WHY HAS ENGLISH HERITAGE LISTED A SKATEPARK?
The Rom Skatepark in Hornchurch, East London is the first skatepark in England to receive national listed status. This is a milestone in the history of skateboarding and in the designation of sporting buildings, as its Grade-II protection reflects the sport’s cultural legacy as well as the Rom’s status as a 1970s prototype skatepark.
Surf Culture to Skate Culture
The Rom Skatepark is the most completely preserved of a small number of purpose-built skateparks to survive from the early years of British skateboarding. The sport originated in the surf culture of southern California in the 1950s and 1960s, when surfers adapted the primitive scooters fashioned by local children from roller-skate wheels and wooden boards to create sophisticated wheeled surfboards.
At first, skateboarders confined themselves to public streets, but from the mid-1960s, spaces like swimming pools and the vast concrete spillways and drainage features along the California coast were colonised. These structures influenced the design of the early purpose-built skateparks, built in ever-increasing numbers during the worldwide skateboarding craze of the mid-1970s.
Skateboarding Reaches the UK
This trend reached the UK in 1977. That year saw the opening of the UK’s first commercial skatepark, Skate City, on the South Bank of the Thames. Scores of similar venues then opened across the country; the best technical examples were designed by Adrian Rolt of G-Force and built by Skate Park Construction Ltd. The parks were created from shotcrete (pressurised concrete) and employed standardised elements inspired by the Californian prototypes.
The 8,000-square-metre Rom Skatepark was opened in August 1978. The park’s central 4,000 square metres is surfaced in shotcrete with a series of bowls and hollows let into it. The main features include a twin-lobed bowl that resembles a Californian keyhole swimming pool, six interlinked bowls (‘moguls’), a half-pipe, a freestyle area, and slalom and snake runs. Skateboarding declined sharply in popularity in the early 1980s, and of the G-Force parks, only the one in Hornchurch and the Solid Surf in Harrow now survive in anything like their original form.
An Icon of the Scene
The Rom Skatepark raised interesting questions for English Heritage. What type of designation would be appropriate, given that this is a concrete surface and not a building? And how can heritage protection respond to the values that become attached to cultural and sporting sites, where the physical fabric of structures often takes second place to a venue’s status as ‘hallowed ground’? Skateboarding in England has always reached past the technicalities of the sport and is connected to the tastes in fashion and music of contemporary youth and their social attitudes.
The decision to list the Rom lay in its key importance as an icon of the British skateboard scene, one whose design has influenced the building of new skateparks since the Millennium. Although skateboarding remains a very public form of athletic display, with the street used as a public arena, its development goes hand in hand with that of its facilities and equipment. It can be argued that the full range of skateboarding skills and techniques would never have been devised without purpose-built venues like the Rom.
As it is very unlikely that many more skateparks will be listed, recognising the Rom’s importance as the single outstanding example of its type will help to preserve the legacy of one of the most distinctive and enduring strands of modern British youth culture.