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20th Century

Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park winter 2011

As lovely as the town centre of York is, every city needs places to escape to. York has a range of parks and green spaces to take you out of the buzz of the city and Rowntree park is one of the best. The park is located just outside the city centre on the banks of the river Ouse and it was designed by Fred Rowntree and W.J. Swain between 1919 and 1921.

It was dedicated to the people of York by the philanthropist Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925), owner of York’s chocolate manufacturers Rowntree & Co.

The park is also known as Rowntree Memorial Park as it was dedicated to the memory of the 200 workers of the Rowntree factory who had died or suffered during the Great War. A memorial in their honour was erected in the park in 1921.

In 1955 the Rowntree factory donated the iron entrance gates on Terry Avenue as a World War II memorial. As it is written on a bronze plaque just outside these gates, they were donated ‘in thanks for the courage and steadfastness of the people of York’. It is believed that these gates were created in the mid-18th century. 

As the city’s first municipal park, it had many things to offer for the people of York. As both a public park and a recreational ground, the park’s designers aimed to encourage the well-being and pleasure of the people. Originally there were formal gardens, a tearoom, bowling greens, an ornamental lake, and even an outdoor swimming pool.

Since its conception, the park has undergone many adjustments but the essential shape and layout has been kept intact. For example, in the 1980s, despite fervent public appeal, the swimming pool was closed and demolished and more recently various sculptures have been added to the park.

To accommodate the needs of the people of York today new facilities were added in a major refurbishment project in 2003. Next to the tennis court, basketball areas, skate park, the children’s play area and the café, the park now has an open air performance space encircled by trees.

Despite the various alterations in the 90 years the park has existed Rowntree's original purpose has been preserved. The memorial character of the park is still prevalent and it still is a public green space for the people of York to enjoy and to escape the city centre.