The Duke of Westminster will open Chester’s newly restored Grosvenor Park on Monday - 147 years after his ancestor realised the importance of ‘fresh air and exercise’ to those living in England’s towns and cities.
Richard, 2nd Marquess of Westminster, donated 20 acres of farmland on the banks of the River Dee to the citizens of Chester and hired landscape architect Edward Kemp to design one of England’s first and finest public parks.
When his Lordship opened Grosvenor Park on November 5, 1867, the grateful public turned out in huge numbers to honour his ‘princely and munificent gift’.
On Monday, the Duke will re-open a park which Cheshire West and Chester Council has restored to its former Victorian glories with the help of a £2.3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), more than £1m from council coffers and £30,000 from WREN, the non-profit making company dedicated to environmental improvement.
The Duke said: “I am delighted to be given this opportunity to open a revitalised Grosvenor Park.
“It is a vital and much-loved part of Chester city centre, and I am grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, WREN and, of course, the council for providing the finds for such an important project.”
The one-year project has included remodelling and restoration of the Grade II listed John Douglas Park Lodge – one of the first designed by the architect for the Grosvenor Estate – which will include a cafe and public meeting rooms.
A new training and events pavilion, including public toilets and changing facilities, has been built in the distinctive Douglas style to replace the park’s former toilet block.
And extensive landscape improvements include the creation of a new natural play area near the miniature railway, parkland planting and restoration of walls, railings, steps and footpaths.
The restoration of Grosvenor Park – now accredited as a Grade II* on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest – has been made possible as part of HLF’s and BIG’s Parks for People programme.
Sara Hilton, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “HLF’s recent State of the UK public parks report revealed how valued public parks are by people and communities and how essential they are to our physical and emotional well-being.
“That’s why HLF and the Big Lottery Fund are really pleased to have funded Grosvenor Park and to see the wonderful work that’s taken place.
“The newly restored park is now firmly back at the heart of the community as a much-needed, practical green space to spend time in.”
When the original Grosvenor Park was opened it brought Chester to a standstill.
Nearly every place of business was closed at noon, the principal thoroughfares were draped in flags and banners of all description.
The Marquess told a cheering crowd that he considered it “very desirable that in the neighbourhood of all great towns, the means of exercise and fresh air should be rendered as attainable as possible. This has been my object”.
An illuminated address on vellum expressed the heartfelt thanks of the town council for a noble and beautiful gift ‘opened and dedicated to the purposes of health and recreation’.
And two years later grateful citizens raised the cash by public subscription to erect a marble statue of their noble benefactor at the centre of the park he had given the city.
Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and economy, said: “The Marquess was many years ahead of his time in realising the value that parks would have for urban communities. Over the years his vision has given pleasure to millions of people.
“This programme of restoration will ensure that Grosvenor Park continues to occupy a special place in the life of Chester residents and a wonderful attraction for its visitors.”