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graphic of tree and park bench
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History of Dartmouth Park

 

In June 1876, Alderman Reuben Farley approached the fifth Earl of Dartmouth and proposed the idea of leasing land from the Dartmouth estate to establish a park for the people of West Bromwich. After further correspondence and meetings, the Earl offered two sites. “The first location was c.20.2ha at Cooper’s Hill, West Bromwich, and the other, c.17.8ha near Handsworth, both to be at the nominal rent of £1 per year for 99 years. West Bromwich Improvement Commissioners chose the Cooper’s hill site, as its proximity to the town centre was felt to be preferable.

Boundaries were laid out for the 22.7ha park and in October 1876 the lodge design of a local architect, Mr E J Etwell was accepted. Budgets were set of £300 for building the lodge and £2,500 for laying out the park and an advertisement was placed in the Gardener’s Chronicle inviting landscape designers to send in designs. In January 1877 sites were fixed within the Park for a cricket ground, ornamental water, and the line of a drive or carriageway. Seven plans were submitted and at the Earl’s suggestion, a landscape gardener known to him, Exsuperius Weston Turnor, inspected the entries and judged Mr John Maclean from Donnington Park, Leicestershire the winner. Sandwell Park Colliery Company agreed to relinquish any surface rights to the park, allowing work to commence.In November 1877, the Earl donated trees and shrubs for planting and a fountain from Patshull, near Wolverhampton.

The park was opened to the public by the Earl of Dartmouth on 3 rd June 1878; the day was observed as a general holiday and the thoroughfares and the park were crowded with over 40,000 people. The town was dressed with bunting and the dignitaries attended a reception at the Town Hall prior to the procession to the Park. Dignitaries attending were all presented with a medal to commemorate the occasion. The day’s celebrations ended in a spectacular firework display.

 
photograph of head on commemorative coin
photograph of reverse of commemorative coin
Alderman Reuben Farley’s speech at the opening included reference to how the park was conceived:

The idea occurred to me that the time had arrived when a people’s park was necessary, having regard to the wants and requirements of so large a population. The chief difficulty, however, that presented itself to my mind, in looking at this question, was this – how to obtain a park without imposing burdens upon the ratepayers which they could ill afford to bear. With a full appreciation of this difficulty, the happy thought – if I may be allowed to say so – occurred to me that I would lay the case before Lord Dartmouth. The noble earl, I am proud to say, received my communication in the most gracious manner, and, with a generosity that adds lustre to the noble and honoured name he bears, he has presented to the inhabitants of West Bromwich this splendid park. Speaking on your behalf I was emboldened to ask for fifty acres of land, but the noble lord has done more – he has actually given you fifty-six acres of the best part of Sandwell Park for the purposes of a people’s park.”

An extract from the 5 th Earl’s speech gives an insight into how the hard working people of West Bromwich were perceived:

“Although this is a very densely populated neighbourhood, and one in which the inhabitants are engaged in very severe toil and very searching industry, I believe they will compare favourably with the inhabitants of any manufacturing district in this or any other country. I would notsay a word today that savoured of anything but the kindest feeling towards any of our fellow creatures, but I must say I wish that those who set down the people of the Black Country as savages, and as those who deserve no consideration as being outside the pale of civilisation – I wish they were here today to see how the people of West Bromwich can behave. I think they would regret having spoken so freely and unjustly of the inhabitants of the Black Country. The inhabitants of manufacturing districts, or indeed, of any other districts, are no angels, but they are not the reverse, as it is too often the custom to paint them. When I recollect trade disputes, sometimes of a very irritating character, have been continued in this district for weeks and weeks together without a single breach of the peace occurring. I think we may take credit to ourselves that although we are tenacious of our own rights we know how to respect the rights of others. We place this park at your disposal for many years to come. May you all live long to enjoy it, and may your health be better and your happiness greater for your use and enjoyment of it.”

 

This was followed by three cheers for the Earl and Countess. The Earl did restrict certain events taking place in the park as follows: “No meetings for the discussion of political, religious or social questions or for the purpose of considering trade union disputes to be held in the Park and no religious services to be conducted there, excepting only the singing of Hymns and the delivery of short addresses on the occasion of school feasts.”

The park was extended by 3.4hs on the eastern boundary in 1887, providing a boating pool. The Commissioners also intended providing an open-air swimming bath but due to difficulties with the nature of the soil these plans were abandoned and a bowling green laid out instead and opened in 1900. Further land was leased in 1909 to allow a formal entrance from Dagger Lane and tennis courts were added near the Herbert Street entrance. Over the next few years the park underwent numerous improvements under the supervision of the Superintendent of Parks, Mr H Browne, including the planting of an avenue of trees from the boating pool to the Beeches Road entrance, moving the bandstand and widening the main walk. The freehold of the park was awarded to the people in 1919 by the 6 th Earl, and the deeds were handed over by the Prince of Wales in 1923 during a visit to the town. Later that year the Earl unveiled the town’s war memorial erected by public subscription.

 
photograph of paddling pool in 1928.
In 1928 a paddling pool was added to the list of amenities and five years later, in 1933, a new bandstand was opened, and in 1938 a miniature golf course was built
photograph of rowing boat on pond.
near to the Herbert Street entrance. The boating pool was a very popular attraction and the park had its own boat builder, who built and maintained the boats.

Dartmouth Park was the social life of West Bromwich until the Expressway was built in 1973 cutting off the Herbert Street entrance and destroying the tennis courts and golf course. With these amenities being moved to Sandwell Valley and the development of the Valley into a visitor attraction the park went into serious decline. The beautiful Refreshment Room closed and was destroyed by fire in 1983. People stopped using the boating pool and because of high maintenance costs the facility was closed and the attractive boathouse was destroyed by fire in 1993. The park is remembered fondly by the people of West Bromwich as the place where they played when they were young and did their courting when they were teenagers.

In 2008 the Heritage Lottery and SMBC funded the restoration of the Park in the sum of £6.4m, and in September 2014, with the restoration almost complete, the Park was officially opened, and is now full of families enjoying the new facilities. The Park has once again become part of the social life of West Bromwich.

 

 
This website has been developed for the Friends of Dartmouth Park by
Sandwell Community Information & Participation Service Ltd