Update from Nov 2016
A large fire, likely caused by vandals, on 8th Nov 2016 has burnt down the house in the park (which previously looked like the picture, right). Our security guard discovered it whilst locking the park gates and raised the alarm. The fire brigade battled all evening to contain the fire but it has gutted the building and will likely need to be demolished. Our hearts go out to the project team who have worked tirelessly for the past four years to try and turn it into a community centre and cafe for us local people. They are now considering what happens next, but in the meantime, we are giving our full support. The amazing strength of feeling within the community gives encouragement and hope that we can overcome all this together.
Full details of the events and photographs were covered in the York Press
Project background (pre the fire)
Within West Bank Park there is a house which used to be the old park-keeper’s lodge (above photo, right). The plan is to convert this site into “The Backhouse”, a Heritage Centre to celebrate the history of James Backhouse and his extraordinary family (see below for details of his remarkable life).
West Bank Park has a very special heritage. It is based on the site of the old Backhouse Nurseries, once known as ‘The Kew of the North’. The James Backhouse and Son Nursery was world famous. Within it there were prize-winning orchid houses, k and a rockery which people travelled for miles to see.
James Backhouse was a Quaker missionary who lived in West Bank House within the grounds of the park. In 1831 he travelled to Australia, where he visited every penal colony, helping to improve prison conditions and encouraging more humane treatment for the convicts. He was also responsible for introducing Quakerism to Australia.
As an extraordinarily talented botanist he collected and studied plants and he sent specimens back to his nursery in York as well as well as to Kew Gardens.