Following a major ten-year restoration, funded by a £3.5million Heritage Lottery Funding grant, English Heritage has awarded Ropner Park, Stockton, with Grade II* Listed Status on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.
Ropner Park was registered as a historic park which recognised its local importance – now, the higher Grade II* listing recognises the park as nationally important. This follows on from the comprehensive restoration programme undertaken by Stockton Council and the Friends of Ropner Park supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Cllr Mike Smith, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport at Stockton Council, said: “We’re delighted Ropner Park has achieved such a prestigious recognition of its historical and social heritage.
"The Grade II* Listing means the Park will continue to have special protection and remain as a place for everyone to enjoy – in line with the wishes of Major Robert Ropner who bought the land over a hundred years ago for the people of Stockton."
In 1890, Stockton-on-Tees Town Council appointed a committee to consider the purchase of land for a public park. The Council received an offer from Major (later Sir) Robert Ropner of Preston Hall, a highly successful local businessman, who agreed to donate £8,250 for the purchase of Hartburn Fields as long as the Council agreed to lay out the park ‘tastefully’ and would ‘keep it forever’ for the people of Stockton.
The refurbishment, completed in 2008, returned the park to its former glory and saw the restoration of many original features in the park, including the fountain, lake, bandstand and tree avenues. In addition, visitors today can enjoy the new pavilion, play area, tennis courts and art work, as well as some stunning floral displays.
English Heritage, the Government's statutory adviser on the historic environment responsible for the allocation of listing grade, set out a range of reasons as to why the park now deserved its more important status following its restoration and refurbishment. These included: the park being a good example of a late Victorian municipal park; the design remaining essentially unchanged from its original layout of 1893; the planting also remaining similar to the late nineteenth century design; and, many of the structures from the original park still being in place.
Brian Scrafton, Chairman of Friends of Ropner Park, said: "I’m so pleased that Ropner Park has been recognised with the new grading of national importance.
"Having lived in Stockton for over forty years, it is wonderful to see the park restored to its former magnificence.
"I’m sure many residents will have happy memories of enjoying the park with their friends and family – and can look forward to creating many more new ones in a lovely environment. The play area, tennis courts and café offer something for young and old to enjoy throughout the week.
"I enjoy the walk around the lake and the Sunday band concerts. Often, when I’m in the park I will hear people say ‘aren’t we lucky to have a park like this?’ I would encourage everyone to come and enjoy it.
"My thanks to the many volunteers who give their time to the upkeep of the park alongside the Council teams who create the glorious flower beds and keep it in pristine condition."
In recognition of the gift of the park, Major Ropner was made the first Freeman of the Borough and, although not a councillor, accepted the office of Mayor in November 1892.