Are you seated comfortably? The history of Newbury benches
In Newbury there are 123 benches.
You sit on it. Drink coffee on it. Meet friends on them. Spies of the Cold War once used them to drop letters. Some of them have a plaque affixed to them, so that you are also sitting on someone’s memories.
Quite often, pews are adopted to remember a deceased relative or friend. Or occasionally, a pet.
There’s one on Greenham Common that has a poem on it.
In Victoria Park there is a seat in memory of John Albert Steele Osborne, born in 1941.
His family dedicated him in 2016. At the time, his partner Linda Fordham said, “John and I spent a lot of time sitting in Victoria Park enjoying being together. It is a beautiful memorial for a lovely man.
Martha Vickers is a member of city council. She has spent over 30 years trying to make a difference for the people of the city.
She was even the first mayor in 1997 – and was a medical visitor her entire professional life, before retiring ten years ago. She modestly accepts that she’s probably stung the heels of most of the babies in town.
She is responsible for making the last bench.
He’s a replacement at West Mills. It joins two others overlooking the canal and commemorates Elizabeth Lee, 1908-1991 – the mother of an elderly resident, herself in her 90s.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Ms Vickers (Lib Dem, West Fields). “She lives nearby and it’s her route to town. She loves to walk around here and see people sitting on this bench. And she’ll talk to the people setting on it. It makes her feel really good.
As we approached the bench, a couple sat arm in arm watching the ducks on the canal.
Keith and Carole Salmons were away from Ashford in Kent for the weekend.
“We both really love to sit here,” said Ms Salmons, on her second visit to Newbury. “It’s so peaceful and relaxing. But they are usually full – they are very rarely free to sit.
“I never go through here without finding someone sitting on it. People who walked and biked, or went to town for shopping and found a nice place to sit.
“You can doze off. Meditate. Eat your meal. It doesn’t really matter. Maybe Covid made people enjoy being outside more. “
Ben Baggerman, a local financial adviser, and Max Romer slipped into the seat recently vacated by Mr. and Mrs. Salmons.
“I just recently found out that my friend here works in the same field, and I haven’t seen him for a few years,” Baggerman said.
“So we decided to sit down on the bench and have a chat.”
Mr. Romer works in marketing and has his office near the canal.
“Sometimes I come and sit here and think and have a little peace and quiet away from the office,” he said.
“I’ve never really thought about who really puts the benches here, but I’m glad someone is responsible for that.”
The city council is responsible for the benches – they cost around £ 2,000 each, once made and set in concrete.
If a resident contacts the council and asks to sponsor a bench, the council arranges a meeting to see if a space can be found at the location of their choice.
The sponsor is asked to pay for the bench and provide the plaque, although the board decides on the design.
The benches, inviting to sit down after a walk, also highlight the state of the paths and sidewalks of the city.
Something Ms. Vickers and her fellow city councilors want to improve.
“Along the canal here the path gets a bit rough and it is difficult for the elderly to use,” she said.
“So I’m asking the residents of the home for the aged to come together and write us a letter, so the city councilor can use it in their attempt to hopefully fix it.
“This is really the important role of an advisor. To be an intermediary with these things and to try to make things happen. “