Canal Gardens

Canal Gardens

Roundhay Castle

Roundhay "Castle"


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 – ***

  • Tropical Island.
  • Step Ashore onto a Tropical Island where you will find a swamp, humid rainforests, tumbling waterfalls, swirling pools of colourful fish and many exotic plants and flowers. Continue deep inland to discover many different animals and birds in a natural environment.

    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!

  • Butterfly House.
  • Between 30 and 40 varieties of butterfly may be seen here in within this mature environment of flowering exotic plants and Citrus trees. The types of butterfly change regularly so there’s always something new to spot. Following the path past Citrus trees and over bridges and you will see more butterflies amongst the foliage. In the pools splendid specimens of Koi Carp dart about watched by Teals. There are even snake necked turtles, which can be seen basking in the warmth under a large banana plant which seasonally, bears fruit.

  • Amazon Tank.
  • The largest fish in Tropical World lives here, the Niger Catfish (Pseudoras Niger) from South America. Also to be seen are Pacus, which are related to Piranha, Tiger-skinned Shovel-nosed Catfish, Red-tailed Catfish and even a Giraffe Fish. Once a week this tank is cleaned from the inside by a keeper in his wet suit, what a brave man!

  • Australasia House.
  • This area of Tropical World has been used as a set for film and television, even for a pop group video. The Australasia House is home to a huge variety of plants, including the rare Jade Vine. Terrapins laze around their pool. Large ferns line the winding path leading from the large waterfall, under which you can stand and cool off. Before you leave this area take a look upwards and see the amazing tree warts. The wood from these, with their unique markings, is used to make impressive furniture, in particular tabletops.

  • Creature Corner.
  • Lizards, Spiny Mice and snakes, yes - plus Tortoises and the Boss Monitor. The Water Dragon and Degus stare back at the visitor undaunted by all the attention. See if you can count how many ring markings the tortoises have on their shells, this is how you can tell their age. Keepers believe that 'George' is one of the oldest tortoises in Britain at somewhere between 50 and 60 years old.

  • Amazon/South American House.
  • In the moist heat of the Amazonian environment created here you'd be forgiven, if on hearing a high pitched whistle, you were to look away from the pool for its source. Not so, look again to the pond where White Faced Whistling Ducks enjoy confusing the unsuspecting visitors. As if that wasn't enough they also live in the trees. The lush vegetation gives refuge to a number of birds including a pair of Macaws, Jake and Cream Tea. Jeana Campbell, the daughter of Donald Campbell of land speed record fame, donated 'Cream Tea' to Tropical World.

  • The Desert House.
  • Plant, animal and bird specimens from the arid areas of the Americas and South Africa are to be seen here in the Desert House. Canaries, Weaver Birds and Finches skit about amongst the cacti and succulents.

  • Meerkat Enclosure.
  • The pitter-patter of tiny feet was to be expected as spring approached, but Tropical World had some new arrivals with a difference in the form of three new-born meerkats. The popular visitor attraction in Roundhay has seen its first success as part of a new breeding programme with three baby meerkats born to a female who was brought in to Tropical World from the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

    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.

  • Tropical World Café.
  • In 2015 the new Tropical World café conservatory was completed, which overlooks the beautiful Canal Gardens with plenty of outdoor seating for warmer days. It is fully wheelchair accessible and high chairs are available. The Café sells hot and cold food and drinks. Café Opening hours are 10am to 3.30pm in the winter and 10.30am to 4.30pm (5pm at the weekends) during BST (British Summer Time).

  • Gift Shop.
  • Here you can make purchases from a large selection of gifts or memorabilia to remind you of your visit. There is a wide variety to choose from catering for all tastes and to suit all budgets, from postcards to pottery, from toys to things to treasure.

  • The Courtyards.
  • Here in the aviaries are the Cotton Top Tamarinds, Ring Tail Lemurs and another chance to see some of the collection of Koi Carp and Goldfish.

    *** – Gardens – ***

  • Canal Gardens :-
  • The three main parts to Canal Gardens are a grassed area with mature trees, flower gardens along a rectangular lake 350 feet (107 m) by 34 feet (10 m) dating from 1833 which resembles part of a canal, and a walled garden built c. 1816 as a vegetable garden for the Mansion House which contains a collection of roses, and provides the entrance to Tropical World. The Canal Gardens are to the west of the main area of the park, separated from it by Prince's Avenue.

  • Monet Garden :-
  • This is a path leading to the Alhambra garden, planted 1999 based on Claude Monet's garden at Giverny (1902). It leads north from Mansion Lane, to the north of the main area of the park.
  • Alhambra Garden :-
  • This is an area with a central rectangular pond with fountains, inspired by a similar water feature at the Generalife in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. It is to the north of Mansion Lane, north of the main area of the park.
  • The Friends Garden :-
  • The Friends Garden (meaning the Friends of Roundhay Park) is a secluded one off the rose garden of Canal Gardens. There are gardens for blind people with scented plants and braille inscriptions.


    *** – Features – ***

  • Arena.
  • Thomas Nicholson had planned to make a third lake in a hollow which is now the Arena, but he died before doing so. In 1894, it was converted into a sports arena with cycle track, providing work for unemployed people in Leeds. It is overlooked by a mound known as Hill 60, which was so named to commemorate Leeds soldiers who died in First World War battles around Hill 60 near Ypres. It can hold over 100,000 people. This was the location of large concerts by The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Simple Minds, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Madonna, Level 42, Genesis, Robbie Williams, U2 and Cast, among others. In the summer, it is used as a cricket pitch.

  • Roundhay "Castle".
  • A folly built in 1811 by local master builder George Nettleton to give the appearance of a castle gate. It originally had a wooden roof and an upper room, and was used as a summerhouse, a sewing room for the Nicholson girls, and for social functions such as dinners.

  • Soldiers' Field.
  • So called because it was the gathering place for troops in the First World War. There are huge playing fields next to the park which have hosted many large-scale annual events such as Leeds Mela, and the Love Parade. Aviation pioneer Robert Blackburn conducted test flights of his aircraft in 1909 and in 1919 established a small airport here, with flights to London and Amsterdam. There is a golf course and tennis courts, as well as the use of Soldiers' Field and the Arena for sports events.

  • Barran's Fountain.
  • This grade II listed drinking fountain in the shape of a classical rotunda was presented to the Borough of Leeds by John Barran in 1882. Its water outlets have been removed. Its sculpture was executed by John Wormald Appleyard.

  • Roundhay Upper Lake.
  • The smaller of the two lakes, featuring fountains, an island and a waterfall that leads down to Waterloo lake via a ravine. It is 5 acres (2.0 ha) in extent, but only 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.22 m) deep. The Upper Lake is on much higher ground than Waterloo Lake. The Lake was once abundant with White-Clawed Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) but they soon started to die out, Crayfish were reintroduced and can now once again be found in the upper lake.

  • Waterloo Lake.
  • Constructed by soldiers who had returned from the Napoleonic wars and thus named after the Battle of Waterloo. They were unemployed, so Thomas Nicholson provided work and income to landscape a former quarry. It took two years to build, has an average depth of 60 feet (18 m) deep and covers 33 acres (0.13 km2).

    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.

  • Visitor Centre, The Mansion House.
  • The Mansion House is a large stone two- and three-storey house in Greek Revival style with a view over the Upper Lake, built from 1811 to 1826. It was built for Thomas Nicholson and his wife Elizabeth, who took up residence in 1816. It had three carriage houses and stabling for 17 horses. It was bought by the City of Leeds in 1871, and the sale document noted that the principal rooms on the ground floor were 13 feet high, and on the first floor were 17 bedrooms and 2 water-closets.


    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.

    Monet Gardens

    Monet Garden

    Desert, Tropical World

    Desert, Tropical World


    *** – 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