Hall Leys Park - a jewel in Matlock's Crown
PUBLISHED: 14:19 30 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:40 29 January 2018
On 23rd June one of the country's finest Edwardian parks will be celebrating its 100th birthday. Robert Falconer reports
Occupying an enviable spot in the centre of the town, Hall Leys Park has always been one of Matlock’s visitor attractions, as well as an attractive place for residents to enjoy a restful or activity-packed hour or so. Last July Hall Leys was awarded its third consecutive Green Flag Award, acknowledging it as one of the country’s top green spaces.
Originally the area the park covers was known as Haw Lees. It consisted of two fields on the east bank of the River Derwent with a well-established footpath that linked Matlock Bridge with Matlock Green. In 1898 Matlock Urban Council acquired part of the land from Henry Knowles and the Broadwalk was formed along the route of the footpath. In 1908 the Council purchased the remainder of the two fields, including part that had been acting as Matlock’s football pitch, from Mr Perry of Manchester for a princely sum of £3,750. It appointed local architect John Nuttall to design a park and the official opening took place with due ceremony on 23rd June 1911, also celebrating the Coronation of King George V.
Today immaculately maintained by Derbyshire Dales District Council, between 2004 and 2005 the Park was given a new lease of life as part of the Matlock Parks Project (MPP). This was a £3.5m Heritage Lottery Fund supported programme – completed in 2008 – which has created a beautiful ‘corridor’ of the Matlocks’ five historic parks (Hall Leys, Pic Tor, High Tor, Lovers’ Walks and Derwent Gardens), which range in style from Edwardian ornamental through natural woodland to ornamental pools fed by thermal springs.
The main entrance to Hall Leys Park is at Crown Square and leads into the Sensory Garden, which has a fine view of the 15th century bridge across the river. The Sensory Garden was first created in 1954 by Matlock District Council and the Matlock Rotary Club. Its redesign early this century was marked by a ceremony on 11th August 2003, which also commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Rotary Club. The old clock tower is a focal point and was moved here from the middle of Crown Square where it was a tram shelter for the cable tramway that ran from 1893 to 1927 and linked the square with Smedley Street and Rutland Street. Nearby is a war memorial, first erected in 1965, which was moved to its present site as part of the MPP when a circular paved area was also created to provide a space for ceremonial gatherings.
As you walk past the clock tower from Crown Square you enter the sunken garden. John Nuttall originally planned to put a large pavilion in this area but it was never built due to the cost. Today 14 flowerbeds full of bedding plants provide a stunning colourful display throughout spring and summer. Four new rose arbours have been erected and the fountain, which provides an impressive centrepiece, is restored to full working order.
Next in the park are the tennis courts and a skate park by a large grassed area that’s always popular on a warm summer’s day for people to rest and play. The park’s centrepiece is without doubt the bandstand where concerts are performed in summer. It was purchased in 1910 from the Lion Foundry of Kirkintilloch, Scotland. Next to it is a pavilion, built in 1913, with a café where you can sit in or outdoors to enjoy a drink or something to eat.
Between the bandstand and Matlock Green there’s a putting green, boating pond, playground and paddling pool area, and a miniature railway dating from the 1950s. There is also a bowling green, home of the ‘Matlock Bowls Club’.
Regular annual events such as the Illuminations and the Victorian Christmas Market always attract the crowds to Matlock and Matlock Bath but this year there’ll also be ‘Hall Leys 100’ celebrations. Centenary day, 23rd June, is at the heart of the events being planned and will be followed from 24th to 26th by a midsummer market. It’s hoped to stage 100 events during the year – so far various events have taken place including orienteering and an Easter bug hunt, and penny farthing racing is promised for Sunday 11th September. Certainly this year promises to be a high point in the life of one of the county’s finest historic parks. Beautifully maintained and cared for, Hall Leys can now look forward optimistically to the next 100 years!
Derbyshire Dales District Council’s Matlock Parks Trail leaflet is available from Matlock and Matlock Bath Tourist Information Centres. A calendar of events for Hall Leys 100 can be found at www.hallleys100.co.uk