ONE of the most historic parks in the Black Country, Priory Park in the heart of Dudley, is to have a new lease of life following a mutli-million restoration project.
The 19 acre park first opened in 1932 and is home to the historic ruins of the Priory of St James, founded in 1160 by Gervase Paganell, 5th Baron of Dudley.
The park is linked to two of the region's greatest sporting stars. As a child football legend Duncan Edwards, who grew up on the Priory Estate, played football in the park, while the tennis courts there were built in honour of Dudley's two-time Wimbledon champion Dorothy Round.
Priory Park has received £2.6 million of investment following a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund under their Parks for People Programme.
The improvements, which will be completed this month, include the redevelopment of the pavilion, located near the tennis courts, which has been considerably extended and will now provide public toilets and will act as a base for educational activities and community facilities.
The project has also seen the installation of new lighting at the priory ruins and a range of other works such as the planting of tree avenues, repairs to paths, new signage, and new artwork and sculptures, including a statue of Dorothy Round near to the tennis courts, close to the park entrance off Priory Road.
The funding has also enabled Dudley Council to employ two park rangers, who will continue to deliver a range of activities and educational sessions for residents, community groups and schools at the park.
Dudley Council and the Friends of Priory Park and Green will show VIPs around the newly improved park at a special launch event on Friday, 20th September.
Councillor Tracy Wood, cabinet member for environment and culture, said, "It is fantastic to see all the aspects of this project coming together to give this beautiful and historical park the improvements it deserves.
"I’m sure our residents and park visitors will be delighted to see how much Priory Park has been reinvigorated over the last three years and with the fantastic activity programme there are lots of new ways to enjoy this green space."
Reyahn King, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the West Midlands, said, "Parks are a vital green lung in our towns and cities. We’re delighted that Priory Park is nearing completion and that thanks to lottery investment the people of Dudley will be able to fully enjoy this special green space once again."
The priory was closed by Henry VIII in the 1530s and in 1540 its lands were granted to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was executed in 1553 for his plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the English throne. After his death the priory buildings fell into ruin and by the 18th century had become home to a tanner, a thread manufacturer and other businesses as the surrounding land became industrialised and nearby pools filled in.
In 1825 Priory Hall was built, later home of Sir Gilbert Claughton and now Dudley Register Office.
Dudley Council bought the priory ruins and surrounding land in 1926, part of which then lay in Sedgley Urban District and led to the redrawing of the borough boundary. The park opened in 1932 to serve the people of the new Priory Estate.