Motherwell’s Duchess of Hamilton Park is now 100!

Summer showcase...no matter the time of year, the Duchess of Hamilton Park is a well-used oasis of calm in the town.
Summer showcase...no matter the time of year, the Duchess of Hamilton Park is a well-used oasis of calm in the town.

The much loved Duchess of Hamilton Park in Motherwell is celebrating its 100th birthday this month.

And with the help of a local group of volunteer enthusiasts, the Times and Speaker is taking a look back at its rich history.

Heart of the town...for 100 years, the Duchess of Hamilton Park has been a great escape for people in Motherwell.

Heart of the town...for 100 years, the Duchess of Hamilton Park has been a great escape for people in Motherwell.

The park was gifted to the people of Motherwell in September 1917 by the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton who once owned a great deal of land in the area.

According to The Friends of the Duchess of Hamilton Park group, it has undergone a great many changes over the years, reflecting its changing community.

John Aitken, who has been secretary of the group for the past 15 years, said: “I’ve lived all my life in Motherwell and the Duchess of Hamilton Park has always been a part of it.

“It was gifted to the people of Motherwell by the Duke of Hamilton and it has a rich history.”

Surrounded on all sides...but the park has retained its looks and charm which would no doubt please the original planner.

Surrounded on all sides...but the park has retained its looks and charm which would no doubt please the original planner.

Situated just ten minutes walk from Motherwell town centre, the park’s main entrances are Avon Street and Crawford Street.

It covers an area of seven hectares and is laid out in a formal design with a network of footpaths around what is a relatively new addition – the skate park, which was installed in 2012.

John said: “My research into the park has revealed that there used to be tennis courts there in the 1940s.

“The thing I love about it, though, is that you can really see the changing of the seasons during the year when you walk through it.

“On a lovely summer’s day it’s a beautiful park with people out relaxing and enjoying the sunshine.

“The park slopes down towards Dalziel High School and there are some lovely mature trees in the middle.”

It is also home to an imposing war memorial commemorating those who died in the First and Second World Wars from across the district.

And in 2012 a memorial was erected for the Spanish Civil War, to honour all those from North Lanarkshire who joined the fight against fascism but never returned from Spain.

John said: “The park is a very important part of Motherwell’s history.

“The war memorial is a poignant reminder of the sacrifice that so many have paid in the fight for freedom.

“The park takes on a special significance on Remembrance Sunday when people from across the area come together to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

At other times of the year, especially in the warm, summer months, the park is popular with families.

John sent a letter to the Times and Speaker in 2015 summing up its appeal.

In it, he said: “The park is truly an asset to the people of Motherwell. As I strolled through, hundreds of people were enjoying the warm sunny evening.

“There were about 40 young boys in football training at the bottom end of the park and another 30 or so kids were enjoying the new skate park.

“A couple of dozen Brownies in their yellow and brown uniforms from nearby St Mary’s Church came in the top gate and were running across the grass in a follow my leader type game.

“Others were just relaxing on the seats facing the setting sun. It’s such a great place to be when the weather is good.”

The Friends Group has maintained a good working relationship with North Lanarkshire Council.

John added: “The council has been very helpful in what has been some very tough times economically.

“It has kept the park in good condition, despite the costs involved.”

Recent additions have included children’s play and multi-use games areas.

Paul Docherty, chairman of The Friends Group, said: “We had planned to do something for the centenary celebration, similar to our 90th birthday party.

“But because of severe council cuts and the loss of some key personnel, it has just not been possible.”

Plans were also in the pipeline to open a children’s fun park this month which would have been a fitting centenary celebration.

This followed a donation of £100,000 from a Bellway Homes development nearby.

However, the work has been delayed due to hold ups within the development.

It is now hoped the play park will open later this year or early next.

The park is an oasis of calm in the heart of Motherwell with a good variety of trees, as well as shrubs, flower beds and open green spaces.

It is bounded by Victorian housing on one side and modern detached houses on the other.

A park to be truly proud of...

Motherwell in 1911 was a rapidly expanding industrial town with a burgeoning population attracted by the prosperous coal and steel industry.

With so many new tenements recently built coal fires belched out smoke from every chimney.

The smog and resulting illnesses were a big problem.

One of the few areas of recreation for Motherwell’s workers was the Avon Street Public Park.

Covering an area of 16 acres, the council had leased the land from a local farmer for the princely sum of £25 per year.

However, the lease on the park had only six years left to run so the council decided not to make any further improvements to what was, essentially at that time, a grass field.

So in September of 1917 the council was delighted by an offer from the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, who owned hundreds of acres of land including Dalziel Estate, a number of areas in Motherwell and Hamilton and what is now Chatelherault Country Park.

Their offer, after negotiation by the council, was to lease the Avon Street Public Park, plus another six acres of adjacent land on a 90 year lease.

The cost would remain unchanged, with the council continuing to pay £25 per annum. The farmer would also be compensated for any potential losses.

Having gratefully accepted the gift, the council rapidly set plans in motion to have the new park ‘improved and beautified’ by laying new paths and the planting of trees, shrubs and flower beds.

The original layout, which is still very much in evidence today, is a testament to the planner of that time.

As a gesture of thanks the council proposed that the park be renamed the Duchess of Hamilton Park and it retains that name to this day.