Roundhay Park in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, is one of the biggest city parks in Europe. It covers more than 700 acres (2.8 km2) of parkland, lakes, woodland and gardens which are owned by Leeds City Council. The park is one of the most popular attractions in Leeds, nearly a million people visit each year. It is situated on the north-east edge of the city, bordered by the suburb of Roundhay to the west, Oakwood to the south and the A6120 outer ring road to the north.
*** – History – ***
In the 11th century William the Conqueror granted the lands on which the park stands to Ilbert De Lacy for his support in the Harrying of the North in the winter of 1069–70. De Lacy, who founded Pontefract Castle, was a knight from Normandy.
During the 13th century, the area was used as a hunting park for the De Lacys who were the Lords of Bowland on the Yorkshire-Lancaster border. Ownership of Roundhay passed through succession to John of Gaunt and then to his son, Henry IV. In the 16th century Henry VIII gave the park (though not the manor) to Thomas Darcy. Through succession and marriage, it was acquired by Charles Stourton, XV Baron Stourton (1702–1753) in the 18th century.
In 1803, Charles Stourton's nephew, another Charles Stourton, XVII Baron Stourton (1752–1816), sold the estate to Thomas Nicholson and Samuel Elam. Nicholson took the northern part which became Roundhay Park.
Thomas Nicholson's land had the remains of quarries and coal mines. He disguised these former industrial areas by constructing the Upper Lake and the Waterloo Lake. The mansion house was built between 1811 and 1826 with a view over the Upper Lake. Nicholson constructed a castle folly. The Nicholson family was responsible for building the Church of St John, almshouses and a school on the south side of the park.
After Thomas Nicholson's death in 1821, the estate passed to his half-brother Stephen. In 1858, his nephew William Nicholson inherited the land on the death of his uncle. In 1871 Roundhay Park was put up for sale. It was purchased for £139,000 by a group including the Mayor of Leeds, John Barran. Leeds City Council was unable to buy such a large tract of land without an Act of Parliament, which was obtained on 21 June 1871. The local authority agreed to pay the same price and gave the estate to the people of Leeds as a public park.
Leeds architect, George Corson, won the competition for landscaping Roundhay Park. Some parts of the estate were then sold for building plots to offset the cost to the council and Barran. Prince Arthur officially re-opened the park in 1872 in front of 100,000 people. In 1891 the first public electric tram with overhead power (trolley system) in Britain was inaugurated linking Oakwood near to Roundhay Park with Sheepscar for access to the horse and steam trams to Leeds city centre, 3 miles (4.8 km) away.
A record crowd of 80,000 watched a rugby league sevens match between England and Australia in the park in 1933, won 29–11 by Australia. At the south end of Waterloo Lake is a dam, in 1907 an open-air swimming pool was constructed below it, it was known as a lido and was particularly popular in the 1950s but was closed and filled in during the 1980s. The area is now a car park, still signposted 'Lido'. In June 2005, two teenagers drowned in Waterloo Lake: a memorial stone on the lakeside footpath recalls their memory. In January 2007, the Lakeside Café was extensively damaged by fire. Following complete renovation including a new roof, it has reopened.
*** – Tropical World – ***
Canal Gardens, separated by Street Lane from the main area of the park, contains Tropical World, a series of temperature-controlled glasshouses representing different climates from around the world. It holds the largest collection of tropical plants in the UK after Kew Gardens.
The main building, Coronation House, is named from the original 1911 building, the year of the coronation of George V. The present construction was built in 1939 and modernised in 1983, re-opening as Tropical World. In July 2008 it was renamed The Arnold and Marjorie Ziff Tropical World. Arnold Ziff gave £30,000 towards its launch.
Tropical World has a butterfly house and aquariums. Exhibits include birds and some reptiles living free inside, and many other animals in enclosures including a group of meerkats. Its nocturnal house is home to creatures such as bats which are active at night. In 2015 following further refurbishment and alterations an Aztec zone opened in area transformed into an Amazon themed zone occupied by piranhas and salamanders.
*** – Tropical World - Virtual Tour – ***
Be amazed by the magnificent collection of Koi Carp, which boast some of the largest fish in the country. Can you spot the White Honeycomb Koi which is, at a whopping 26 inches long, the largest fish in the pond here but not the largest fish in Tropical World!
The trio are the first meerkats to be born at Tropical World in over 10 years, and with the gestation period for a meerkat being short at 75 days, the animal keepers are hopeful of seeing this success repeated with more new arrivals later in the year. The baby meerkats are just the latest in an exciting group of new arrivals to Tropical World in recent months. Recently a rare albino Burmese Python which measures approximately 11 feet long and a Yellow Anaconda which is almost five feet long arrived from Scotland. This was followed a month later by the arrival of three young Morelet’s Crocodiles which have proved hugely popular with visitors of all ages as for the first time ever a Leeds visitor attraction is home to three resident crocodiles!
These Crocodiles are normally found in forest freshwater lakes, swamps and ponds of Mexico, Belize and northern Guatemala. Now they can also be seen in the swamps of Roundhay. Fully grown they may reach over 2 metres from snout to tail, the three crocs at Tropical World are already 2 years old but still have a few years until they reach full adult size, at which point they will be moved into the pond in the South America House.
*** – Gardens – ***
*** – Features – ***
It was originally used for boating, and for a period there were trips around it in a steamboat called the Maid of Athens (which was sunk in the lake at the end of its useful life). In 1900 this was replaced by an electric launch, the Mary Gordon, which operated until 1923.
A cafe was constructed above the boathouse. The lake is now used for fishing, but not boating. The lower part ends in a dam which included a sluice and waterfall from at least 1893. By 1921, the waterfall fed a bathing pool at the bottom of the dam, but both features have since been removed, and the overflow from the lake is now by a weir at the western end of the dam. Great Heads Beck flows southward into Waterloo Lake, which it enters at its northern end.
It was leased out by the Council as a hotel and restaurant, being a popular place for weddings, receptions and dances until its closure in 2004 for renovation, with a view to conversion into Council offices. This caused some controversy and opposition. In November 2007 the rear wings of the building were opened again after an £8 million refurbishment as an Education and Visitor Centre and offices for park staff. In August 2009 Leeds based Dine catering reopened the cafe and function rooms, after substantial refurbishment.
*** – Visiting – ***
A Parkrun takes place at 9.00am each Saturday. The park is used by Be Military Fit. There is a local running club - Roundhay Runners. Each Bonfire Night (5th of November) a firework display is held, one of the largest in West Yorkshire. As noted above, the park has regularly been used as a concert venue with many big stars.
Facilities at the Park also include tennis courts, children's play area, a small skateboard park, sports pitches, bowling greens, the sports arena, a golf course, and fishing. The Lakeside cafe overlooks Waterloo Lake, and the Mansion has re-opened with a 'Garden Room Restaurant' and rooms for events, business meetings and weddings (The Mansion is licensed for Civil ceremonies).
Roundhay Park and Tropical World are accessible to wheelchair users. For details of free motability powered scooters and wheelchair provision at the park please click here.
Please click here for a map of some of the wonderful walks available in Roundhay Park.
Location : Roundhay Park, Princes Ave, Leeds LS8 2ER
Transport: Leeds (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 2 and 12 stop in the park.
Opening Times Tropical World: Daily, 10:00 to 18:00.
Tickets Park: Free.
Tickets Tropical World: Adults £7.00; Children (5 - 15) £3.50.
Tel: 0113 378 6002