Dewsbury’s historic Crow Nest Park is a true treasure

The Mansion House, Crow Nest Park, Dewsbury which is now Dewsbury Museum.
The Mansion House, Crow Nest Park, Dewsbury which is now Dewsbury Museum.

News that thousands of pounds from a lottery grant are going to be spent on improving Crow Nest Park, especially the park lake, set me thinking how lucky we are that we still have a park lake to improve.

For there once was a serious possibility that the council would fill it in because it was costing too much to repair.

There was a plan afoot in the 1920s to get rid of it and replace it with a lavish rose garden.

The old Dewsbury council, which was fed up of trying to make it leak-proof, voted not to spend another penny on it and fill it in instead.

It might have seemed a speedy solution to the problem at the time but the public weren’t having any of it.

Within weeks of making the decision,ss they changed their mind and voted instead to spend thousands of pounds on re-lining it.

The public won the argument when they pointed out that a rose garden would only provide pleasure a few months of the year, whereas a lake provided pleasure all year round.

It was that kind of common sense that won the day and the lake was saved for posterity.

Although the lake has always been a beloved spot for most park visitors, it wasn’t always so.

Indeed, there were many who never wanted the lake to be positioned there in the fist place.

When the park was first opened in 1893, an editorial in the Reporter pointed out that it was regrettable that the lake had been placed in front of the park mansion.

The writer felt there should have been lawns and flowerbeds there instead of a lake. He said: “The public consider it a mistake to place the lake there, however, there they are and are being made the best of.”

It didn’t help the popularity of the lake on opening day when the cascading fountain, positioned in the centre of the lake, wasn’t working because there was a drought.

How lucky we are to have a park as beautiful as Crow Nest on our doorstep which is steeped in history.

The Crow Nest estate, which had belonged to the Hague family of Dewsbury, was purchased by the old Dewsbury council for the sum of £20,000 in 1893. They then spent a further £10,000 on laying it out as a public park.

The extent of the park when it came into the ownership of the council was 74 acres – one acre for every 400 inhabitants – which made it much larger than parks in towns of a similar size to Dewsbury.

The Mayor of Dewsbury, Alderman Pyrah, who performed the opening ceremony, said Crow Nest Park compared very favourably indeed, even with towns very much larger than ours.

He added: “I shall now unlock and open the gates and as Mayor and chief magistrate of this borough I have very great pleasure in declaring the park open with the hope and with the prayer that it may very much add to the health of the borough and lighten the weariness of toil.”

The same year as the park was opened, it played host to the Great Yorkshire Show which attracted thousands of visitors to the park.

A great deal has been written over the years about the splendour of Crow Nest Park, but less has been said of the park’s biggest attraction these days – Dewsbury Museum.

The museum is situated in what was the home of the Hague family from 1798 until 1993.

But gone are the gloomy case cases, stuffed birds and fearsome museum attendants who made museum-going such a terror in the old days.

The history of Crow Nest Mansion, which now houses the museum, is almost as interesting as the fascinating objects now on display.

Records show that Crow Nest Mansion and surrounding estates were owned by the Bedford family, of Dewsbury, as early as 1571, but came into the hands of the Hague family in 1798.

In 1893, however, the Hague estate was sold to Dewsbury Corporation to be converted into the splendid park it is today.

At the time of the sale, the whole of the top storey of the mansion, later to be called the Park Mansion, was in the possession of a detachment of Dragoon Guards sent to Dewsbury to preserve order.

The council later allowed the basement to be prepared for the sale of refreshments and two rooms were later set aside for the ladies and the general public.

Later many people were to hold family functions, weddings and socials in the popular Park Mansion.

Mr Marks, the town’s surveyor, who laid out the park, practically reconstructed the interior of the buildings and designed several beautiful apartments.

The Corporation decided to install a museum on the top floor – the place where most museums were placed in those days.

By 1897, Dewsbury Museum was, like most museums, reflecting the Victorian desire to collect the weird and wonderful.

Two rooms had been opened and were displaying Egyptian and Ethnographic artefacts and natural history specimens.

These were just the sort of objects that caught the attention of middle class Victorians on wet Sunday afternoons.

At the beginning of the 20th century, local history was low priority, but a great deal of energy and enthusiasm was poured into collecting Egyptian artefacts.

The museum trustees even became members of the Egyptian Exploration Society and their Egyptology collections were amongst the best held by a small provincial museum.

In 1937, Dr W Down, history master at Wheelwright Boys’ Grammar School, took the post of honorary curator and the museum began to cater for local interests.

A professional curator was appointed in the 1960s but the museum was once again in decline.

In 1975 it was threatened with closure because of falling numbers of visitors.

Today the museum couldn’t be busier and attracts thousands of visitors a year, especially children. It is a living museum, bursting with real life stories.