Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Memories of Brooke Park

Brooke Park Looking towards St Eugene's Cathedral
30th August 2012
 I took a walk around Brooke Park in Londonderry last week. It is over forty years since I last did this. The biggest change was the absence of the imposing Gwyn's Institution and the canons looking down over the park waiting to strafe any child who dared step onto the lawns. The park wardens with their navy coats and peaked caps blowing their whistles had also disappeared.

I seem to remember that the Head Warden was a Mr Curran and that he used to carry a thorn stick. There was also a part time warden by the name of McGovern. I believe that he worked during the summer months to let others off on holiday. My recollections of him are that he wore thick bottle stop glasses and an ill fitting trench coat and that he wrote poems which he sent in to the local newspapers. There was a tractor driver called Willie Keys who would have cut the rougher grass above "Gwyn's." His tractor was kept in a large garage workshop at the rear of the building. The foreman for the park workers was by the name of McClintock and he and his family lived in the gate lodge at the bottom of the park. The gate lodge is still there, but it is clearly many years since anyone lived in it. The names of two gardeners also come to mind. Billy(?) Dickson and Billy McCahon. I do know that the latter is still alive. By the time he retired from Derry City Council he had chalked up over fifty years working in the city's parks and nurseries.

Grassed over Lily Pond, Brooke Park
30th August 2012

It was disappointing to see that the lily pond had been filled in and grassed over. I expect that that came about due to health and safety considerations, although other local authorities have managed to retain water features in their municipal parks.

At the time of my last sojourn in the park the Corporation's Education Department was housed on the first floor of Gwyn's and the public library was on the left side of the ground floor. The head librarian was a William Harvey. In latter years one of his sons (also William Harvey) ran a wholesale book business in Carlisle Road. On the ground floor, on the extreme right of the building, was the exhibition hall. I think that this must have been created , or at least revamped, in or about 1965. I remember accompanying my father to it to view various art and other exhibitions including a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Brooke Park Gate Lodge , 30th August 2012
Change is I know inevitable and the carefully manicured Brooke Park of my youth has been consigned to memories. That said the place is still very recognisable and I was surprised at the tidiness of the flower beds and the fact that they appear to be free from the ravages of wanton vandalism. Maybe there still is a park warden after all!

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