Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Joyful mansion memories

HISTORIC BUILDING Tom and Shirley Norbury who ran the park mansion cafe in Dewsbury's Crow Nest Park for 29 years. This picture was taken in 1991 as they prepared to close their business.
HISTORIC BUILDING Tom and Shirley Norbury who ran the park mansion cafe in Dewsbury's Crow Nest Park for 29 years. This picture was taken in 1991 as they prepared to close their business.

We all have our own particular memories of Crow Nest Park Mansion – now Dewsbury Museum – and mine is the day when I had my wedding reception there in 1963.

I’m sure there will be thousands more whose memories of this historic building will be the same as mine, and I hope just as joyful.

I was married at a time when working people were just beginning to have a little bit more in their wage packet and could afford a few more luxuries in life.

They certainly could afford to spend a little more on the wedding reception of their children than their parents had on theirs.

My mother had had her wedding reception at home, and my older sisters had had theirs in the local church schoolroom, although my eldest sister had hers in Batley Co-op Cafe, but only because mother could pay at so much a week.

The Park Mansion was a truly glorious place where newly-weds could share their first meal as man and wife, surrounded by family and friends.

And where could you find a more beautiful spot to take wedding photographs than among the 56 acres of ornamental gardens and lush lawns in the park outside.

I will forever be grateful to my mother, a widow, for scraping together the money to pay for it all, thus giving her youngest daughter such a wonderful send off.

The cost of the whole three course meal wouldn’t have cost more than £50 but to a working class family in those days, it must have seemed like a fortune.

The park mansion was the venue for all the big events in Dewsbury, and only the town hall could surpass it as the top venue for important events.

In those days the mansion cafe was situated on the ground floor of the present museum which in those days occupied the top two floors of the building.

Memories of the old park mansion came flooding back the other day when I came across a photograph in my files of the couple who had been its last proprietors, Tom and Shirley Norbury, the couple who had done my reception.

The picture above was taken in 1991 when the Norbury’s closed the cafe for good after running it successfully for 29 years.

Their lease had run out and the council would not renew it because they wanted to use the cafe to extend the museum.

The council had received a £20,000 museum improvement grant to provide a local history display and exhibition space at the museum, which at the time, was so popular it was attracting 30,000 people a year.

The council, however, fully aware of the need for refreshments to be still served in the park. made room for another cafe next door, which still remains today under the guardianship of park protector, Mrs Mavis Secker.

Thinking about how the park mansion had closed down so abruptly in 1991, reminded me of how times fly and how times change. How things we believed would always be there, sometimes are not.

My appeal to readers is make sure you keep a watchful eye on our beautiful park, our historic museum and our park cafe, to make sure they will remain, These are all important amenities which our forefathers in Dewsbury worked hard to provide for both themselves and their descendants.

Crow Nest Park did not become public property until 1893 when the old Dewsbury Corporation decided to buy it from the Hague family for £32,000 and make it into a public park for the recreation and enjoyment of the people of Dewsbury.

The council spent a further £24,000 laying it out, and the cost of maintaining it was £1,200 a year, or five pence a year on the rates for each of the town’s 53,000 inhabitants, a price local people felt well-worth paying.

On the afternoon it opened, between 30,000 to 40,000 visited the park, and their admirable conduct on the day was commended by the contingent of police who had been assigned to the duty of keeping order.

Local mills and business, who normally worked Saturday morning, closed an hour early so their work people could attend the opening ceremony, and something like 15,000 people formed a procession in the town centre to march to the park. .

The park is still one of the few places in Dewsbury – if not the only one – where you don’t have to pay admission, and that is why it proves so popular for families with young children.

The park when it first opened did not have a Museum, but this was remedied the following year when a group of local people got together to provide one.

The council allowed them to have three rooms in the mansion, in which the Hague family had once lived before selling it to the council.

The Museum, run in the early years by volunteers, continues to be a well-visited attraction, and provides a home for much of Dewsbury history, especially its social history.

Local schools have benefitted greatly from what if offers, and it is visited by people of all ages eager to learn about their history.

And it wouldn’t be the same if they couldn’t pop nest door to the park cafe for a welcome cup of tea, a sandwich, and, of course, their famous ice creams. Long may they reign.