History of Derry's Brooke Park goes on public display

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane Michaela Boyle, explores the exhibits with Emma Barron, parks manager Image copyright DCSDC
Image caption The Mayor of Derry and Strabane Michaela Boyle, explores the exhibits with Emma Barron, parks manager

The gate lodge to one of Londonderry's most historic urban spaces has opened to the public for the first time in its 179-year history.

Built in 1840, the Brooke Park gate lodge is home to a new exhibition charting the wider history of the park.

It chronicles the life of the park over its three centuries.

Derry's Mayor, Michaela Boyle, said opening the lodge to the public is "a significant milestone" in the park's modern day redevelopment.

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

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

In recent years, it had fallen into a state of disrepair.

A £5.6m restoration project was completed in 2017.

"The exhibition in the gate lodge catalogues the history of the park from its first opening, when it was the site of Gwyn's Orphanage for Boys," Ms Boyle said.

"And the exhibition will take us down through years, documenting its role in our city's history to its present day function as a beautiful urban park located right in the heart of the city."

Image copyright DCSDC
Image caption The exhibition runs at the gate lodge until 31 August

Brooke Park owes its existence to two local 19th century philanthropists, John Gwyn and James Hood Brooke.

In his final will and testament, Presbyterian benefactor James Hood Brooke, who died in 1865, requested the residue of his estate be used to acquire land that forever after would be a place of outdoor recreation for the citizens of Londonderry.

It was especially to be a place where the working man could enjoy the Sabbath day.

Image caption The Gwyn's Pavilion cafe now stands on the original Gwyn's Institute site

The site his family acquired was originally laid out in the Victorian era as part of a boys' orphanage because of John Gwyn, a local businessman born near Muff, County Donegal, in 1754.

Mr Gwyn, a successful linen merchant, died in 1829.

He 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 in 1839. The grounds to the orphanage, known as Gwyn's Institute, included grass terraces, a pond, rose garden, shrubberies and boundary planting, a kitchen garden and orchards.

Image caption The oval pond was reinstated following the park's restoration

Emma Barron, Derry City and Strabane District Council's parks officer, said the park holds strong memories for local residents.

She said the exhibition gives the public a real opportunity to learn more about the park.

"Anyone who comes from the city has fond memories of Brooke Park - or the People's Park as it was known - and this is a great chance to share its history with the visitors who come to enjoy the features, including the Victorian oval pond, which have been so beautifully restored over the past few years."

The exhibition runs until 31 August.

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