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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Chesterfield's Queens Park.

Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007

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Queen’s Park Set For Another Hundred Years!

The history of the Queens Park reflects the cultural changes in society over the last century, and inevitably, it’s functions - both as a public garden and cultural community space, which have changed accordingly along with the surrounding urban environment.

`a modern European award-winning Metropolis'

Chesterfield’s infrastructure has changed considerably for the better in the last four decades. The once grim industrial town, with it’s `dog-kennel’ terraced Victorian slums, narrow streets and alleyways, derelict warehouses, abandoned factories and empty spaces, has been virtually swept away - and replaced with a modern European award-winning metropolis.

In keeping with the award-winning restructuring of the centre of Chesterfield, it’s principal park has now been sympathetically restored and given a multi-functional appeal with a twenty-first century makeover which reflects the civic pride engendered by the town.

`twenty two acres of eleysian elegance and Victorian design'

The £4.5m Heritage Lottery funded restoration project to restore the century old Queen’s Park’s twenty-two acres of elysian elegance and Victorian design to it’s former glory – and to maintain it’s eminent position as the town’s jewel-in-the-crown, is complete.

The Queen’s Park is the flagship of Chesterfield Borough Council’s Leisure Services Department, and John Ramsey, the Project Officer in charge of what is in effect the largest garden makeover and landscaping project ever undertaken in the town, surely deserves an accolade for overseeing such a magnificent transformation of the re-vamped park, which is scheduled to be fully re-opened on what has been designated `Family Day’ - on July 17th.

The Grade Two Listed park, which was officially opened on August 2nd 1893 on an area of land previously known as `Meynard’s Meadows’ has seen numerous events and changes in it’s one hundred and twelve year history. But all seem merely cosmetic compared to the major facelift successfully accomplished by Wildgoose Construction Company, whose thirty operatives removed over two thousand cubic metres of silt from the lake, filled in the former children’s pond at the western end, and restored the lake to it’s original, Victorian shape.

Project Officer John Ramsey explained, “The Grade Two listing was vital for obtaining lottery funding to enable the restoration project to proceed, and a number of surveys were undertaken during the planning process, first a historical survey was done, and then an ecological survey, followed by a survey of all the trees”.

As a result old and diseased trees were replaced, and much of the old shrubbery and undergrowth was removed, opening up new aspects throughout the park and making way for some innovative additions, like the new children’s play area near to the former North Lodge; the newly created art’s feature and modern seating area to the west of the cricket ground, and everywhere fresh lawns and cut-out bedding areas filled with a wide variety of plants in colourful floral displays.

Approaching from West Bars and entering the park over the footbridge which crosses Markham Road and the River Hipper, the first signs of restoration are immediately apparent as North Lodge comes into view to the left, and the reshaped lake to the right. North Lodge has been remodelled and extended to include a café with seating for fifty people and an indoor refreshment area with toilet facilities. Gone are the Victorian toilets and the dense untidy shrubbery, and the area from the North Lodge to the east gate on Park Road is now a very pleasant woodland walk filled with shady arbours and new seating. Newly laid footpaths meander between established mature trees, bordered by Liquidamber hedging in a light woodland area which also has newly planted trees, including a superbWeeping Ash.

A lawned area shaded by six newly planted Crataegus Prunifolia now flanks the footpath and surrounds the new and innovative childrens play area, sympathetically designed with both fun and safety in mind and complete with seating, sand-pit, slide and modern play apparatus, just to the east of North Lodge.

In such a massive landscaping project, with thousands of tons of earth being moved, dug and either planted or turfed, it is difficult to note all the actual changes on the ground, as it were, and impossible to note all the folia and different planting schemes, but a few of the more visible ones are worth noting. The triangular Edgar Styler Garden has been newly planted with arched borders filled with perennials on all three sides. Low perennials in drifts, including artemisia, dianthus `white-ladies’, stachys ianata `silver carpet’, saxifrage, tradescantia and veronica, blended with mid-height and tall perennials like acanthus, anemone japonica, asters, gypsofila, polygonums, salvia, sedum and phlox, making a vividly colourful display.

The refurbished bandstand has been encircled by a neat box hedge (lavandula angustifolia) and a circular bed of groundcover roses like `the fairy’, rosa pink bells, red bells, rosa swany and rosa rugosa `Frau Dagmar Hastrup. The open green area around the bandstand is enhanced by the addition of twenty European Lime trees - `tilia europaea`, whilst the lakeside shelter has been completely refurbished and re-roofed and a newly landscaped path winds its way to the shelter from the main footpath, replacing the old, steeper path and making this excellent viewing shelter more readily accessible to the disabled. A small area alongside the shelter and beside the main path which represents the original meadow, has been planted with groundcover plants like parthenocissus henryana, hedera helix, and mahonia aquifolium and bulbs like anemone blanda -`white splendour’; chionadoxa-`pink giant’; narcissus, crocus, scilla and tulip to give a colourful display throughout the year; already the display of tall purple, blue and white foxgloves is quite breathtaking.

A new pay kiosk for boating has replaced the old structure at the lakeside and trips around the lake on the miniature railway now run through newly planted lakeside margins with woodland understorey planting and groundcover for wildlife at the woodland edge to the north and west of the lake. The marginal planting of gunnera and rodgersia, used as accents in groups of five, is mainly located in drifts north and west of the silt area, which has been deep dug to remove all pernicious weeds prior to planting, and aquatic species like mentha aquatica, pontederia cordata, ranunculus aquatilis and veronica enhance the water’s edge.

In many places, especially on the southern lakeside, the turf has been relaid and the banking stabilised to stop erosion with rolls of environmental-friendly bio-degradeable coir matting. This is overlaid with reinforced grass utilising NAG matting, whilst other reinforced grass areas have been overlaid with Ritter Material matting to stop erosion and heavy wear.

The perennial borders near the South Lodge have been splendidly replanted with a mix of acanthus, fuchsia, geum, helliborus, iris and saxifrage, whilst the nearby Children’s Garden is resplendent with forty Rosmarinus officinalis - `Miss Jessup’s Upright’, and a densely packed bed of mixed geraniums give colour throughout the season close by the southern entrance.

The sympathetic architectural landscaping has been carefully conceived and designed to open up pleasing aspects across the park from almost every angle; for example, from the central footpath, the east facing rear of the swimming baths and sports complex perfectly reflects and compliments the architectural splendour of the Town Hall, standing proudly on the opposite northern bank of the Hipper Valley.

It is exactly one hundred years since the cricket ground and pavilion were renovated and brought up to County standard, but the subsequent loss of County cricket from the park a decade ago - mainly due to a poor changing accommodation and lack of corporate facilities - was a blow to the town and cricket lovers alike. Now the cricket pavilion and seated terraces have been completely upgraded and the prospect of County cricket returning to Chesterfield and adding a new dimension to the park is a real possibility, with Derbyshire having played two one-day games there already this summer!

When the mayor of Chesterfield, Alderman T.P. Wood launched the scheme for a `proper recreation ground’ in 1887 to commemmorate and celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the purchase of part of the rich, alluvial valley known as `Maynards Meadows’ was a bargain at £3, 250.

Now, one hundred and eighteen years later, and thanks to a four and a half million pound heritage lottery funded restoration, Chesterfield’s Queens Park is once more, as T.P.Wood intended, a `proper recreation ground’.

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