Merrion Gardens, Leeds

Project Value

About This Project

Site History

Merrion Gardens, or Garden of Rest as the area was also known, were originally laid out as a memorial to Thomas Wade who, in 1530, left a will, which stipulated that the money be used to benefit the people of Leeds. So it was that 0.75 acres of land was donated as a gift of Wades Charity to the City of Leeds and has been maintained as a public garden ever since.

Merrion Gardens is one of only a few public green spaces in the city centre. Unfortunately in recent years it has been subject to vandalism and misuse, and in 1998 the gardens were closed due to "anti-social activities". Old photographs show that the layout of the space had not been altered since its opening in 1933. However, the perimeter trees had since grown and their roots had lifted the original Yorkstone flag paths rendering many paved areas unsafe to the general public.

Following further recent deterioration, plans were developed to modernise the park and improve access. The original design only included one point of access and general park users felt vulnerable once inside. Consequently the space failed to encourage the public to use the park for relaxation.

The Project

The new design is a result of consultations with the Churches Conservation Trust, Wades Charity, City Centre Management and the adjacent shopping centre of St Johns.

To encourage the public to reclaim this park as a place to meet and relax, the design aimed to visually and physically open up the space and improve access both into and through it.

This has been achieved through improvements to natural surveillance, links through to the adjacent church grounds and the creation of four new access points including a large corner entrance which allows new views into the park from an adjacent major pedestrian road crossing point.

In keeping with the vision of Thomas Wade, who left the gardens as a gift to "the people of Leeds" the new design now allows for wheeled access both into the park and through it to the church grounds, previously accessed via narrow steps. Paths damaged by tree roots have been relaid using existing Yorkstone and where necessary special root spanning foundation bridges, backfilled with specialised "tree sand" introduced. The old mix of furniture has been replaced with a visually co-ordinated range which reflect the simple, modern lines of the overall design and old fashioned rose beds have been replaced with a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, perennials and bulbs offering much greater seasonal variation. The refurbishment has even extended to the adjacent St John's Churchyard where hidden gravestones were uncovered and re-laid to create a new path link.

The overall design offers a simple and elegant space free of visual clutter. New lawned south facing terraces provide informal sitting areas and a new sun terrace opposite the pavilion gate house provides an attractive paved area for tables and chairs should the building be refurbished as a refreshment venue at a future date.