The bandstand was a key feature of the original Rowntree Park. In the park’s early days the bandstand was just past the lychgate/dovecot (after you walk through from the cafe). The conductor of the Rowntree Band in 1921 was G E Lickley. The brass band would play many weekends and there was seating for people put out (stored under the cafe).
In 1929 the bandstand was moved to the Southside of the park. From 1932 the bandmaster was Mr G Walker. The bandstand continued to be well used for a number of years with major repairs in 1953. By 1969 the bandstand was less well used and was showing signs of decline. Major flood damage in the 1980s and 1990s led to the bandstand being demolished. Only the base remained.
The park was awarded a lottery grant, and in the early 2000s many areas of the park were restored. At this time the bandstand area was made into an outdoor area that is still there today. Over the years there have been a number of events held in this area, but sadly continuous flooding means the power supplies no longer work. Events can still happen in this area but a generator must be used for power. Only last year we had Lindyhopping, drumming, York University theatre events and more. The Friends have explored the possibility of getting a covering for the stage area in the future (if we can find funding) and get more music and theatrical events back in this amazing open area space.
The Friends of Rowntree Park volunteers have brought more music back into the park over the last couple of years. Over summer weekends from 2018 we have had live music events held under the cafe and these events have been free and well attended. This is something we hope to continue to do – once we are all allowed out again!
The Friends of Rowntree Park was formed in 1993. This group was a voluntary group of local people who’s original aim was to commemorate the park as a war memorial, preserve the character of the park, promote it’s sympathetic use by the people of york, support long term maintenance and development. All this was to be done by liaising with the council and sharing the views of local people.
The first chair was Alison Sinclair. Followed by Mike Heyworth through the 2000s, Hugo Bentley Circa 2013-2019. The Friends became an official charity in 2019 and Cath Mortimer is the Chair of Trustees (and long time member of the group). The Friends of Rowntree Park were heavily involved in the park’s restoration in 2000. This restoration of the park was enabled by a Heritage Lottery Grant.
In addition to welcoming volunteers who could actively attend meetings or help with conservation projects in the park, a membership scheme was set up. People could support the group by buying an annual membership to Friends of Rowntree Park. By 2010, 240 households were members. This number stayed around the same until 2018 when we ‘went online’ and now have around 650 households as members. Membership remains just £5 a year and the money supports the volunteers’ work which has grown massively – as the needs of the park, and council funding, have changed.
The Park Active Programme
The Park Active Programme established and run by the Friends in the 2000s. This was an ongoing project that involved volunteers in environmental activities that encouraged biodiversity – tree planting, balsam bashing and anything that encouraged biodiversity. The group were involved in tree planting and establishing the beck area – walkways, bridge and wildlife pond (on Butcher Terrace Field). The pond was created in November 2011 helped by Rachel Simpson, YCC Park Ranger. The Park Active group met weekly to focus on conservation issues in the park. There were plans to redo and improve the pond and improve the area in summer 2020 as we won support for York Big Community Challenge. This work is currently postponed but will hopefully happen in the future!
Ark in the Park
The Friends had some grand plans around 2006. These included a plan to replace the pavilion (built in the 1970s) with an ‘Ark in the Park’. Due to frequent floods, the Pavillion became unusable for groups including the Friends and the Young Friends, as well as the tennis club and bowls club. The Ark was a new flood-proof idea for a community space in the park, designed by Phil Bixby. The ark had an amphibious structure that would rise when flooding occurred and lower itself when flooding receded. The Friends set out to try and get funding for the ‘Ark in the Park’. This was to be an environmental centre that could be used by groups. The aim of the ark was for it to be built on a potion which would be set below the ground recess. When the river rose the recess would fill and the pontoon would lift the ark. Integral piles would keep the building in place. When the flood receded then it would lower back down. This technology had been successfully used in the Netherlands.
The Friends got planning permission and got backing of the Council’s Advisory Panel for Leisure and Culture and Social Inclusion. The Environmental Agency Flood Levy Fund said they’d give £50,000, but a 2006 lottery fund bid was unsuccessful. The Friends continued to try and fundraise but they never reached their target and the dream ended.
Part of the Friends community work has included the groups run for children. The Young Friends (5-11) and the Very Young Friends (0-5) groups. In the early 2000s, the groups helped create the footprint maze (mentioned in a previous post). The groups were led in the earlier days by members of the local community including Kate Lock and Lara McLure. Activities included art, storytelling and nature-based fun.
In 2010 the Young friends tiled a mosaic depicting the park – it was part of a community art project run by Dawn Starkey based on people’s memories of Rowntree Park. Two sessions were run in the cafe to make this and then it was mounted on the wall near the carpark/compound. Sadly it was removed in 2017 as it was falling apart. However, as mosaics have always been a part of children’s involvement in the park since the original children’s mosaics in the bandstand, we would like to have children involved in making some form of mosaic as part of the centenary celebrations next year. We feel this would be befitting.
For a while, the children’s groups were able to base themselves in the old tennis pavilion and this was a community space. However, years of flood damage meant the council deemed it unfit for the purpose. Many groups suffered when the pavilion was closed. Bowlers stopped using the park because they needed changing rooms and storage. Sadly the Friend’s vision for a community space in the form of the Ark in the Park never came to fruition.
For the last 20 years, we have run many events for children! All group leaders have been volunteers with a passion to get children involved in loving their local park, appreciating nature, the environment and local community. The Young Friends of Rowntree Park was set up in 2002 for children 5-14 to get involved in the park. The group used the pavilion as their meeting place. The early group included leaders such as Kate Lock, Sara North and Naomi Whittaker. The Very Young Friends (aimed at 0-5 year olds) was started by Lara McClure who described them as a group of local lively children who meet in the park “to picnic and sing, tell stories, play instruments, dress up, make dens and generally have a wonderful time”. This led to monthly themed sessions for under 5s with parents/carers involved. The group was later led by Francesca King and Chera Joy.
Christine Banham took over the Very Young Friends in 2013 and it is still going strong today! The group meet each month at the Story Circle in the woods for nature based fun and activities. After a few quiet years, the Young Friends of Rowntree Park returned in late 2017 and usually run monthly events for older children that have included art and craft sessions, recycled boat making, butterfly and bee events, Earth Day events, bird events, den making, history project, The Lost Words Project, rock hunts, story sessions, Christmas sessions and more! There has also been an after school group – The Nature Ninja’s. Joint events with the VYF have included Halloween events, Enchanted Woodland Events and the Easter Egg hunt. The Young Friends of Rowntree Park are currently led by Abigail Gaines, Christine Banham and Ruth Phillips. All who are working mums with children aged 5-12 themselves.
In 2019 we set up Forest School in Rowntree Park following Christine completing her training. Forest School is more than just outdoor sessions, it is a specialised approach that is learner centred and aims to promote the holistic development of the child. Run in block sessions for 2-5 year olds, the sessions provide hands-on practical learning that fosters things like resilience, confidence and creativity and more. We also offer monthly Forest School sessions for 6-12 year olds which have also proved popular.
Our Young Friends groups have also worked with local schools and created educational sessions that enhance the school curriculum. We have had nursery and primary school groups in the park doing activities such as Pond Dipping, Stone Age Days, Tree and Plant identification and Forest School Sessions. There are plans to expand this provision as well as projects with a local secondary school.
As well as having lots of fun and loving seeing children engage with nature, the events we run as Friends of Rowntree Park are vital to our income as a charity. It has always been important to the Friends that our events are well priced so more people can access them. All events have discount for Friends of Rowntree Park members, the VYF meetups are free to members. Any profits made from events go back into improving Rowntree Park for the community- paying for plants, tools, benches, railings, projects and more.
There is a lot happening, and we would love to hear from other people interested in running or helping with children’s events. We love seeing all ages enjoying the events we run, and we thank everyone who supports our events. All money raised goes back into the park we all love!
In the early days of the park, there was the park keeper and 12 gardeners. Showcase areas included the rose pergola and the lupin gardens. What was planted in the park changed over the years and there is no one ‘historical look’ to the gardens. By the 2000s there were no longer a host of gardeners based in Rowntree Park and the responsibility of maintaining and caring for the park fell to the park keeper. Sadly, the last Park Keeper was made redundant in 2017. Dave Brown had been working in the park since around 1973, and for a number of years, he and his family lived in the Park Keepers Lodge in the cafe. Council budget cuts to Parks and Open Spaces were leading to harsh and unwelcome changes for Rowntree Park. It was said that no new planting would take place in the park. Roaming council teams would continue to do basic maintenance such as cut grass, hedges, fell trees etc but not add colour to the park or replace plants that died.
Although the Friends of Rowntree Park would definitely have preferred the park keepers role to have stayed, a small group of volunteers took on the responsibility for gardening in *some* areas of the park. A difficult balance between not wanting to see the park become unloved but also showing the difference between funding and none funding. The Friends of Rowntree Park have responsibility for the Long Borders (through the middle of the park), and the two railed gardens – now known as the Sensory Garden and the Friends picnic Garden. There has been some planting near the lychgate, and wild bulb planting in other areas. We have done some tree planting, planting around the cascade, and tend to the rose pergola/arbour. However, as a rule, the Friends tend to focus on these areas leaving the other areas as council responsibility.
In order to fund the areas the Friends look after, we rely on using some of the money from annual memberships people pay (just £5 a year per household) and also look for funding from grants. Our gardening started with help from a Growing Green Spaces grant and we have since secured funding from Betty’s for further work on the sensory garden, and a benefactor has allocated some funding to help us propagate our own plants. The latter two were meant to start this year, but things are on hold. To be able to plant in the park and buy tools and resources needed we rely on voluntary donations and seeking grants.
The Longborders have been full of colour the last couple of years – poppies, alliums, iris and much more. Flowers that encourage bees and butterflies. Sadly the floods and Covid lockdown have meant that our volunteer gardeners have not been able to rescue and tend to flooded plants and re plant this year.
The Friends Picnic Garden is to be a child-friendly area. The Friends helped arrange the railings so to keep geese out and funded picnic benches. The aim to fill this area with ornamental grasses and the like so it is safe to play in but also pleasing to the eye. The Sensory Garden work began last year and is to be a garden to awaken your senses – encourage birds, butterflies, bees – to touch and smell plants and flowers. Both the Friends and Sensory Garden also have raised beds filled with herbs and plants, it is hoped the raised beds will enable more groups to be able to help with gardening.
The Friends and York Bike Belles also created a labyrinth last year on an old bowling green. Lots of twists and turns and full of herbs. Based on Tudor ideas. Work started last year on setting up our own propagating area in the lodge garden. The aim is to try and grow our own plants for the park, and maybe additional ones to sell and raise funds.
There can be some confusion in York with regard to Rowntree Park and Homestead Park as both have the Rowntree name attached. Rowntree Park has been council owned since 1921, Homestead Park is not. Homestead is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and has paid gardeners. Therefore comparisons between the look of the two parks should not be made. (We’d really recommend checking out Homestead Park as part of your daily exercise, it’s looking particularly stunning at the moment!)
We are grateful for our small dedicated team of volunteer gardeners who usually meet on a Tuesday morning ( also some weekends and evenings in summer months). When lockdown is over, we’d love to have more people willing to join us gardening – whether a one-off or a more regular thing. Due to not being able to replant after the flood, we will need volunteers now more than ever. If you want to find out more about how you can help in the future, drop us a line!
An extra huge thanks to Rosemary Bentley our chief volunteer gardener. Rosemary is passionate about the park and is in there nearly every single day. She cannot wait to get back gardening! Also thank you to Stu ‘Spruce’ Small who is leading on our new propagation plan and helping plan our area. An extra thanks to The GoodGym who help every now and again and to each and everyone who has helped garden in the park over the last couple of years.
Art and Music
The last few years have been amazing for ‘art in the park’. In 2018 we had our own ‘Artist in Residence’, Nick Booth who worked on a project to show the history of the park over the years and his work was displayed at the cafe. That year, we also had artwork by St John’s University displayed in the park. In 2017 we also had Gerard Hobson design a fantastic ‘King of the Birds’ Trail that leads people around the park looking for painted wooden birds as they follow a story. Gerard also ran some amazing lino cutting workshops for adults and art sessions for children. Local artist, Mister Dills, has regularly run art workshops for the Young Friends of Rowntree Park – these are always a sell-out!
The Friends of Rowntree Park also coordinate the art displays for the Reading Cafe. We encourage submissions from artists whose work has a local, park-related or nature theme. Some highlights have included Mister Dills, Elliott Harrison and Ingrid Brown.
Regular art has also come in the form of Yarn bombing! Yarnbombing is a type of street art that uses colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre, rather than paint or chalk, to decorate an area in an unexpected, often humorous way. Hippystitch have done many fantastic installations in Rowntree Park over the last few years, later selling the designs to raise money for charities. The Friends of Rowntree Park now also have their own craft group who created knitted and crocheted poppies that were displayed in the park to mark 100 years since the end of WW1 in 2018. They also created sunflowers to be displayed in support of St Leonards ‘Lights of the Lake’ evenings. Our craft groups next installation will be rainbows to celebrate hard-working keywords and celebrate the end of lockdown. The group welcomes any crafters to get involved (see previous posts or message for details).
The Rowntree Park Photography has been popular over the years after a few years break it returned in 2019 with some amazing images submitted. The images were displayed in the cafe and prints have been on sale to raise money for our volunteer work. There will be another competition in 2020, so get snapping on your daily exercise!
Words from the bench was a written word project led by Karen Hill Green. QR codes were on benches in the park and each linked to a piece of writing inspired by Rowntree Park and nature. Initially, the project involved Karen’s MA students but went onto include local writers submissions. There were also pieces from Iceland (where the project originated).
Performances have also been a welcome addition to Rowntree Park. In the 2000s, Scout ‘gang shows’ took place in the bandstand/amphitheatre area of the park. Over the last few years, there have also been performances from ‘The Lord of Misrule’ (York University) and other theatre groups.
Music has always been key to Rowntree Park. In the early days, the brass band would play on weekends. In the last few years, York College held its ‘showcase’ each June in the park. In 2018 the Friends of Rowntree Park managed to convince music lover, Caroline Lewis, to be our ‘music volunteer’. Through 2018 and 2019, we had free music in the park most weekends through the summer. Although all things are on hold for now, if interested in playing in the park in the future, get in touch.
As well as lots of children’s activities we run family events like Wildlife days, bat and bird watching, Crafts, Well being sessions, our Scarecrow Trail and much more!
The Rowntree Park Birthday Party was a key event for a number of years. When the restoration was celebrated in 2003 it was a grand affair and coincided with the 82nd birthday of the park. There was live music, crafts, stalls,a model boat regatta and fairground rides. There was also a rickshaw taxi to take people about! The party continued to be held each year on the park’s birthday (16th July) and has been a success over the years. In 2016 over 5000 people attended! The party has since had to go on hold as the size of attendees versus the lack of volunteers has meant the party was not manageable. However, as 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the park, there will be some form of celebration!
A community space in the future?
For a number of years, the Friends groups have had no base. In 2018 we managed to create a small space under the cafe – The Clubhouse’ with thanks to volunteers from Aviva. It’s a good space for storage but in reality too small for events to be held for more than 5 people. A community space of our own to run events would be the dream and allow us to continue our work hosting a range of events for all ages. Since the council was refused permission to turn the old park keepers lodge isn’t a holiday let, the Friends have been working with a team (including Phil Bixby from the Ark project mentioned yesterday and Johnny Hayes) to create a proposal for a community space to be used by the Friends and others. However, this would require vast funding and plans are on hold for the time being due to the current situation.
By the late 1990s, the park was starting to look somewhat unloved and many of the original features had either gone or were in need of work. After some research into the historical nature and landscape of the park, a submission was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks project to fund the restoration. The park received £1.3 million from the grant and some additional funding from CYC and the private sector in 2000 and work started to reinstate many of the original features and create new ones.
The project focused on the central core from park keepers lodge/Cafe to Terry’s Avenue gates, the bandstand, play park provision, integrating and improving Clementhorpe Beck and the Butcher Terrace Field. The cascade area was returned to its former glory – a small waterfall and horseshoe shape. Cracks were repaired in the lake, islands rebuilt, dovecot repaired, footpaths and bowling greens repaired.
The park had been extended in the mid-1990s to add the Butcher Terrace field (football field). The restoration project wanted to improve part of this area – Clemethorpe Beck was to be improved and Butcher Terrace field integrated more. The Butcher Terrace ‘Millenium Gates’ were installed at this time.
Work continued over the next couple of years and the Friends of Rowntree Park planted more trees, the rose pergola walkway was added, and the statue of Mercury (which had been missing) reinstated. The play park was added, as were sculptures in the park. Designed by Mike Oakenful and made by Chris Wormald. Natural materials were used to create the helmet, horse and totem pole (green man). The basketball courts and skatepark were also added.
The Young Friends of Rowntree Park took part in a mosaic workshop called ‘make your mark in the park’ in the park cafe in 2005. The children’s footprints were cast into bricks and used to form the ‘footprint maze’, Kate Lock arranged this event. This continued a tradition in the park – when the bandstand was originally rebuilt, local children helped create the floor. The trail of the maze leads to a central stone donated by the Friends that reads ‘Tread lightly on the earth’ It’s about respecting the planet – those who follow them into the maze will uncover the message.
Rowntree Park Skatepark
In 2000, a group of local young people requested a skateboard and BMX park on the Butcher Terrace Field. 10-year-olds, Garry Rookes and James Elliott took a petition to York Council and presented it to Dave Meigh, the Head of Parks and Open Spaces. The B&K Skaters (Bishopthorpe and Knavesmire) group set up campaigning for the facility in the park.
The council agreed one could be sited on the old tennis court near Terry’s ave. The skatepark would cost £43,000, so the kids set about fundraising.
York Youth Forum helped and they were given a part-time youth worker to help with the plans and fundraising. Community artist, Rachel Deadman, helped coordinate the group. They managed to get ward funding, had a ‘jam’ in Sainsbury’s carpark with ‘zoo’ skateboarders. By 2003 they’d raised 40,000 and GBH Engineering started work. There was £8,000 was still to be raised. This came from a number of amazing places – Bishophill and Fishergate Wards, York Challenge Fund, JRF, Cattles PLC, and N Yorkshire Community Foundation, the racecourse and the Friends of Rowntree Park. The Skate Park was opened on the 4th of July 2003. The B&K skaters cut the ribbons.
In 2017 the skate park was redesigned. Thanks to a generous donation from Sylvia Maynard. Sylvia has been clear in her will on how she wanted the money to be used. She didn’t want a big fuss, just for people to enjoy it the skatepark. Designed by Wheelscapes, Rowntree Park’s skatepark has been recognised by the York Design Awards, for excellence in design for a community project.
Rowntree Park Basketball Courts
The Basketball courts were also added around the late 1990s/early 2000s at the request of local teens. Joe Garnham, Mark Healy, Tom Hines, Ian Stevenson and Chris Tudor campaigned to have the courts installed. This was the only outdoor free court of its time.
However, the courts have got a little worn over the last 15 years. In 2018 some kind local, DJ Jon Bakerhood, funded some new nets. He and Joe Garnham (one of the original teens who helped get the courts) installed them. Sadly the nets didn’t last as the rims and backboards were in need of repair. In 2019, local basketballer, David Collinson raised money for the improvements to the basketball nets, backboards and rims. Money was donated by lots of local people and also Basketball England. There are plans to add more benches in the court, and we were looking into having the floor redone (current situation means a lot is on hold!)
The original wading pool was not very deep and had a sandy beach. There was a horseshoe canopy that surrounded it, that was where often families sat and watched their children. The water was constantly changed, which was facilitated by a wind pump and the overflow fed into the lake. Supervision became harder in WW2 and the pool ended up infested by bloodsucker worms and full of broken glass. The images here show children paddling in the lake (not a wading pool). Definitely not advised now!
Ice Skating in Rowntree Park
Cold winters and a frozen lake meant that for a few weeks Rowntree Park had a skating rink! In the 1940s and 1950s, if the lake froze over, the council used to provide floodlighting and fairy lights for skating in the evenings. Skates could be hired too. The photo’s show skating in the park up until the 1980s.
In 1962/3 after a flood of the park, the water really froze in that cold cold winter. There were 13 weeks of freezing temperatures and 18” of ice in the park. It has been said that under Richardson Street there was a sheet of ice that people walked under like an archway!
During WW2 the government encouraged people to stay at home and have ‘holidays at home’. The park became a central focus for many people in the area. It hosted 40 concert parties, dances and brass bands played live. There were talent spotting competitions, sheepdog shows, donkey rides, Punch and Judy, puppet shows, model railway lines and of course, the open-air swimming pool and lakes to paddle in. There was a searchlight installed near the flood barrier and the cafe doubled up as an air-raid shelter. In addition, areas of the park were turned over for growing vegetables as part of the ‘dig for victory’ campaign.
Pony rides and donkey rides continued after the war, as did the organised sports days for children. The community aspect of the park has continued over the years. For a number of years, the council’s park community rangers organised events for all ages including sports and other activities. However, these roles have long since gone/changed.
The community aspect of the park has always remained. The Friends of Rowntree Park was formed in 1993. This group was a voluntary group of local people who’s original aim was to commemorate the park as a war memorial, preserve the character of the park, promote it’s sympathetic use by the people of York, support long term maintenance and development. All this was to be done by liaising with the council and sharing the views of local people. The first chair was Alison Sinclair. The Friends of Rowntree Park were heavily involved in the park’s restoration in 2000. This restoration of the park was enabled by a Heritage Lottery Grant.
The park is a central hub for the community. A place for quiet contemplation, walks and exploiting nature, playing with children, meeting with friends and more. In these strange times, although we cannot meet with friends and family in the park we can still appreciate its beauty. The volunteers cannot garden at the moment and this summer the park may look a little less loved, but it still has natural beauty and features that we can all appreciate.
These images show a bit of the social history of the park – the community using the park from the 1920s-1960s.
We don’t have much information about sport in Rowntree Park in our archives, so would love to hear more from people with stories, information and/or images to share.
Joseph Rowntree originally wanted outdoor activities in Rowntree Park to improve health by exercise but sport that could be watched in seats. It was originally planned to have Hockey at north and cricket at the south. Football was deemed unsuitable. These original plans did change and tennis courts and bowling greens were added to the park.
In 1957 the Tennis Club was formed and in the 1970s the brick pavilion was built. The pavilion is still there today (near the Terry Avenue side of the park/skatepark) but isn’t used as the council declared it unsafe for use but can be used for storage. It suffers when the park floods. This is where the courts were located and some are still there today (the ones near the caf added more recently). Popular tennis tournaments like the Terry’s All Gold cup took place at the park. The tennis courts management transferred from the council to York Tennis Club in 2015, originally for a trial year, and this was extended and is still in place.
The park also had two bowling greens that were popular over the years. However, once again flooding and council budget cuts have meant that the bowling greens could no longer be maintained due to costs of repairs and maintenance. They were last relaid in 2010. Also with no longer a place for bowlers to get changed with the pavilion out of use, it limited the use of the greens for bowling.
In 2019 York Bike Belles and Friends of Rowntree park added a labyrinth to one of the disused bowling greens. Sadly it has suffered flood damage in early 2020 but has bounced back well over the summer and may be restored.
If you look at Rowntree Park from above, you will see the symmetry. The gardens were inspired by Scarborough gardens where Joseph Rowntree spent time. In the early days of the park, a lot of time and investment was put into the upkeep. In addition to the resident park keeper, in the early days there were 12 gardeners who focused on looking after the gardens. There were areas such as rose pergola and lupin gardens. George Russell from Southbank in York, became famous for the new types of lupins he developed. Rowntree Park displayed Russell’s lupins. During WW2 vegetables were grown in the park such as potatoes, cabbages and carrots as part of the ‘dig for victory’ project.
Over the years the gardens have changed a lot. The gardening team reduced and certain features have been removed/replaced. In the 1950s, the sun shelter and the wading pool had been removed as had hedges to the rose garden. Original features like sundial and stone lady overlooking goldfish pool are lost. The original Statue of Mercury was presented by JB Morrell in 1939, but disappeared in 1953. A heritage lottery grant in 2000 helped restore and improve Rowntree Park. Features like a new pergola walkway were added and a new status of Mercury. Also, the sculptures in the park were added (horse, helmet and totem pole). The grant means we try to maintain as many historic features/look of the park as we can – including symmetry!
Our current volunteer gardening team have been trying to find plans from the past and aim to restore certain plants/themes in the park. For example, we hope to get more lupins in the long borders.
There are now no permanent council staff based in Rowntree Park. In 2017 the last Park Keeper was made redundant due to council budget cuts. This was a massive loss to the park and community. The Friends of Rowntree Park have taken on responsibility for gardening in specific areas of the park – the Long Borders, and the two railed gardens (the sensory garden to the left and the Friends picnic garden to the right). In 2019 The Friends of Rowntree Park helped add the Labyrinth on an old bowling green and also plant around the lychgate. A travelling team of council workers come from time to time to do basic maintenance such as grass and huge cutting, tree felling and so on.
Sadly the council no longer plant in the park. Therefore, the Friends of Rowntree Park raise money to pay for plants and add colour to the park! Although not as pristine as the park once was, it can still look very beautiful in the summer when the longer borders burst into bloom!
Park Keepers in Rowntree Park are firm characters in many people’s memories. Especially the infamous “Parkie Bell”, the first park keeper. The information here is from a mix from our archives, the book ‘Walk in the park’ by Christine and John Dowell, and also snippets passed on by the general public and The Press.
James Bell was Rowntree Park’s first Park Keeper from 1921-45. The Park Keeper lived in the lodge (above the cafe) with his family: Edith and Jim and their daughters Eileen, Yvonne and Jean, and their son Jimmy. ‘Parkie Bell’ wore a navy blue uniform, with brass buttons and a peaked cap. The park-keeper spent some of the day in the ticket kiosk just inside the main gate near the bowling greens and tennis courts.
“Parkie Bell’ was a character. He would blow his whistle when anyone misbehaved. He rang a bell when everyone expected to leave the park. His wife, Edith, was often helping youngsters get dry after falling in the pond, mending buttons, or patching up cuts for local children. His daughter Jean remembered that the first time park flooded in 1931, her father had to row a boat around the park to the aviary to feed the birds
“You couldn’t bat an eyelid in there; I was told off for catching tiddlers in the lake! He also opened and closed the gates promptly, so you had to do as you were told.” (Betty Metcalfe)
“In the park, when he blew his whistle everybody stood still. He had total, complete control of the park.” (John Gawthorpe)
“He was very strict. I remember once, I didn’t realise what I was doing, pulling leaves off a bush. And he came and said, ‘did you do that?’ He said: ‘Out you go!’” (Betty Metcalfe)
Our records show the following park keepers and years – please correct if you know more info/different names:
James Bell – 1921-45 Jim Anderson late 1950s-1968 Alan Speed Eric Woodmansay 1984-1992 David Brown (worked in the park initially, then Park Keeper 1973-2017)
The park has a range of entrances. The main entrances are from Terry Avenue and Richardson Street. There are also gates from Lovell Street and Cameron Grove as well as the car park entrance from Terry Avenue. The Butcher Terrace gates were a later addition to the park following the park’s extension.
The Iron gates that bare the name ‘Rowntree Park are from 1921 and were restored in the early 2000s. The Terry’s Avenue entrance was also made during the first year of the park but was originally wooden. The current gate was installed in 1955 presented by Rowntree & co Ltd as a tribute to the employees who’d lost their lives in the Second World War (1939-45). These gates are thought to be circa1715. They are said to be by Jean Tijou – a French Huguenot ironworker who produced a lot of work in England including Hampton Court Palace. Our gates are thought to originate from Buckinghamshire. There are plans to repaint these gates in 2020. Last repainted and repaired in around 2003 by Don Barker (see below). The gates and the two gate piers are Grade II listed.
The park was extended in 1988 when Nestle (who now owned Rowntree) transferred the area to the council. The council already had ownership of the park since Rowntree gave them the dees in 1921. The football field area between Cameron Grove and Butcher Terrace was added to the park. The Butcher Terrace/Millennium gates were commissioned by York City Council and designed by Don Barker, artist and Blacksmith at Elvington. The design was chosen after a competition held by the Friends of Rowntree Park. The gates are made of stainless steel and inspired by the Millennium Bridge. Don Barker’s idea for the Butcher Terrace/Millennium gates was a curtain that drew back and opened, welcoming people into the park. The gates were funded by the council and lottery heritage fund.
The Lychgate Rowntree Park
The lychgate is the small red archway at the other end of the bridge from the cafe. The dovecot is housed here. The lychgate is an arts and craft style construction – a pegged oak frame, red/orange brick and tiled roof. The style is reminiscent of Rowntree’s model village in New Earswick built for his workers. It is likely the lychgate was designed by either Frederick Rowntree or W J Swain, the architect of York Cocoa works who helped design the park.
The lychgate was designed as a war memorial and hasn’t changed since the park was created in 1921. There is a memorial plaque for the workers of York cocoa works who died in WW1. A second plaque was added after WW2 at the same time the Terry Avenue Gates were gifted to the park as a memorial for the workers who lost lives between 1939-45. The lychgate is Grade II listed.
It has been said that the doves that reside in the dovecot are descendants of the original doves brought to the park in 1921. The doves have never been replaced. Numbers do vary and some work was done the other year to reduce the size of the holes and stop crows accessing eggs. However, there are always doves in the park which is fitting for its status as a memorial park.
The plaques were lovingly restored by Rook Heritage in October 2019 with thanks to York Civic Trust.
In the 1960s, there were also ponies and carts in the park led by Walter Smith. It was about 3p a ride people remember. In the 1970s Sam Marshall brought donkeys to the park. The donkeys were; Paddy, Danny, Ruby, Nancy, Sally and Bimbo. Donkey rides were near where the carpark is now – that side of the park.