Rowntree Park

York, England

Rowntree Park: a gift from a chocolatier, to the people of York.

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Discover Rowntree Park in York

Rowntree Park, named after the famous Rowntree family, is a public park in the city of York, situated on Terry Avenue by the River Ouse. Since its establishment in 1921, the park has come to encompass 20 acres, with a range of facilities for visitors to enjoy. These facilities were introduced after a restoration effort in 2003 and include a children’s playground, tennis courts, a skate park, a tearoom, and a basketball court. At the heart of the park is a large lake, filled with all manner of bird and plant life; leading off the lake is a canal and cascade for a touch of drama.

Owned by York Council, Rowntree Park is maintained by the Friends of Rowntree Park (FoRP), who also organise community events, including family picnics and outdoor concerts. Working alongside York Explore, which operates the Rowntree Park Reading Cafe, and the Rowntree Park Tennis Club, the FoRP earnt Rowntree Park a Green Flag Award in 2006. This award recognised the park’s exceptional quality—meeting the national standard for parks and green spaces in England and Wales.

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Rowntree Park Reading Cafe - Neil Turner

The History of Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park was gifted to the city by the Rowntree family, renowned for their confectionary empire Rowntree & Co., in memory of their 200 Cocoa Works employees who suffered or died in World War I. The 18th century iron entrance gates on Terry Avenue, donated by the Rowntree factory in 1955, also commemorate the sacrifices made during World War II, with two plaques, in a continued example of their philanthropy.

“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.”

The earliest of two plaques situated on the dovecotes of the entrance gates.

The plaques passionately articulate the aspirations of those who believed that victory in war would pave the way for lasting peace and global happiness. Evidently, the family were known for their charitable efforts and the opening of the park on 16th July 1921 by Joseph Rowntree, was no exception. However, at the time it was argued that Rowntree only opened the park to thwart the expansion of the Terry chocolate factory, although there is little evidence to support this claim.

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- Tim Green

Creating Rowntree Park

Opening the park was not a simple process, it required meticulous planning supervised by the Rowntree Village Trust. In 1919 the deeds to the 17-acre plot were signed, and the park’s construction came under the charge of architect Frederick Rowntree and Mr. W. J. Swain, the Rowntree factory’s architect. They made sure to implement safety measures such as strategies to circumvent flooding, dividing the park into areas for small children, older children, sports enthusiasts, and those relaxing, and ensure the serpentine lake was shallow in the event someone may fall in.

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- Neil Turner

“[To provide] rest and recreation from the turmoil and stress of life."

Joseph Rowntree, discussing Rowntree Park.

Initially it was to become a place of recreation, with formal gardens and informal grounds. These informal grounds would be filled with activities such as a playground, wading pool, and tennis courts strategically positioned along the park's edges. Over the years there have been many alterations, such as the closure of the swimming pool in the 1980s and the introduction of sculptures and modern recreational facilities in recent years. Despite this, Rowntree Park’s essential intention has not been diminished and it continues to provide ‘rest and recreation’ to the people of York.

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- Eboracum Imagery

Inside Rowntree Park

At the heart of Rowntree Park lies a formal garden area, with lawns to the north and south. These gardens feature tall beech hedges that provide a sense of enclosure and privacy. The park's western boundary is where the serpentine lake lazily snakes its way through the diversion of Clementhorpe Beck. A bridge leads visitors over the serpentine lake to the Richardson Street entrance, which has a teardrop-shaped rose bed and a lych-gate with a dovecot—the WWII memorial.

Beyond the gate lies a pond, with a statue of the God Mercury. The entrance area also includes a horseshoe-shaped rockery with a cascading waterfall, and the Rowntree Park Reading Cafe, constructed in 1921 and restored in the early 2000s. The narrow canal is bordered by flower beds and hedges and leads to a series of lawns and bowling greens.

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- Tim Green

The north and south parts of Rowntree Park are more informal, with a network of paths leading through wooded areas. The paths are well-maintained so they can be explored on foot or by bike. The northern section, once home to a wading pool and swimming bath, now features children's play equipment and a car park. In the south, remnants of the former bandstand and pergola can be seen. Here the tennis courts, skate park, and basketball court provide recreational fun for everyone.

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- Tim Green

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