A History of Philanthropy and Public Parks in Leeds

Historically, donors to Love Leeds Parks are in good company – in fact, local philanthropists made a significant contribution to the network of public parks and green spaces we enjoy in the city today.

The oldest known philanthropic donation that still supports public green spaces in Leeds was from Thomas Wade in 1530 during the reign of Henry VIII! Wades Charity was formed from his initial donation; they still operate today as land owners of parks such as Middleton and Gotts.

Public parks and other green spaces that were donated by landowners to the people of Leeds include:

  • Chevin Forest Park, Otley
  • Kirkstall Abbey
  • Scatcherd Park, Morley
  • Batty’s Wood, Woodhouse Ridge
  • Nethermoor Park, Guiseley
  • Nunroyd Park, Yeadon

Victorian philanthropists in particular were keen to create public parks because they valued them for their many health benefits, much as we do today. Learn more about Victorian attitudes to green space and the history of Leeds parks in our informative YouTube video.

The work of John Barran is probably the most famous example of local philanthropy inspired by a strong conviction about the benefits of parks. As Lord Mayor of Leeds, he worked tirelessly to persuade the Council to purchase the land that we now know as Roundhay Park for the people of Leeds.

At one Council meeting he said: “Here we have an estate which would make an ideal playground for the people of this town. Future generations will remember us with gratitude as they stroll along the pleasant walks and enjoy the ease and shade of the trees.” That was in 1870 – and two years’ later the park was officially opened by Prince Arthur, youngest son of Queen Victoria.

Modern Day Philanthropy

Philanthropic donations to parks continue to this day, and although there isn’t space to list them here, one notable example is Arnold Ziff OBE who made a number of valuable contributions to Tropical World in Roundhay Park.

In the 1980s, his generous financial donation enabled Leeds City Council to create tropical gardens in the greenhouses there, and his family have continued to support the development of Tropical World into the popular visitor attraction it is today – so much so, in fact, that was renamed as the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Tropical World in 2008.  

The above image was taken from Leodis, a photographic archive of Leeds delivered by Leeds Library & Information Service.