Social History of Rowntree Park

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.

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