Park prepares for a return to glory

ONE OF Kirkintilloch s very own dear green places is set to be transformed back to its original Victorian glory with a major £495,000 restoration programme.

Work has already begun to re-establish the 103-year-old Peel Park as a site of major historic interest, as well as a focus of community activity.

During its early years, the recreation ground was a popular haunt of residents of all ages who came to enjoy the regular band performances, drink at the splendid ornamental fountain or simply take in the picturesque view of the Campsie Fells.

But a century of use has left the parkland tired-looking, with the shine all but gone from its once-celebrated ornaments.

Now East Dunbartonshire Council hopes to breathe new life back into the park with a recently awarded Heritage Lottery Grant of 371,000.

An additional 170,000 is being invested by the authority for an ambitious restoration scheme, which is due to be completed by early autumn.

The project, which will combine the Victoriana of the original design with modern-day elements, will see the refurbishment of the listed Lion Foundry-built bandstand, fountain and war memorial gateway. New park furniture and lighting will also be put in place, as will footpath links.

Children will be able to enjoy a brand new 47,000 play area within weeks.

Councillor Billy Hendry, chairman of the council planning board, said that the bandstand - soon to be dismantled for refurbishment - will be the focal point for the new-look park.

He said: ''When the bandstand has been restored I am assured that it will look as good as the day it was built. It will make a fabulous centre piece for the park and will set the tone of the entire project.

While the park as we know it today dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria, the area of land known as 'The Peel stretches back as far as the history of the town itself.

Steeped in heritage, the site was once home to both Roman and Mediaeval forts and a section of the ancient Antonine Wall runs through it.

The council hopes to capitalize on the landmark s rich history by employing a new community and events co-ordinator to ensure the park is promoted as an educational resource.

Councillor Cathy McInnes, whose ward includes the park, said: ''I m thrilled that work has started on site and that the restoration plans are getting even closer to fruition. The park will provide a valuable resource for local schools and groups interested in finding out about their local history.

The site was once the location of a Roman stronghold. Archaeological excavations during the 1950s revealed the stone base of the Antonine Wall, which was built around 142AD to contain the Celtic tribes.

CENTRAL

The Peel itself refers to the 13th century mediaeval court which stood on the still-visible motte, or grassy mound, during the Middle Ages.

According to local historian, Don Martin, the Peel site is absolutely central to the story of Kirkintilloch.

He said: ''If you think of Edinburgh with the castle and the High Street running down from it through the heart of the Old Town, then Kirkintilloch was once exactly the same.

''During the 13th century, the Peel would have dominated the town. Running out from the castle eastwards was the old high street which would have been a combination of the current Peel Brae and East High Street. It was this main road leading off from the castle that the town was built around.

Mr Martin said that the planned new interpretation and sign-posting will enable modern-day Kirkintilloch residents to recognise their town as it was over 800 years ago.

The Peel Lands was purchased in 1897 for the building of a public park to commemorate Queen Victoria s Diamond Jubilee.

In 1905 a bandstand and drinking fountain, both made at the local Lion Foundry, were gifted by two members of the town council, David Perry and Robert Hudson respectively.

Such was the strong association of The Peel in the hearts and minds of the Kirkintilloch people, that early efforts to re-name the site Jubilee Park were in vain.

And the town s councillors were eventually forced in 1927 to recognise Peel Park as the official name for the people s recreation ground.