Londonderry's Brooke Park reopens after multi-million pound facelift

The reinstated oval pond holds very fond memories for local residents
Image caption The reinstated oval pond holds very fond memories for local residents

Brooke Park in Londonderry has been reopened to the public after a multi-million pound redevelopment.

Located near the city centre, the historic park has been transformed to include a new cafe, a restored gate lodge and a synthetic football pitch.

The park was closed almost two years ago as part of a £5.6m regeneration project for the area.

It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Derry City and Strabane District Council and the Stormont executive.

Despite being reopened to the public, restoration work will continue at Brooke Park until the summer of 2017.

Image caption The statue of former local MP Robert Alexander Ferguson has greeted visitors to the park since 1927

Brooke Park, also known as the People's Park, was formerly the site of the city's first orphanage.

The park holds strong memories for local residents, as its manager Colin Kennedy explained.

"The gates of the park have been opened so the peoples park is being brought back into public use," Mr Kennedy said.

"The park has very, very strong memories for both sides of the community, but as a consequence of the Troubles and a lack of investment the park really fell into a decline.

"So any opportunity to redress that need and invest in the park's fabric and the economic well-being of the people was snapped up," he added.

Image copyright Lorcan Doherty
Image caption Gwyn family members from across the world travelled to Derry

Publically maintained for over 100 years, the park owes its existence to two local philanthropists, John Gwyn and James Hood Brooke.

A Presbyterian benefactor, James Hood Brooke died on 2 August 1865, but in his final will and testament he revealed an important request - that the residue of his estate be used to acquire an area of land, that forever after would be a place of outdoor recreation for the citizens of Londonderry.

In particular, it was to be a place where the working man could enjoy the Sabbath day, his pipe and a pleasant walk after the labours of a severe week's toil.

Image caption The new Gwyn's Pavilion cafe which stands on the original institute site

The site that the Brooke family eventually acquired was originally laid out in the Victorian era as part of a boys' orphanage.

That was down to John Gwyn, a local businessman born near Muff, County Donegal, in 1754.

A successful linen merchant, Mr Gwyn died in 1829 and left the bulk of his wealth for the establishment of an orphanage in Derry.

The trustees of his will purchased the site for the sum of £200 on 9 September 1839.

The grounds to the orphanage included formal grass terraces, a pond, rose garden, shrubberies and boundary planting, a kitchen garden and orchards.

Image caption The far end of the park holds a panoramic view of the city

Although it was eventually demolished, the orphanage grounds survive along with the grass terraces and the location of the pond.

Last month, 30 descendents of John Gwyn travelled to Derry to get a sneak preview of the regeneration works.

Relatives travelled from New Zealand, Norway, Australia, and Scotland to see the new Gwyn's Pavilion cafe.

A descendent closer to home, Roz Mitchell, from the Republic of Ireland, said she was honoured to learn of John Gwyn's legacy.

"He was a poor boy made good, so to speak, who seems to have been very committed to philanthropy and spending his money for the orphans having been fatherless himself," she said.

"It's extremely interesting to have the historical connection, it's really good to have a sense of where you come from and what the past is for this city."

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