ROCKLEY MEMORIAL PARK  

Park Road, Radcliffe on Trent, NG12 1AR

Rockley Memorial Park main gate

Radcliffe on Trent hosts a splendid living memorial to local men who died in the Great War. Rockley Memorial Park and its attached Cliff Walk is a precious gift from Mr. Lisle Rockley, whose son William was killed at Ypres in 1917. After buying the land and creating a park and adjacent cliff walk, he presented the site to the village in honoured memory of Radcliffe men and his son, William Rockley. The glorious park, opened in 1927, must be among the most outstanding war memorials in the country. Today, the park remains popular with many visitors who come to enjoy its innumerable attractions.

Directions: From Radcliffe on Trent village centre, turn at the mini roundabout by the Co-op store and travel up Shelford Road, signposted Shelford. The most direct access to Rockley Memorial Park is from Park Road, which is 5th on the left after crossing the railway bridge. There is no car park – please have consideration for local residents when parking in side streets. The park is open in daylight hours and entrance is free.

The park has wide paths making it easily accessible for buggies, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. It offers a magnificent array of plants and shrubs, including rhododendron, azalea, begonia, camellia and winter jasmine. Mature majestic trees tower over the landscaped lawns: yew, beech, cedars, conifers, silver birch, copper beech, magnolia and maple being among them. The centre of the Park is encircled by on oval path with two exits via gates leading to the Cliff Walk which in turn leads to the cliffs beneath and walks by the River Trent

Rockley Memorial Park gardens

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Rockley Memorial Park Commemoration 15th October 2017

On 15th October Radcliffe on Trent commemorated the centenary of William Rockley’s death at Passchendaele and celebrated ninety years since Rockley Memorial Park was opened.

Radcliffe Parish Council organised a short ceremony in the park which was based on the original event held on 15th October 1927. Many Radcliffe residents attended, just as they had done ninety years ago. The ceremony was led by David Barton, chairman of the parish council who welcomed everyone present. The Mayor of Rushcliffe gave a short speech based on the original words spoken by dignitaries in 1927.

William Rockley was an officer in the 10th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. The regiment has since been incorporated into The Yorkshire Regiment and a representative, Major R.C. Helm, gave a short speech. He told the assembled crowd that it was a great honour to represent The Yorkshire Regiment at the centenary event.

Rockley oct 17 6

Four descendants of Lisle Rockley were present: Fiona Linney, great-grandaughter, Charles Linney,  Lisle Rockley’s great-great grandson and his two children. Charles Linney laid a wreath in the park pavilion on behalf of the family. His speech began:

‘Can I say a heart-felt thank you on behalf of our family, to everyone for making the effort to come and mark the one hundredth anniversary of the death of my great-great-uncle, Lieutenant William Lisle Rockley, as well as for all the other people from the local Radcliffe area who lost their life while fighting for their country.’

The crowd were moved by all the words spoken and the simple ceremony. It concluded with bugler Andy Norton from the Boys Brigade sounding ‘The Last Post’.

After the ceremony all present re-convened at Grange Hall for afternoon tea. Radcliffe WWI group, who had spent weeks doing the research behind and for the event, presented a poster exhibition detailing the history of the park from William Rockley’s death to the present day.Rockley Park (8 of 44) (11 of 19) E1

On display were artefacts belonging to William Rockley and now in the possession of his descendants. The items included his ceremonial sword, which Charles Linney’s father, Nick Linney, had had refurbished for the occasion and his M.C. and campaign medals.  The wreath laid at the pavilion was brought down to the hall. It was designed by the  Radcliffe on Trent WWI group, who based it on the original wreath presented by Mrs Margaret Rockley in 1927. The wreath was made at The Flower Room, Shelford Road, Radcliffe on Trent.  A portrait of Lisle Rockley on display was an enhanced copy of his photos created by Radcliffe resident Richard Caunt and framed by local company LizArc. It now hangs in the Dowson Room of the Grange.

Following a welcome by Dave Barton, Rosie Collins gave a short talk about the background to the park which was based on research conducted by the WWI group. In conclusion, she said

‘I’d like to re-iterate how deeply grateful we are to Lisle Rockley for the wonderful gift of the park, cliff walk, woodlands, and access to the River Trent. The gift enhances our experience of living in Radcliffe by giving all of us an area of outstanding natural beauty to enjoy. It’s now up to us to preserve our heritage in the best way that we can.’

John Thorn, chairman of Radcliffe Parish Council  Amenities committee, then described recent improvements and plans for the development of the park. After the talks, those present enjoyed a splendid tea provided by Radcliffe on Trent Women’s Institute.

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There was ample opportunity for people to look at the exhibition, buy ‘The Story of Rockley Memorial Park, Cliffs and Woodlands’ written by the Radcliffe WWI group and sign up for a new group, the ‘Friends of Rockley Memorial Park’ who will undertake light gardening duties in the park in future.

At the end of the day, Marion Caunt, Rosie Collins and Pauline Woodhouse placed William Rockley’s wreath on Radcliffe War Memorial, to signify the gift of the park was in honour of all Radcliffe men who lost their lives in the Great War.

Photographs of Commemoration event courtesy of Michael Bedford.

Developments at Rockley Memorial Park

Mr. Rockley’s vision of a living memorial has developed over the past ninety years, particularly through the work of ground staff and five resident head gardeners: George Stubbings 1927–1962, Jack Hannam 1962–1977, Jim Lambert 1977–2004, Aiden Herrett 2004 to 2016 and Jenny Ellis from 2016 to the present. Each head gardener has brought their unique style to the park, shaping its character across the decades.

Much has been done to improve the park and its facilities by Radcliffe Parish Council, responsible for its upkeep. Recently, the Parish Council, in conjunction with Cityspace Greening,  and Rushcliffe Borough Council, enhanced the park’s woodland walks by planting trees, shrubs and plants. Rowan, viburnum, prunus, daffodil, snowdrop, bluebell, fern, dogwood, geranium, primula, hellebore and various perennials have added texture and colour. Stump stepping stones and a willow tunnel now nestle among trees backing on to the Cliff Walk. Eight wooden sculptures, created by young people from the village working with Positive Futures, are secreted in the woodland walk near the main entrance.

During 2016 the Pavilion was extensively refurbished and additional turf was inserted round the perimeter of the oval lawn. The glasshouses were cleaned, re-glazed and new cold frames and storage sheds were installed. In addition to providing a better space for growing plants, they provide a training area in horticultural techniques for young apprentices taken on by Streetwise Environmental Limited.

In 2017, some of the self sown trees were cut down opening up previously obscured vistas across the River Trent and a rose garden was created to the right of the Pavilion. 2017 marked the centenary of the death of Lieutenant William Rockley from the York and Lancaster Regiment. The entrance to the Memorial Park boasted two flowerbeds representing his regimental badge. The badge incorporated a coronet, a Union Rose  above a Royal Tiger and a laurel wreath. One bed of red and white begonias symbolised the roses of York and Lancaster and the other bed symbolised the Royal Tiger (the flowerbeds were dug over in the winter of 2017-18).

On June 25th 2017 a family picnic in the park celebrated almost ninety years since the park opened. Families relaxed in the sunshine to the mellifluous sounds of Omega jazz band and South Notts Academy swing band.

Cliff Walk

Cliff walk Radcliffe on Trent

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The mile long walk offers a charming promenade along the cliff tops. Wide paths provide good access; the walk is much enjoyed by all ages and is amply provided with memorial benches for resting. It is a favourite spot for dog walkers. A plethora of trees, including oak, sycamore, beech, hawthorn, cherry and lime, shape the landscape.

Directions: walkers, wheelchair, mobility scooter and buggy users can reach the Cliff Walk from the Memorial Park itself or from four other access points in Radcliffe on Trent, all of which are on the left of Shelford Road travelling out of the village. Stanford Gardens, the nearest access point from the shops is reached via Oaktree Avenue and Fernwood Drive, both of which are also on the left of Shelford Road. The next access point is from the far end of Grandfield Avenue. Cliff Drive also provides access and furthest from the village centre is access from Valley Road.

Valley Road Play Area

The Valley Road Play Area is a delightful shaded playground for children – turn right along the cliff walk when coming out of the memorial park. Radcliffe Parish Council has enhanced the area recently by providing new play equipment for older children. Suspended tyres and a Trim Trail now stand alongside the pre-existing swings, seesaw and tractor for toddlers The Parish Council has also installed a new picnic bench so families can enjoy a snack while at the play area.

Playing at Rockley Memorial Park

Walk to Shelford

Those wishing to continue beyond the tarmac path (which ends shortly after the Valley Road Play Area) can walk over the fields down to the grassy flood bank where sheep graze by the river and on to the small village of Shelford. The Earl of Chesterfield is a welcoming hostelry there. The walk, from the starting point of the Rockley Memorial Park gate leading on to the Cliff Walk to the Earl of Chesterfield, is approximately 3.6 kilometres (2.5 miles).

The Cliff Walk forms part of the Trent Valley Way, waymarked between two southern starting points at Thrumpton and Attenborough, in Nottinghamshire, through to West Stockwith near Gainsborough at the northern limit of the county, a distance of some 135 kilometres (84 miles). The Trent Valley Way connects with the Cliff Walk (from the direction of Holme Pierrepoint) via Wharf Lane in Radcliffe at the south western end (access by steps) or via footpaths to Stoke Ferry and Shelford to the north east. Both these access points are suitable only for walkers.

Riverside and Lily Ponds

The Cliff walk can also be extended by descending to a 15.2 acre site of meadow and ponds running alongside the River Trent. There are two paths down to the site. Both are quite steep with steps (plus handrails); they are not suitable for wheelchairs, buggies or mobility scooters. One path descends from the Cliff Walk opposite the north eastern gate to the Memorial Park. The path is easily found on leaving the Park. The other path descends from the Valley Road Play Area and then runs along the bottom of the cliff for about 100m coming out by the weir. Turning left from the weir there is a choice of footpaths: to the left alongside the Lily Ponds or to the right along the river bank. These paths rejoin after about 500m at the foot of the path coming down from the Memorial Park gate.

River at Radcliffe on Trent

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In 2013 Radcliffe Parish Council bought the plot of land so that it would be protected and remain a beautiful natural area for the enjoyment of all. The riverside is a place of dramatic contrasts from its surging weir to its tranquil ponds and peaceful riverbank scenes. The landscape abounds with willow trees, wild rose bushes, bulrushes and grasses. Bird spotters can find green woodpeckers, willow warblers, swifts, common terns and kingfishers among many other species.

Radcliffe Conservation Volunteer Group

The Lily Ponds area is designated as a “Local Wildlife Site”. The parish council is working in partnership with the Canal and River Trust, the Notts. Wildlife Trust, Rushcliffe and Nottinghamshire Councils and local volunteers to manage the nature reserve. Radcliffe Conservation Volunteers improved the cliffs and lily ponds area by clearing ditches and cleaning the gullies at the side of the steps going down from Valley Road and removing Himalayan balsam, which is a major weed problem. In May 2015 Radcliffe Parish Council organised a ‘bio-blitz’ at the site in conjunction with the  Notts. Wildlife Trust, Canal and River Trust, local conservation volunteers and interested adults and children. The aim was to record as many living species as possible. Wildlife experts found a wide range of aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates including beetles, dragonflies, molluscs, newts and pike as well as many bat and bird species.
For a full report go to www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/news/item/trust-hails-success-of-local-bioblitz/.

Radcliffe Conservation Volunteers continued its work on the cliffs and around the lily ponds throughout 2017. Volunteers cleared out Hollow Well, removed litter, re-built a log stack amphibian shelter and took out patches of invasive Himalayan Balsam among other tasks. More wild flowers and other plants were identified including Enchanter’s Nightshade, Lesser Burdock, several ‘worts’ (Marsh Woundwort, Mugwort, Ragwort, Figwort, Gipsywort), Purple Loosestrife, Wild Angelica, Arrowhead, Flowering Rush, Water Mint and the less rampant Orange Balsam. During the winter months of 2017-18, the volunteers laid wood chippings on the path leading to the river at the bottom of Hollow Well steps to help combat the slippery conditions. They also built two small fences from natural materials on the steps and paths where the ground fell away and cut up some fallen dead trees on the cliffs. Used fireworks left  near the river on November 5th were removed by the group.

History of Rockley Park and the Cliff Walk

Much has been done since the 1920s to maintain and develop Lisle Rockley’s lasting gift of the memorial park and cliff area. The article below from the Nottingham Evening Post, 11th October 1927, reveals his tremendous achievement in transforming an untamed wilderness into a landscaped park and a public right of way along the cliff for people’s perpetual enjoyment.

Mr. Lisle Rockley’s Gift to Radcliffe: Unique War Memorial

Of the innumerable forms of war memorial none will command more widespread approval than that which Mr. Lisle Rockley will on Saturday next, hand over to his native parish of Radcliffe on Trent, nor is it possible to imagine one which will confer more lasting benefit.

The majority of people in this part of Nottinghamshire are familiar with the cliffs over-shadowing the River Trent at Radcliffe; and many have scrambled along the rather hazardous bridle-path leading from Radcliffe to Stoke ferry, but the condition of the place and the absence of any public right of access to the foreshore have always prevented the adequate enjoyment of one of the loveliest beauty spots in Nottinghamshire.

To Mr. Rockley occurred the idea of acquiring the stretch of cliffs, a mile long, with a certain depth of back land, and, without in any way diminishing its natural charm, laying it out as a public walk. All the land originally formed part of the estate of the late Earl Manvers, and much of it had passed into the hands of about 25 small owners, who, almost without exception raised no obstacle to the scheme as soon as they understood its character.

To appreciate properly the value of Mr. Rockley’s scheme, it is necessary to have known this spot both before and after he took it in hand. The sides and top of the cliffs were covered with masses of trees, tangled undergrowth, and rank vegetation, which almost entirely hid the view across the Trent valley from pedestrians along the cliffs, and made access to the river both difficult and dangerous.

Mr. Rockley wisely consulted a leading firm of landscape gardeners, the same firm, by the way, as that which Sir Jesse Boot engaged to lay out Highfields Park – and under its skilled direction the place has been beautified most remarkably. Vistas have been cut through the trees, superfluous growth has been cleared away, waterfalls have been constructed by tapping hidden springs, dells walks have been made down the river, a velvety grass promenade 36 feet wide and more than a mile in length has been laid out along the top of the cliffs, with two small parks abutting onto it, and more than 10,000 ornamental shrubs, flowering trees, and evergreens have been planted. The total amount of land acquired exceeds 20 acres.

Of the parks, one is called a ‘rest’ park, a place where people can sit without being disturbed by games, and the other is a pleasure park, bright with flower beds and provided with a small pavilion as a place of refuge in wet weather. An artistically designed bungalow has been erected for the caretaker. Five different paths give access from the village.

All the men associated with the work have, as far as possible, been drawn from the ranks of ex-service men or were bereaved by the war.

In the pavilion is a bronze tablet bearing the following inscription:

Read details of William Rockley’s war service and Military Cross award

The Story of Rockley Memorial Park, Cliffs and Woodlands was published by Radcliffe on Trent WWI Group in 2017. Contact us on info@radcliffeontrentww1.org.uk to purchase a copy. The booklet costs £5.

If you are interested in voluntary work with Radcliffe Conservation Volunteers, contact Phillip Taylor at philtaylor_422@hotmail.com or Radcliffe Parish Council at clerk@rotpc.com.

For more information about the long distance Trent Valley Way walk, go to the Long Distance Walking Association at www.ldwa.org.uk

To read more about war memorial parks and gardens in England, go to https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-war-memorial-parks-gardens/

 

Author: Rosemary Collins

Swans by River Trent