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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Hall Leys Park in Matlock

Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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Hall Leys Park, Matlock

`Excellent tree-lined walks and leisure facilities'

The picturesque peak district town of Matlock owes much of it’s popularity to the spectacular and dramatic scenery surrounding it’s location deep in the verdant and fertile Derwent Valley – and to the excellent tree-lined riverside walks and leisure facilities in Hall Leys Park at the very heart of the town.

Now the prestige and popularity of the town-centre park has been enhanced by a major re-fit and refurbishment which marks the completion of the first phase of the ambitious Matlock Parks Project – an extensive five-year plan by Derbyshire Dales District Council to restore and regenerate the five historic parks and pleasure grounds which run along the Derwent Valley and connect Matlock to Matlock Bath.

The £3.5m restoration programme is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund providing 75% of the cost, with the District Council providing a substantial proportion of the remaining 25%, and aims to complete one park per year. The parks range in age from early Georgian through to Edwardian, and following the restoration and re-opening of Hall Leys Park earlier this summer, work will continue at Knowleston Gardens to restore the old link to Pic Tor, then the Riverside Walk to the High Tor Grounds and Lovers’ Walks, and finally to Derwent Gardens, thus providing a continuous scenic riverside and cliff path walk all the way from Matlock to Matlock Bath for the first time in decades.

The parks have developed and changed over the centuries according to cultural trend and ownership, and the recent changes to the formal Edwardian park in the centre of Matlock have been jointly shaped by civic pride and public opinion, and both are reflected in the excellent results, which provide a modern park and pleasure ground with something for everyone, and with particular focus on the younger generation.

The History of `Haw Lees'

The Haw Lees was originally two fields on the east bank of the River Derwent lying between Matlock Bridge and Matlock Green through which ran a long established riverside footpath linking the two settlements.

This strip of land was acquired by Matlock Urban District Council from Henry Knowles in 1898, and the tree-lined Broad Walk was formed along the route of the old riverside footpath.

The District Council appointed local architect John Nuttall to provide a design for the park, and Hall Leys Park was officially opened to celebrate the Coronation of King George Fifth on June 23rd 1911.

The fully restored park, bounded by the River Derwent to the south and Causeway Lane to the north, with the familiar landmark ruins of Riber Castle silhouetted on the skyline high above, provides formal leisure activities including tennis, crown green bowls, a putting green, miniature railway, and a small boating lake, but it is also a traditional park with mature trees and formal flower beds.

Contractors Butterley Pearce of Telford have made a wonderful job of the restoration, with vastly improved facilities including a brand new state-of-the-art skate park, a new wet & dry children’s play area complete with paddling pool, and a new maintenance base for the Park Ranger Service.

Re-opened in April this year by Councillor Mrs Janet Goodison, Chairman of Derbyshire Dales District Council’s Community & Environmental Committee, the revamped park has already hosted numerous events including a professional skating exhibition, crown green bowls exhibitions, the Matlock Live Festival, and during August, the Matlock Festival of Sport.

A hot Saturday afternoon in August provided a good indicator of the success of the restoration project, the park was thronged by people of all ages and the public response provided ample evidence of the park’s popularity.

Entering from Crown Square, beside an entrance alive with colour from a mix of salvia and geraniums, the first changes became apparent at Park Head near Matlock Bridge, with the new viewing area beside the river. This is commemorated by a plaque which informs the reader that it was provided by Matlock Civic Association in 2005, and that `the downstream side of the bridge dates from the 1400’s’, and `the bridge was widened in 1904’.

The colourful theme continues at the head of Broad Walk, where new landscaping has raised the Clock Tower above the surrounding circular paved area, allowing pleasant vistas across the segmented and separately laid out symmetrical beds filled with vibrantly coloured salvia, crysanthemums and geraniums surrounding an impressive ornamental fountain, which in turn forms a centre-piece to the newly laid out sunken gardens.

Four ornamental arches decked with aromatic and multi-coloured sweet-peas form decorated seating arbours around the new fountain, whilst the Cenotaph has been moved five metres towards Broad walk and the surrounding area has been resurfaced with high quality paving and enlarged to provide more useable space for ceremonial gatherings.

Freshly resurfaced footpaths edged with box are lined at regular intervals by new Edwardian style park benches, and walkways wind through newly planted rose arbours below the refurbished Clock Tower - once a Tram Shelter which stood in Crown Square! The stainless steel crown which stands atop the clock tower of the tram shelter was made and presented by the apprentices of T.I. Chesterfield to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth 2nd in 1977.

An area along the Causeway Lane perimeter path has been landscaped to provide a series of circular seating arbours, and nine native Rowan trees have replaced four ageing Cherry trees in a previously under-used area adjacent to the memorial trees which mark the park boundary. Rowan, which blossoms in spring and bears berries in winter, was chosen to create all year round interest and to provide food for wildlife.

The flood barrier wall nearby has been removed to allow access to the Causeway Lane public toilets from the park, whilst almost adjacent, three hard tennis courts have been provided.

The wooden pavilion which was erected against the Causeway Lane boundary wall in 1913 has been entirely refurbished, and the surrounding area has been opened up considerably to provide a much larger seating area. Decking has been installed along the front of the Pavilion to provide new access to all the facilities available, which include refreshments from the Park Café, and the nearby Bandstand, purchased in 1910 from the Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, has been completely restored.

New fencing and low beech and box hedging both frames and protects the bowling green, which boasts a new purpose-built pavilion in the area between the bowling green and the boating lake, and newly laid pathways connect each facility throughout the park.

Broad Walk is pleasantly shaded by a double avenue of mature trees which include natives like sycamore, mountain ash, lime, beech and plane trees, and specimens like copper acer, copper beech, and a magnificent weeping beech which stands sentinel at the eastern end of the park near the entrance from Knowleston Gardens.

The former `Flower Garden for the Blind’ which was created alongside the approach from Dale Road by Matlock Urban District Council & the Matlock Rotary Club in 1954, has been redesignated the `Sensory Garden’ and was redesigned and re-dedicated to celebrate the Rotary Club’s 75th anniversary in 2003 as part of the Matlock Parks Project.

New surfacing, lighting, finger-signposts, benches and litter bins have been provided throughout the park, and all facilities have disabled access, with gentle slopes allowing easy access to the formal gardens and clock tower seating and viewing areas for wheelchair users.

A new bridge across the Bentley Brook has replaced an old bridge which was lost in 1977 following the building of the flood defences, thus severing the old link between Hall Leys Park and the Pic Tor Promenade.

The new bridge re-connects the park near Knowleston Gardens with Pic Tor Promenade and the scenic riverside walks on the eastern bank of the Derwent, whose complete refurbishment and regeneration form Phase Two of the Matlock Parks Regeneration Project.

The enjoyment on the happy faces of the children who flocked there amongst the crowds on a hot Saturday afternoon in August seemed to indicate both the success of phase one, and the enormous potential of the entire Matlock Parks Regeneration Project for the whole area.

The excellence of the restoration and regeneration of Hall Leys Park marks a significant step into the future, and surely signals the beginning of a new and exciting era for the Matlocks.

 
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