A hundred years ago, the First World War had just finished and the world could start to think about planning for a better future. After so much loss, many hoped that the League of Nations (founded 1920, mentioned on the plaque in the lych gate) would help promote peace. Meanwhile, across the UK, those who had suffered were commemorated and remembered in various ways, including war memorials, memorial halls and parks.
During 1919, Rowntree and Company Ltd bought several parcels of land which would eventually go together to make the area we now know as Rowntree Park. The park was to be a tribute to the Company’s workers who had suffered in the war. The largest section of land was Nun Ings, bought from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England (now known as the Church Commissioners), and this image from the conveyance of 31st December 1919 shows the fields that made up this area, bounded by Clementhorpe Beck, to the west and south. The drawing must have been based on a map done some time previously, as it doesn’t show Norfolk St, St Clements Grove and Aldreth Grove all of which were already laid-out and partially built by 1919; it does show some fish and a cute (but archaic) sailing ship!
Rowntrees paid £1500 for Nun Ings together with at least another £1100 for other parcels of land, and they then also paid for the creation of the park, before handing it over in 1921 as a free gift to the ‘Corporation’ (i.e. the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of York). The various legal documents of 1919 show that the Rowntree family wanted the park to be “for ever hereafter be kept up and maintained as a public park, public pleasure ground, public playing fields or other like purposes of public recreation, and that proper and adequate attendance and service shall be for ever hereafter provided for the purposes aforesaid.”
More information about the park’s early history can be found in this recent post by Kate Davy
Rowntree Park is a wonderful place for quiet personal contemplation, and many local people use spaces within the park throughout the year, to reflect and remember their loved ones. This October and November we are also remembering those affected by the First World War, with several installations and displays in the park.
- Within the Reading Cafe, we have installed images of local people who fought in the war, along with some souvenir material.
- Two information banners produced by Clements Hall Local History Group have also been set up in the cafe.
- A wall of knitted and crocheted poppies flows down from the cafe, to where a willow soldier sits quietly with a copy of the Cocoa Works Magazine, known as the Cocoa Times
- Other crafted items are placed in various locations
- Children have painted ‘Remembrance Rocks’ with words and images to do with remembrance, which are then hidden in various secret places for others to find
- Local arts collective ‘Northern Electric’ have created a sound trail called ‘Green in our Memory’ which is based within the park, and which can be found on the free app Situate
Our poppies are not just the ‘normal’ red poppies – you will see that they are of several different colours. Red poppies are worn to remember military personnel who have died as a result of war; they have been worn since 1921, and were originally inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Field’ by John McCrae. White poppies are known as peace poppies, and are appropriate in the context of the park with its Quaker connections. There was originally controversy about white poppies, but this 1986 quote from the Bishop of Salisbury represents our view: “…there is plenty of space for red and white [poppies] to bloom side by side.” The idea of green poppies came from Seebohm Rowntree who said to the crowd on the park’s opening day, that he hoped that the park “might keep green in their memories, and those who were to come after them, the high ideals for which England had entered the war.” You might even be able to spot one purple poppy; purple poppies are for the animals who have suffered and died during wartime.
We hope that you will find time to visit the park and cafe whilst this material is on display and that you find your visit both evocative and interesting. We will leave a Memory Book by the display in the cafe, so that you can add any thoughts you might have.
This blogpost is by Rose and June, Friends of Rowntree Park and local residents for many years. They remember the swimming pool in the park as being an important part of growing up in York. We welcome more contributions from people who remember the park – and from people who use the park now.
We both spent our childhoods in York in the fifties and early sixties. Like many York children, Rowntree Park was where we could go to play on the swings, roundabout, seesaw and, in the warmer months, we could go to Rowntree Park swimming pool. The play equipment was where the table tennis tables now stand and the swimming pool was where the car park is. [It closed in the 1980s, I think]
Looking back, we realize we have different standards of health, safety and comfort nowadays. The play equipment stood on a concrete floor. What happened if you hurt yourself? We can’t recall but I doubt if the council was blamed.
The entrance to the open-air swimming pool was at the north end. A lady took your money and gave you a ticket. Then you went to a cubicle to change. Males went to the right of the pool, females to the left but the cubicles didn’t have keys. We think you could bolt them from the inside but, as you simply left your clothes in them along with other people’s on a busy day, you had to trust no one would steal your belongings. Probably the lady at the till would look after valuables. An amendment to the sign telling females to wear bathing caps was made when males started to have long hair. Now it read “..females and males with long hair.”
There was a terrace up a flight of steps which surrounded the pool. On a sunny day you could sunbathe in some discomfort as this surface was also concrete. The water was unheated and we can remember hovering at the edge of the pool knowing that the first few seconds would be a challenge. At the deep end were springboards. The steps up to the high one were wooden and could become slippery but we can’t recall protests about this – though people did sometimes hurt themselves.
I (Rose) learnt to swim there as did many other York children. It was the one sport I was a success at and I represented our school, Mill Mount Grammar School For Girls (where we met each other in the first form), at the swimming gala.
We agree that it would be good to have a swimming pool in Rowntree Park again, though this time with less slippery steps up to the diving board….
We knew that the wildlife pond was going into an area of the park that had been used as a dump. After about 20cm of top soil, we were into a layer of dumped domestic debris – bottles, jars, bits of twisted metal, part of a doll’s face, even a chunk of hymn book. Most of this is clearly of 20th century date, and we’re hoping that local people will be able to tell us their memories of some of the evocative-sounding brands.
A lot of the debris were glass bottles and jars, many of which were at least complete enough to see what they had been used for. The brands discovered are from local firms from York, Selby and Hull, as well as more well-known firms such as Heinz.
The first post to try out this blog is about our wonderful NEW BOOK!
Stories, memories and copious photos about the history of Rowntree Park, from the beginnings right up to the current day. Written by Chris and John Dowell, based on their research, and on interviews with many park-users. Available at the Pig and Pastry (Bishopthorpe Road) or from Naomi Whittaker, 104 Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 1JX (635278) firstname.lastname@example.org
£12 per copy. Only £10 per copy for members of Friends of Rowntree Park (via Naomi only) – yet another good reason to join the Friends! (£2 postage and package, if required)