The first free public park in Lowestoft, laid out in the style of a formal pleasure ground and opened in 1874.
Up until the 1870s, Lowestoft had no free public park but in this decade the Lowestoft Improvement Committee chose a piece of open common land on which to create what they described as a symbol of Lowestoft's growing civic pride (SRO Notes). The proposal for a park on this land came in 1872 from the chairman of the Committee, James Peto, and two of its members, William Youngman and William Rix Seago, were responsible for turning the idea into a reality. In August 1873 a tender of £256 from G Simpson was accepted for erecting a thatched keeper's lodge. Simpson, a landscape gardener from Clapham (Committee Minutes 1873), erected the lodge while the grounds were being laid out. The design of the park followed the character of contemporary pleasure grounds, with winding paths and cross-walks through areas of lawn densely planted with a wide variety of specimen trees and shrubs. A pagoda-style bandstand was erected on the eastern boundary to take advantage of the sea views. Originally called Arboretum Hill, but quickly changed to Belle Vue, the park was opened to the public in 1874 and a park keeper was installed in the lodge to oversee the behaviour of its users. In 1887 a member of the town council, Mr Arthur Stebbing proposed that a bridge be erected across the ravine on the northern boundary of the park, to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. The architect William Chambers was commissioned to design the fine iron bridge, which was funded by William Youngman, the first elected mayor of the borough (Brown et al 1991). Richard Parkinson, chief engineer to the Eastern and Midlands Railway was also involved in this project, possibly in relation to its construction. In 1952 the bandstand was demolished and a naval memorial erected on the site, while in 1972 three restored cannons were added beside it. Early in 1980 a row of five substantial gate piers at the entrance to the park were removed and in 1990 a fire destroyed the thatched lodge, although this was rebuilt to the original design in 1991. The site remains (2002) in public ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Belle Vue Park lies on the north side of Lowestoft town, at the top of the cliff which leads down to the Denes and the beach. The c 3ha triangular site is bounded to the north by a deep natural ravine called Gallow's Score which now carries a public road (The Ravine), to the east by Cart Score, and to the south-west by the main A12, Yarmouth Road. The park has a central level area, the ground falling away steeply on the east side towards the sea, and on the north side to The Ravine, beyond which lie the elegant C19 houses of North Parade. There are fine views along the coast and out to sea from a viewing platform in the north-east corner of the park.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The main pedestrian entrance into Belle Vue Park is located at the southern tip of the park, on the junction of Yarmouth Road and Cart Score. Beside this entrance stands the thatched lodge, erected in 1873 in the cottage orné style, with elaborate chimneys, decorated bargeboards, and rustic woodwork. Although the original building was destroyed by fire in 1990, the lodge was re-erected by the Borough Council in the original style in 1991 (Lowestoft Journal). A second entrance is located on the western tip of the park, on the junction between Yarmouth Road and The Ravine.
Belle Vue Park is surrounded by a low brick wall and its interior remains largely unaltered since it was laid out in 1873?4. From the main entrance the path divides immediately on either side of golden Irish yews to enclose a small sunken garden laid out with box edging. The tarmac paths, edged with artificial rustic stones, then follow their original 1870s serpentine routes through lawns planted with mature specimen trees, their variety diminished since the park was laid out to leave only those capable of surviving the harsh conditions. Amongst the trees are dense underplantings of mixed mature evergreens, including holly, yew, rhododendron, and laurel. In the middle of the northern boundary a fine brick and steel bridge (listed grade II) spans The Ravine to link the park with the large houses of North Parade. Kelly's Directory of 1892 attributes the design to Richard Parkinson although the Suffolk Record Office holds plans by the architect William Chambers for the bridge, and since Chambers was the architect for much of the housing on what became known as the Belle Vue Estate, it is perhaps more likely to be Chambers' work. On the eastern boundary stands the naval war memorial, erected in 1953 to replace the bandstand which had been demolished the previous year (SRO Notes).
In the north-east corner of the park, the serpentine perimeter paths lead to a set of steps running down to a lower path on the slopes of the site, where a viewing platform is located to take advantage of the sea and coastal views. Two paths cross the centre of the park: one connecting the lodge cottage to the bridge over the ravine, and the other connecting the naval war memorial to the south-west boundary path.
White, Suffolk Directory (1891/2), p 527
Kelly's Directory for Suffolk (1892), p 1150
Eastern Evening News, 25 October 1950
Lowestoft Journal, August 1980 ? July 1991 [various articles]
Brown et al, Dictionary of Architects of Suffolk Buildings 1800-1914 (1991), pp 66-70, 226, 234/5
T Williamson, Suffolk Gardens and Parks (2000), pp 169-72
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1928 edition
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1886
2nd edition published 1904
3rd edition published 1927
Minutes of the Lowestoft Improvement Committee (1864-73), (Suffolk Record Office)
Notes on Belle Vue Park (Suffolk Record Office 1973)
Description written: February 2002
Amended: March 2002
Register Inspector: EMP
Edited: December 2002