History of Rowntree Park

The History of Rowntree Park

1921 to today!

Rowntree Park opened on the 16th of July 1921, as a gift to the people of York from the Rowntree Family and it was “intended to serve as a perpetual memorial to the members of the Cocoa works staff that fell and suffered in the War”.  Rowntree stated he 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”. From that day on, the park was owned and managed by York City Council.

The deeds to 17 acres of land were signed in 1919 and the land cost £1,500. The work was funded, supervised and maintained by the Rowntree Village Trust.  The building of the park created work for those who had none.  The architect, Fredrick Rowntree, added a flood prevention system.  The area was drained in 1919, with 19,000 yards of pipes being laid, sluice gates installed and a flood wall at the southern end of the park. The park was later extended to include Clementhorpe allotments bought in 1926/7, and what is now the Butcher Terrace football field in 2000.

Rowntree had wanted facilities to encourage a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages. The lake was designed as a serpentine lake, to be no more than 2 feet deep, to be safer for children.  Informal activities such as a 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 a 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 these areas were defined by footpaths and benches to watch and sit. There was also a cafe.

Later features were added such as a swimming pool and aviaries in the 1920s. You can find out more about the history of certain facilities, features and happenings in Rowntree Park’s history by clicking on the individual areas below.

Find out about how we celebrated the century in 2021 here.

Historical Timeline

Donkeys & Ponies

Rowntree Park Horses


Rowntree Park Bowls

Paddling & Ice skating

Rowntree Park Ice-skating
Swimming Pool
Rowntree Park swimming pool

Cafe and bandstand

Rowntree Park band stand

Lychgate and Park Gates

Rowntree Park Lychgate dove cot

People of the park

Rowntree Park History
Aviaries and animals
Rowntree Park animals History

Play Park

Rowntree Park Play park history

Park Keepers

Restoration 2000

Rowntree Park 2000 Heritage Lottery Grant
Rowntree Park Boats


Rowntree Park Cascade 1930s


Rowntree Park History Lychgate 1940s

History of the Friends


Rowntree’s and Terry’s rival rumour

One of the myths surrounding Rowntree Park is that that Joseph Rowntree was said to have only bought the land for Rowntree Park to prevent the Terry family from expanding the Terry chocolate factory along the side of the River Ouse.

There is no evidence to support this rumour. When the land, called Nun Ings, was sold to Rowntree in 1919, there was no mention of rival bids or offers in the detailed minutes of the Church Commissioners who owned the land.

Rowntree bought the site for a park, as an area he knew would flood from time to time. This site would never have been suitable for constructing a large factory. Therefore there is no evidence that Rowntree had a plan to thwart Terry’s from expanding their factory in this area. Rowntree bought the land as a memorial to those members of the Cocoa Works’ staff who had been killed in WW1. He stated that a park for rest and recuperation was more helpful to the people of York than ‘another stone obelisk’.

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 – further evidence that the land would never be suitable for construction of a large factory.

The Park was divided into formal and informal areas, to reflect the Rowntrees’ belief in creating facilities that were available to all. It has a shallow curving lake spanned by a lych-gate and dovecote, formal gardens, a playground and tennis courts. The original café was part of the keeper’s lodge – but now, this has become a ‘reading café’ that includes library services.

Rowntree Park is a lasting legacy of the Rowntree family, well-loved and much-used. In the early years, there were 12 permanent gardeners. Subsequent financial restrictions reduced this number and recently, the Council’s financial situation meant that the last attendant gardener’s post was scrapped.

The future of Rowntree Park would be bleak were it not for the admirable commitment and hard work of the volunteers who make up the Friends of Rowntree Park. They were closely involved in the council’s work bid for a grant to permit a huge restoration project which took place between 1998 & 2003 (despite the acute floods in the autumn and winter of 2000).

Since then, the Friends of Rowntree Park have undertaken a wide range of work, run many excellent activities and generally made plain that many York folk of all ages, outlooks and abilities are willing to try and make life better for their fellow citizens. One can only imagine that Joseph Rowntree would have been proud of them.