The park, 25 acres situated on the river Ouse, between Clementhorpe Beck on the west side and Terry Avenue on the east, was a major gift donated by Joseph Rowntree in 1921 as a memorial to the members of the Cocoa Works’ staff who fell in WW1, to be (in his words) a ‘quiet restful memorial park’, rather than ‘another stone obelisk’.
The architects were Fred Rowntree and WJ Swain. It was divided into formal and informal areas, to reflect the Rowntrees’ belief in making 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 Rowntree Park Lodge, also attributed to Fred Rowntree in 1921, was designed as a focus for the park on the central access to take advantage of the high ground above the lake. The lower floor was used as a boat house for the boating on the lake, the middle floor as a cafe with sun terrace (now occupied by the Explore Rowntree Park Reading Cafe) and the top floor was the park-keeper’s house.
Early plants were supplied from the nursery of the Quaker Backhouse family. The deeds were handed over to the Lord Mayor of York on 16 July 1921.
Situated on the walls of the dovecotes are two plaques. The earliest plaque explains: ‘This park and the adjoining playing fields were given to the city by Rowntree & Co. Ltd to the memory of those members of the company’s staff who at the cost of life and limb or health and in the face of inconsiderable suffering and hardship served their country in her hour of need. Many were inspired by the faith that this war might be the end of war – that victory would lead to an enduring peace and to greater happiness for the peoples of the world. The creation of the League of Nations will be a fitting crown to the faith and hope of the men who have fought and a true memorial to their endurance, heroism, comradeship and sacrifice.’
Today the park is owned and managed by the York City Council and it has an active group of supporters, who run much of the day to day work The Friends of Rowntree Park.
Christine and John Dowell, A Walk in the Park. A History of Rowntree Park. Published by the Friends of Rowntree Park.