Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy wrote this poem inspired by the rich history of the Eton Manor site to the north of the Park, once known as ‘The Wilderness’. Here, at the beginning of the 20th century, a sports ground was founded by four pioneering men who had attended Eton School and now wanted to give something back to the community. The Eton Manor Boys’ Club existed for over 100 years, providing a place for underprivileged boys and men to take part in sports, and creating a memorable spirit of camaraderie and community.
Duffy’s long-term collaborator, Stephen Raw, designed the poem and worked with a local sign maker in Hackney who cut the letters from brass using water jet cutting techniques, before inlaying them into treated stainless steel panels.
Eton Manor by Carol Ann Duffy:
The past is all around us, in the air,
the acres here were once 'the Wilderness'-
“Blimey, it's fit for a millionaire”-
where Eton Manor Boys Club came to train;
or, in the Clubhouse, (built 1913)
translated poverty to self-esteem,
camaraderie, and optimism similed in smiles.
fleas, flies, bin-lids, Clarnico's Jam; the poor
enclosed by railway, marshland, factories, canal-
where Wellesley, Villiers, Wagg, Cadogan came,
philanthropists, to clear a glorious space;
connect the power of place to human hope,
through World War One, the Blitz, till 1967…
on this spot, functional, free, real- heaven.
This is legacy-
young lives respected, cherished, valued, helped
to sprint, swim, bowl, box, play, excel, belong;
believe community is self in multitude-
the way the past still dedicates to us
its distant, present light. The same high sky,
same East End moon, above this reclaimed wilderness,
where relay boys are raced by running ghosts.