Rowntree Park opened on July 16th 1921. The park was a gift from the Rowntree Family and was to be a memorial to the members of his Cocoa works staff that fell and suffered in WW1 (more than 200 men). Joseph Rowntree wanted the park to “afford many rest and recreation from the turmoil and stress of life, and bring health and happiness to a large number of young lives”.
At the opening event, the deeds were handed to the Mayor of York. The brass band played ‘lead kindly light’ by Rupert Gough. The park has changed a lot over the years. Features have gone, others have been added, but it has always been a special place to many.
A famous myth is that Joseph Rowntree bought the land to prevent the Terry family from expanding the Terry chocolate factory. There is no evidence to support this. The site would never have been suitable for constructing a large factory due to regular flooding. The land was part of Nun Ings and it belonged to the Church Commissioners. In 1919, the Commissioners sold 25 acres of Nun Ings to Rowntree’s. There is no mention in the detailed Minute recording the sale that there were any rival bids for the land.
The architectural work was carried out in consultation with architect Frederick Rowntree but was mainly under the direction of Mr Swain, the Cocoa Work’s architect. The plans included a flood prevention system. For the first two years, the work was funded, supervised and maintained by the Rowntree Village Trust. The building of the park created work for those who had none. In 1919 another 17 acres were bought, the land near the Richardson Street entrance was added in 1920/21, and Clementhorpe allotments bought in 1926/7 to extend the park.
The Park was divided into formal and informal areas, to reflect the Rowntrees’ belief in creating facilities that were available to all. Rowntree wanted facilities to encourage a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages. It has a shallow serpentine lake that was no more than 2 meters deep and a lychgate with a dovecot. The park keepers lodge overlooks the area.
Informal activities such as playground, wading pool, tennis courts were at the edges of the park. In the original plans, there would be a hockey field at the north and cricket ground at the south. There were five distinct divisions – areas for small children (wading pool), older children (playground), hockey for girls and cricket for boys, bowling greens and later tennis courts for the more ‘mature person’. All areas defined by footpaths and benches to watch and sit.