SATURDAY, July 16, 1921, was a glorious summer day. The perfect day, in fact, for Joseph Rowntree to bequeath to York one of his finest and most generous legacies: Rowntree Park.

The park was born out of the carnage of the First World War, and Joseph’s desire to create something that would both serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives – 200 men from the Rowntree Cocoa Works alone died in the war – and as a public park that would benefit generations of ordinary York people.

On that Saturday, the deeds for what was York’s first municipal park were handed over to the Lord Mayor of the day, Alderman Edmund Walker, and Joseph gave a speech. The park was, he said, intended to serve as a “perpetual memorial to the members of the Cocoa Works staff that fell and suffered in the War.” But it was also for the enjoyment and pleasure of the people of York.

“Let me say how greatly I desire that in the days to come this park will afford to many rest and recreation from the turmoil and stress of life, and bring health and happiness to a large number of young lives,” he told the crowd.

A full account of that day 90 years ago is given in a new history published to coincide with the park’s 90th birthday.

A Walk In The Park: The Story Of Rowntree Park, by husband-and-wife team John and Christine Dowell of the Friends of Rowntree Park, takes readers from the planning of the park, through its opening and its subsequent history, right up to the present day.

Those with (very) long memories may still remember some of the features of the original park which are no longer with us: the open air swimming pool, the aviaries, the canal with its swimming pool.

In the early days of the park, the aviaries – near the park’s Richardson Street entrance – were a hugely popular attraction. John and Christine quote an interview given to The Press in 2003 by Miss Betty Metcalf, who remembered the aviaries.

“One cage had pheasants in; one had parrots and macaws, that type of thing. The little one (cage) had small tropical birds and finches. When disaster struck in the great flood of the 1930s the water came up to 18 inches or so from the top of the aviaries. The poor birds were trapped: nobody could get to them to free them. A lot of them perished.”

The book also introduces some of the many characters associated with the park down the years – from the members of the Rowntree Cocoa Works band who gave frequent concerts here, to James ‘Parky’ Bell, the park’s warden.

Mr Bell lived with his wife and four children in The Lodge in the 1930s and early 1940s, and was widely respected. “He had a navy blue uniform, complete with brass buttons and a peaked cap,” the same Miss Betty Metcalf we have already encountered said in 1993.

“You couldn’t bat an eyelid in there; I was told off for catching tiddlers in the lake! He also opened and closed the gates promptly, so you had to do as you were told.”

Lavishly illustrated with photographs old and new, this is a book that will delight lovers of York’s first and finest municipal park.

• A Walk In The Park is available from Naomi Whittaker of The Friends of Rowntree Park at or on 01904 635278, priced £12 plus £2 p&p.

York Press: Youngsters having fun in the park pool in about 1933

Youngsters having fun in the park pool in about 1933

York Press: Spectators at the opening 
eremony in1921

Spectators at the opening ceremony in 1921

York Press: Visitors admire the birds in the park’s aviaries

Visitors admire the birds in the park’s aviaries