First World War Tank in Abington Park
Between 1920 and 1935 Abington Park was home to a First World War tank. It was gifted to Northampton in 1919 in recognition of the money raised by the town for the war savings campaign. Also situated in the park at this time were 2 Boer war field guns, 3 First World War German Field Guns and a ships cannon.
Tanks were offered to 265 towns who had held ‘Tank Weeks’ to raise money for the war savings campaign.
The tank weighed 30 tons and was transported to Northampton’s Castle Station by rail on the 24th October 1919. The plan was to then drive the tank to Abington Park where there would be a naming ceremony a week later. However, the tank would not start and due to its great weight there was no other way to get it to the park.
The tank eventually arrived on 16th April 1920. A brass plaque was fixed that read:
‘Presented by the National War Savings Committee to the citizens of Northampton in recognition of the readiness with which they loaned their money to the country in the financial campaign carried out by the local War Savings Committee during the Great War 1914-18’
Abington Park was used numerous times between 1914 and 1918 for fundraising events to support prisoners of war, refugees and soldiers serving overseas. Pictured here an Abington Park Fete programme (1918).
The tank was named Steelback in honour of the Northamptonshire Regiment. It was situated next to the mound near the bandstand and was used mainly as a climbing frame by the local children. The mound is still often referred to as ‘Tanky Hill’.
The tank was a Mark IV ‘male’ tank – the most common First World War tank with over 1000 made. The ‘male’ tanks had a 6 pounder gun where ‘female’ tanks had machine guns. They were very unreliable and many broke down before they reached the front, much like the Abington tank breaking down at the station. These tanks had an 8 man crew. They require four people to drive and four people to operate the weaponry. It would have been very hot and cramped inside with a high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning as exhaust fumes filled the tank.
Mark IV tanks had a top speed of 4mph and a range of 15-20 miles on flat ground but a much shorter distance cross-country.
The Abington Park tank had the number 2324 which makes it one of the 100 male Mark IVs built by William Foster & Co at the Wellington Foundry in Lincoln.
1925 Map of Abington Park showing the Armoured Tank (National Library of Scotland)
Local Quakers opposed the tank and guns being kept in the park. They submitted a petition to the council to have them removed and the council voted in agreement. Councillor Barratt argued that the presence of the guns and the tank created a ‘war mind’ and were ‘a danger to the moral welfare of our young people and society generally’ (Northampton Mercury, Friday 13 April 1934)
Once it had been decided that the tank and guns would be removed from the park there was great debate over how they should be moved, especially considering the weight of the tank. One suggestion was that the tank should be buried in the park. This gave rise to the myth that the tank is buried under ‘Tanky Hill’. In fact the tank was purchased by a Sheffield-based company for scrap and in February 1935 the tank and the guns were cut up using oxyacetylene cutting torches and removed from the park.
Please visit the Conflict & Community digital archive containing over 300 objects, documents and oral history clips relating to the First World War: www.flickr.com/people/conflict_and_community