A Victorian-era public park has reopened in Londonderry, following a multi-million pound restoration project.
Created by an influential and philanthropic businessman in the 19th century as the city’s first orphanage, the surrounding grounds would later become a popular public amenity known as Brooke Park.
The site was, until recently, in need of major refurbishment to restore it to the height of its Victorian beauty and has now reopened following a £5.6 million regeneration project.
Londonderry’s mayor, DUP councillor Hilary McClintock, said she hoped Brooke Park would once again become known as ‘the People’s Park’ following the refurbishment.
The public park owes its history to the legacy of a businessman named John Gwyn, who had been an orphan. Mr Gwyn had lived as a bachelor throughout his life and bequeathed some £40,000 – the equivalent of perhaps as much as £3 million in today’s money – to pay for the establishment of the first orphanage in the city of Londonderry. Gwyn’s Institute opened in 1840 and cared for young boys.
The regeneration of Brooke Park has done much to restore the legacy of John Gwyn, Mayor McClintock said.
“The site has been restored to its former Victorian splendour and will once again become ‘the People’s Park’ as it was known – a vibrant social and leisure hub for our citizens as intended by its historic founder John Gwyn, as well as a stunning visitor attraction.”
Brooke Park reopened on Friday – the anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Gwyn’s Institute by Bishop Richard Ponsonby.
In his will John Gwyn had outlined his final wish to help ‘as many male children of the poor or lowest class of society resident in and belonging to the city of Londonderry and the precincts around the same, as hereafter described, as the said funds will feed, clothe, and educate, orphans or such children as have lost one of their parents always to be preferred’.
The trustees of John Gwyn’s will originally purchased the site for the sum of £200. The building was designed by Samuel Jackson, built by John Lynn and opened its doors to its first pupils in 1840.