Pictorial view of past of Leeds parks reveals huge role "jewels of the city" have played in residents' wellbeing

Former Leeds head of parks photo collection included in display as university seeks to highlight importance of parks during funding crisis.

Thomas Trigg's photos show Whit Monday 1944. Image: Leeds Parks and Countryside
Thomas Trigg's photos show Whit Monday 1944. Image: Leeds Parks and Countryside

A major free photographic exhibition of the use of parks and green spaces in Leeds over more than a century is to open in the city's Roundhay Park on Saturday.

The exhibition forms part of Leeds University’s The Future Prospects of Urban Parks project which looks back at the origins and examines the possible future of public parks in the city.

The photographs show the important role the parks have played in city life. There are unseen images of a zoo that existed at Roundhay Park in the 1920s. Other photos reveal the way green spaces were used for the Dig for Victory campaign during the Second World War to provide food for a nation living with effects of severe rationing.

Researchers from the University of Leeds have collated the images, sourcing more than 100 photographs from members of the public and Leeds City Council.

Chrysanthemums at Cross Flatts Park. Image:  Leeds Parks and Countryside

Among the photographic treasures to come to light is a scrapbook kept by Thomas Trigg, head of the parks department during the mid-1900s. It shows Roundhay Park on a warm Whit Bank Holiday in May 1944.

Families are seen picnicking around the boating lake, queuing to get into the long-gone swimming pool and watching a cricket match - comforting images of city dwellers taking time for fun, after long years of war.

Waterloo Lake at Roundhay Park, Leeds by Thomas Trigg. Image: Leeds Parks and Countryside

Alongside the physical exhibition, people will be able to see the photography in an online archive. The images will be digitised into the Leodis database – a collection of more than 59,000 photographs held by Leeds Library and Information Service chronicling the growth of the city from the 1890s. The database can be accessed by the public at www.leodis.net

An exhibition of The Future Prospects of Urban Parks project will go on display alongside the photographic collection, at the Roundhay Park Visitors’ Centre, adjoining the Mansion, from April 29th to May 1st  between 10am and 4pm. Entrance is free.

At 2pm on Saturday and Sunday, there will be also be guided walks around Roundhay Park to explore its history - and at 1pm on bank holiday Monday, there will be a talk at the visitors’ centre about the history of Leeds’ parks.

Trigg's image of bank holiday Monday bathing. Image: Leeds Parks and Countryside

Dr David Churchill, part of the University of Leeds research team, said the photographs provide a rich historical record of park life in Leeds: "The photos underline the important role that parks have played in the life of this city since the Victorian era when many of them came into being.

"The creation of parks allowed people to escape from the rapidly growing city, to get out and enjoy themselves. There’s little doubt they’ve had a major impact on people’s health and recreational lives.

"But parks are now at a tipping point. They have enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades but there are real challenges ahead. Council budgets everywhere are under pressure and parks are having to respond to that.

"The photographs we’ve received show they are the jewels of the city – and our research with park users reveals that many people are anxious for them to remain as the treasured social assets they are."

Rose Gibson, manager of Leeds Central Library, said: "Discovering these new photographs of Leeds parks has offered a fascinating insight into how the people of Leeds have enjoyed using the parks over the years.

"The project has also encouraged individuals to share their own images and their own stories and again shows the importance of the parks in family events and sporting achievements."

As part of the research project, a public survey revealed which parks in Leeds are most popular. Roundhay Park was the clear winner, with almost two out of three people saying they had visited it in the last year. Golden Acre Park and Temple Newsam took second and third spots.

Leeds City Council’s executive member for the environment and sustainability Lucinda Yeadon said: "We are of course immensely proud of our green spaces and delighted to see through the results of a survey undertaken as part of this project, that our parks remain a popular place for the public to visit."

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