History of Wharton Park
There has been a formal park at the site since 1857 with its history being both colourful and diverse.
Wharton Park was created by William Lloyd Wharton (1789-1867). He lived nearby at Dryburn, (where the hospital is today). William inherited the land on which the park and railway station was built.
After the railway was constructed in 1857, William Lloyd Wharton turned the rough land north of the railway into a public park and had the mock castle (the Battery) built as a look out over the railway and the city. Both the railway station and the park opened in 1857.
The park provided visitors with benches to sit on while taking in the views. The mock castle soon became known as the Battery, when a Crimean War Sebastopol gun was moved there in 1858.
William Lloyd Wharton continued to own and run the park, using it to hold public events. From 1859 the Wharton Sports events were held in the park, attracting large crowds of spectators as well as visiting teams. Many people travelled to Durham by train.
In 1860 a balloon ride took off from the park, watched by a crowd of over 4,000 people. The park also hosted brass band concerts and dancing in the Amphitheatre, and by the 1860s William Wharton had even provided a tea room in the park, with views over the city.
In 1863 William Lloyd Wharton planted a memorial oak in the park, in memory of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. It was planted in a special stone-built container near the north Road entrance to the park which is still there today, complete with an inscription which reflects Prince Albert's life, "While we have time, let us do good to all men". William Wharton said these words at the ceremony when the tree was planted, on the occasion of the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's son (who later ruled as Edward VII). William Wharton's speech included the hope that Prince Albert's son would be as good as his father.
William Lloyd Wharton died in 1867 and was buried in St Cuthbert's churchyard. Stained glass windows in both St Margaret's Church and St Cuthbert's Church are memorials to this remarkable man, who had interests in science experiments, astronomy (he had the nearby obelisk built for the university), athletics, Durham Regatta, and Durham Markets Company. He also found time to be High Sheriff of Durham and a Director of the North Eastern Railway.
In 1871 the first Miners' Gala was held in the park, and speeches were made from the bandstand to large crowds who had paid for admission to the park that day. Over the years the amphitheatre has been used for large gatherings and speeches, including Irish Galas, the Labour Women's Galas, and church events.
William Lloyd Wharton's wife Frances died in 1879. As they had no children, Dryburn and Wharton Park passed to William and Frances's nephew, John Lloyd Wharton.
1900s to 1920s
John Lloyd Wharton had only one daughter, Mary Dorothea. After her marriage to Charles Waring Darwin in 1894 the Darwins settled at Dryburn. After her father's death in 1912, Mary Dorothea offered to hand over Wharton Park to the city of Durham at virtually no cost. In 1915 the city council took up her offer and took over the running of the park.
One of the first jobs the Council needed to do was to rebuild the park's retaining wall on North Road, while at the same time widening the road. They also built a caretaker's house in the park in the 1920s. The statue of Neptune was moved to the park from Durham market place at this time.
1930s and 1940s
By the 1930s there were tennis courts and a putting green in the park. During the Second World War there was an air raid shelter in the park, and allotments. Guns from the Battery were removed for war salvage. After the war, in 1946, the park was extended by adding land between the Amphitheatre, St Cuthbert's churchyard and Framwellgate Peth. In the 1960s a new entrance was made from the newly-built Framwellgate Peth road.
At some point, an old statue was moved to the park from a location unknown. It was placed on the edge of the container holding the oak planted in 1863 in memory of Prince Albert. The statue was placed on a stone inscribed "Albert the Good". The statue is a real mystery - it holds an orb and sceptre, the symbols of monarchy, but Prince Albert was never king. People who played in the park in the 1940s cannot remember seeing this statue, but it was photographed in 1968 standing there. Not long after the photograph was taken, the head went missing, making it even more difficult to work out who it represents.
1980s and 1990s
By the 1980s one tennis court had been turned into an area for battery driven cars for children. Another tennis court was used for a conservatory with exotic plants. In 1994 The Way sculpture was installed in the park.
In 2012 the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Wharton Park. Three years later the park closed for restoration. In 2016 Wharton Park was re-opened by the Duke of Kent after a major refurbishment.