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Past Times

Did you survive Dundee’s ‘death swing’ at Finlathen Park adventure playground?

The rope bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, fireman's pole and death swing were truly legendary and looked like something from 1980s game show the Krypton Factor. reports.
Graeme Strachan
Parks department supervisor Tony Wright takes a ride on the death swing at Finlathen Park in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.
Parks department supervisor Tony Wright takes a ride on the death swing at Finlathen Park in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.

Old school fun at Finlathen Park’s adventure playground meant bumps, scrapes and stings galore in the days before health and safety.

Generations of kids still bear the scars, a chipped tooth, or remember a burn on the bum from leaping, hanging and balancing on these enormous wooden structures.

Who needs cushioned floors and walls?

Were they safe?

Did that even matter?

Some of these images would give new parents a fright!

Do they awaken any memories for you?

Playgrounds of the 1970s

The Fintry estate started when 2,800 homes were built on farmland between 1949 and 1960 to tackle overcrowding in a city that was running out of space.

Fintry became a tight-knit Dundee community and provided a secure home for working-class people who were ready to help each other when times were tough.

Post-war Britain saw the re-emergence of public parks.

The Fintry fort and stockade at Finlathen Park in 1977. Image: DC Thomson.
The stockade at Finlathen Park in 1977 was hugely popular with children. Image: DC Thomson.

Throughout the 1970s there was a growing concern that children were losing the freedom to play outdoors and the solution was to create adventure playgrounds.

Finlathen Park was the perfect setting for a playground.

A timber stockade fort that appeared in 1977 brought dizzying heights and a couple of splinters and probably wouldn’t pass modern health and safety standards!

Were you a death swing victim?

The 1980s brought a BMX track which cost £840 and was complete with straights, humps, bumps and jumps and proved hugely popular during the BMX craze.

The adventure playground was situated on the other side of the Dighty from the BMX track, although the zip wire slide became known as the “death swing” in 1984.

It would be seen as a health and safety nightmare now.

The BMX track at Finlathen Park, which opened in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.
The BMX track at Finlathen Park, which opened in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.

The Evening Telegraph reported: “Worried mothers fear a swing in Dundee park could prove lethal and last night called for removal of the contraption in Finlathen Park, between Linlathen and Fintry housing estates, after the latest in a series of accidents.

“The swing’s most recent ‘victim’, 13-year-old Sharon Keogh, Ballochmyle Drive, Linlathen, was badly injured at the weekend when she fell off the structure and crashed down several feet on to the hard dirt track below.”

The accident prompted a safety inspection to be carried out by Dundee District Council.

Edith Keogh pictured with her daughter Sharon at the death swing in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.
Edith Keogh pictured with her daughter Sharon at the death swing in 1984. Image: DC Thomson.

Was the death swing about to be given the last rites?

Not quite.

District Council safety officer Robert France pronounced himself satisfied with the runway after his initial inspection.

The death swing returned!

Wasps were a pesky visitor

Cuts and bruises were not uncommon at Finlathen Park.

The rope bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, fireman’s pole and death swing were truly legendary and looked like something from 1980s game show the Krypton Factor.

It was great fun until someone got dog poo on their shoes.

Ants nests and swarms of wasps could be another formidable obstacle to negotiate, alongside the everyday threat of bruises, twisted ankles and broken bones.

The adventure playground was hugely popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Image: DC Thomson.
The adventure playground was hugely popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Image: DC Thomson.

The wasps were especially attracted to the wood during the summer.

Then came even more fun.

A new children’s play area was created alongside the adventure playground in 1986, which included swings, climbing frames and the purple climbing dome.

Lord Provost Thomas Mitchell officially opens the Finlathen play area in 1986. Image: DC Thomson.
Lord Provost Thomas Mitchell officially opens the Finlathen play area in 1986. Image: DC Thomson.

Finlathen Park was becoming the envy of schemes across the city.

In 1987 a public meeting was held at St Matthew’s Primary School after Dundee District Council designated funds of £25,000 for an adventure playground in Whitfield.

The meeting was attended by three boys who expressed a preference for an adventure park similar to that at Finlathen Park and were unanimous in wanting a death swing!

The adventure playground in 1999, before being consigned to the history books. Image: DC Thomson.
The adventure playground in 1999, before being consigned to the history books. Image: DC Thomson.

Of course, nothing lasts forever,

Despite being packed with kids in the 1980s Finlathen Park’s adventure playground was in a sorry state by 1999 due to vandalism and a lack of funds for maintenance.

The park had deteriorated greatly by the removal of parallel bars, a rope bridge and a tyre swing, a spider’s web rope net and a balancing beam, of which half was broken.

Most of the wood used for the park’s obstacles had fallen victim to graffiti and two benches were no longer fit to be used.

Park was consigned to history

The adventure play area was one of the many parks still open while the council’s leisure and parks department decided whether to upgrade them or close them down.

Ward councillor Andy Dawson at the time said: “Ward councillors and the director of leisure and parks went around various play parks in the city.

“They are trying to collect all the facts and figures and are currently in the process of reviewing the play areas, which will take time as there are 130 in Dundee.

“We are waiting for more information but hopefully we can get the local residents involved and ask them for their opinions on the various play areas.”

The adventure park was the perfect place to overcome your fear of heights. Image: DC Thomson.

One-by-one the wooden structures vanished from Finlathen Park.

The adventure playground was consigned to history alongside the BMX track, where only the odd hump amid the overgrown grass gives any clue that it ever existed.

Only the permanent scars remain…

Thankfully the children’s play area which opened in 1986 remains a fixture in Finlathen Park and now includes a zip wire tyre ride similar to its famous predecessor.

Mind you, this one doesn’t bring with it the risk of ending up in A&E.

But where’s the fun in that?

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