locally in Loughton and always had a particularly keen interest in ELHAP. Upon his retirement from the National Playing Fields Association in 1978 Drummond became chairman of ELHAP. This was a position he retained until ill health forced him to stand down in 1986, although he remained on the executive committee until his death.


A large part of ELHAP's success is attributed to Drummond Abernethy. Under Drummonds guidance ELHAP developed into a thriving playground and its unique experiences have now been enjoyed by many thousands of children with disabilities.


Since 1977 ELHAP has offered adventure play opportunities to children and young people with disabilities from the local area. It remains one of only seven specialist playgrounds in the South East of England, but is regarded by its supporters as the most unique and magical of all the adventure playgrounds.


Drummond Abernethy, with his wealth of adventure play experience, used to describe ELHAP as the "very best adventure playground for children with special needs".


Numerous other play campaigns over the years ahead were to include ; The Lollipop Brigade; for improved nursery education, supported and led by Mary Bruce of the P.P.A, (Pre-School Play Association) who was to attend regular play meetings held at Play Field House. (which I also attended)