When first built the handsome gazebo in the grounds of Crow Nest in Dewsbury would have had views over the estate’s fine gardens and pleasure grounds. At the end of the 19th century Crow Nest was bought for the people of Dewsbury, and has now been a public park for 130 years. The Temple remains an ornament to the park, but sadly today it has a rather forlorn appearance.
Information about the Crow Nest estate is quite hard to find (and it shouldn’t be confused with Crow Nest at Lightcliffe, which is not far away). We know that in 1733 it was purchased from the Bedford family by Samuel Burroughs (c.1695-1761), a Master in Chancery and author of important texts on the legal system. Upon his death in 1761 the house passed to his recently widowed daughter, Sarah, who arranged for Crow Nest to be let the following year. The ‘exceedingly pleasant house’ was described as ‘fit for a Gentleman’s family’ and came with gardens, orchards and pasture. There is no mention of the temple, although two maps show it was extant at that date.
The first visual evidence for the gazebo is on a plan of the River Calder surveyed by the engineer John Smeaton in 1757 (the house is mistakenly named as ‘Crows Mount’). The gazebo can be seen in a corner of the walled grounds, and traces of these walls can still be seen attached to the temple today. A map dated to c.1766 shows the gazebo and mansion in more detail.
In 1785 Crow Nest was sold to Richard Milnes, but in 1798 he was declared bankrupt, and the estate was once more offered for sale. The ‘Most Valuable and Truly Desirable Estate’ was described as ‘situate upon an eminence, commanding a most extensive view’. It was bought by the Hague family who remodelled the mansion and remained there for almost a century until they sold the estate to Dewsbury Corporation, who wished to create a public park for the townsfolk. The park opened in 1893 with a day of ‘holiday and public rejoicing’.
The town plan of Dewsbury produced by the Ordnance Survey office in 1852 shows the Temple at the end of a long straight path which was terminated at the other end by a summerhouse. At that date it had two adjoining walls, one of which was connected to an arch, seen in this photograph. Although ‘old castellated arches of Norman design’ were mentioned in 1889, they had disappeared by the time the 25″ map was published in 1894 and the Temple was by then a free standing structure.
The building is not named on the 1850s 6″ Ordnance Survey map, but is called ‘The Temple’ on the 25″ map surveyed in the late 1880s (but not published until 1894). By the time a revised edition of the map was published in 1907, Crow Nest Park had been created with lake and island, bowling green and, of course, a bandstand. The designer, William Cox, incorporated the Temple into the layout of the park, surrounding it with ornamental shrubberies. From the upstairs room of the gazebo there was a panorama of the whole park and the countryside beyond.
A lovely watercolour in the collection of Kirklees Museums calls the building the ‘Observatory’, but it is likely that the term was used in the sense of a belvedere or gazebo, a building from which the view could be admired, rather than as an astronomical tower. Locally the story is told that a tunnel leads from the mansion to the Temple, and that one of the owners of the estate used it to to escape from his bad-tempered wife – a tale attached to more than one folly.
In the early 20th century a group of retired Dewsbury men known as ‘the Veterans’ Parliament’ used the Temple as a shelter in which to meet. Judging by their age the men had probably served in the wars in South Africa, and the park houses a memorial to the friends they lost which was unveiled by Baden-Powell in 1906. By 1937 the men were in their seventies and finding the stairs in the building a challenge. Bemoaning the lack of facilities to ‘mash a pot of tea’ they left for alternative accommodation.
Soon after that date Britain was at war again, and the maintenance of ornamental buildings was not a priority. At date unknown the elegant roof was removed, and it became a rather grand store for park equipment. Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘quite elegant’, the Temple was listed at grade II in 1985, but is bricked-up and sadly neglected today.
In 1894 a committee was formed to establish a museum in the mansion, and it was a popular attraction for over a century. Sadly the Dewsbury Museum was closed in 2016 after the council withdrew funding as part of a programme of austerity measures. A long campaign to keep the building in community use was unsuccessful, and the house (grade II) currently stands empty. Crow Nest Park is listed at grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England.
The Temple delighted the families who made Crow Nest their home for a century and a half, and has been an attractive feature for the visitors to a public park for another 130 years and counting. It is sad to see it neglected today.
Thanks to Katina Bill of Kirklees Museums for her help with this post.
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