Tuesday, 19 July 2016

South Park, Darlington (NZ287134)

Of its many parks and nature reserves (26 at the last count), Darlington’s most famous open space is that which is known as South Park, near the A167 in the nether regions of the town. In addition to its fond place in the hearts of locals it also lays claim to being the very first officially designated public park in the North-East.

South Park’s known history begins in the mid-seventeenth century when it was mentioned in the will of Sir James Belasses dated 1636. In this document Sir James  (a resident of Hartlepool, strangely) bequeathed a 10 hectare site known as Poor Howdens Farm to the town for charitable purposes. Essentially, this meant renting out a few fields in the vicinity to local farmers and the income handed out to the local poor. Nothing much else seems to have been done with the open expanse until, more than two centuries later, the Victorian trustees of the charity recommended that the greater part of the site ‘be used as a park or promenade and a recreation ground for the public at large’. And so it was that during 1850-53 work was carried out to turn the vision into, at last, a proper reality.

With a good deal of financial help from the Pease and Backhouse families, it was known originally as Belasses Park, then the People’s Park. Eventually, it came to be called South Park, and currently extends to some 26 hectares (91 acres). It has always been a popular recreational venue and, after recent Heritage Lottery funding, is more attractive than ever – playing host to regular concerts and other events. It boasts a lake, bandstand, skateboard park, games area, education centre, café, and rock, rose and sensory gardens. There is also, of course, the famous aviary – once the home of Max the foul-mouthed parrot!

It is a magnificent example of the very best type of Victorian municipal park, and is Grade II registered and holder of a Green Flag Award since 2006.

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