Park life: forgotten fish pond

Formal park, with pond and bedding plants

The pond in the park: how it used to be, spring 1983

The small triangular park area on Leeman Road, across from the Memorial Gardens, was mentioned on the previous page. It’s pictured above in spring 1983.

A comparison view, how it looks now, in spring 2021.

Formal pond same as above, flowers and furniture reduced/removed

How it is now, spring 2021

In the 1983 photo, a profusion of flowers around a pond, which appears to have a fountain in the centre of it. Benches and bins and fancy lampposts are symmetrically arranged around it.

Over the years various flowerbeds have been removed and turfed over, there’s now only a couple of the lampposts, the bins have gone and so have the benches. There are still flowers, but far fewer, and confined to the narrow beds by the paving. The paving is no longer ‘crazy paving’, but tarmac.

These changes have taken place in stages, over the years, and were presumably intended to keep maintenance costs down. I’ve written about it before, some years back.

Despite all the changes , the pond is still there. Recent research led me to thinking more about it: why it’s there, whether anyone notices it much. It has been difficult to find information online about this small triangular park, which is why I included the earlier page, and why I wanted to revisit.

Before the park and the pond

Previously this triangular area appears to have been covered with trees and shrubs, as shown in this old postcard of the area.

Postcard showing the triangular park covered in trees, with railings around, 1907 (

Postcard showing the triangular park covered in trees, with railings around, 1907 (

The pond in particular

When looking at the old maps of the area for the previous piece, I noticed that a fish pond was marked on the 1931 map.

Old map

1931 map (from

Judging by its rather distinctive shape, it’s the same pond.

So the trees and shrubs were cleared to make way for a formal pond, a fish pond, which evidence suggests has been there for more than 90 years.

Quite a ‘historic feature’ then. Perhaps it was constructed when the Memorial Gardens across the road were laid out.

I thought I’d revisit the area, to focus on the fish pond, and possibly peer into it.

Pond in triangular park, 10 May 2021

Pond in triangular park, 10 May 2021

One person walked through the park while I was there, but otherwise it was empty. Perhaps because there are no benches to sit on, and the grass was too damp to sit on. A few geese were wandering about in the evening sunshine.

I wondered why the pond was still here. I thought I’d heard that it was going to be filled in. I doubted very much that it had fish in it.

I peered into it.

Pond, being peered into

Pond, being peered into.

It looked better than I was expecting. Water lily leaves, other aquatic plants. A bit of movement of the leaves, in the breeze … but wait, a fish! There’s a fish!

Not your haddock kind of fish, obviously, but one of those small ‘ornamental’ ones, a little fishy, dark coloured, gliding about in there. (Apologies that there’s no photo, I can’t do underwater photography.)

There appeared to be several fish. I wandered around the edge and peered in from various angles, and was quite enchanted by it briefly.

It just shows that it’s important to fact check, and do a site visit if possible. When I first started to draft the text for this page I’d been convinced that there couldn’t possibly be any fish in the so-called fish pond. Mainly because I remember a big fiery beacon being lit on the plinth in the middle of the pond, back in 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

Beacon in centre of pond, 8 May 2015

Beacon in centre of pond, 8 May 2015

It seemed at the time a strange site to choose.

There weren’t many of us there that evening, partly perhaps because the publicity about it referred to this place ‘Triangular Gardens’, and no one knew where that was.

But a comment added to a Press article the next day suggests that at least one member of the public was aware of the fish in the fish pond:

‘there was no consideration for the pond over which the beacon was built. This morning what was once a pleasant small pond full of fish was left as a blackened stagnant pool of water full of burnt bits of wood.’

Notes and queries

I know very little about fish, and their needs and preferences, beyond the obvious need to be in water. I wonder how they’ve survived in there all this time, and are presumably breeding, as it’s hard to imagine new fish have been added to a pond in a park that has clearly been modified to make it ‘low maintenance’.

When I wrote about the park six years ago I thought the pond should be removed, partly because it’s not very wildlife-friendly, with those curved concrete edges. Partly because it seemed to be just a thing in the way, in the middle of the path going straight across. If you can’t sit on a bench by it and look at it, what’s the point of it?

But now, having realised that it’s quite a historic structure, and that it does have life in it, I wonder why more hasn’t been made of it, and the area around it. Why everything has been simplified down to very little left. It may not be the most pleasant place to sit during the day when the traffic’s heavy, but there was very little traffic around in the evening when I was there, and it might have been nice perhaps to sit on a bench by the pond, like people used to, back in the old days of the 1980s.

Park with bright flowers and pond, in sunshine

By the pond, 1983

And a fountain?

The 1983 photos show that it appears to have had a fountain in the middle of it. The figure is possibly a flying Mercury? Similar to the one in Rowntree Park? I wonder what happened to it.

I can’t help thinking about the fountain in Parliament Street, and how many people were upset when it was removed, even though it was a relatively recent addition, and not particularly attractive. Meanwhile, completely under the radar, apparently generally unnoticed and unappreciated, this rather more historic structure, designed as a centrepiece, and appreciated in the past.

The park and its pond were clearly appreciated by my Dad, who took those photos of it one day in 1983, presumably after leaving work at the nearby railway offices.

Time to leave the park and its histories, noticing on the way that its low boundary wall still has the small stumps of the railings that once surrounded it.

Remnants of railings

Remnants of railings

If you have any information to add, comments are welcome below.

. . . . .

One walk in early May, with the purpose of looking at one building, has led to several pages, many connections, as so often happens. It’s all connected. Particularly perhaps here in the railway part of town.

We’re about to go through one of the arches in the walls to look at the building I was aiming for before all these diversions. More on that story later. In the meantime, thanks for your virtual coffees in support of these local ramblings.

About Lisa @YorkStories

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  1. David Bower

    My memories of the gardens and pond revolve around a walk into town with my parents on the evening of June 7th 1961. It was a lovely sunny evening, and our reason for the walk was to see the banners and decorations prior to the Royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Kent which was taking place the next day at York Minster.
    My Dad was a keen amateur photographer, and wanted a photographic record of the decorations before the crowds arrived, I also seem to remember he was working the next day, so wouldn’t be able to record the actual wedding day. I still have these images, as a series of 35mm colour transparencies. Most of the shots were from the bar walls, towards the Minster. However one of his first shots was of a 6 year old me, sat beside the fishpond. It was very much as your 1983 shot, with flowerbeds of brightly coloured tulips. The wooden benches and ornate lamp posts were part of the scene, as was the crazy paving. I remember the fountain working, but was I think like the Parliament fountain it was often out of action.
    I imagine the benches were removed to avoid Street drinking and anti-social behaviour, likewise the paving removed to avoid trips and a possible costly insurance payout!
    At this time there were certainly fish in the pond. Each walk into town with my parents entailed crossing the road to ‘see the fish’. The fish at this time were colourful Koi Carp, Orange and white. I remember several were quite large, about a foot in length. They would come to the surface to take breadcrumbs from your hand if you were brave enough!
    Another memory of the gardens was at Christmas when brightly coloured lights were strung between the lamp posts.

    • Wonderful memories David, thanks for adding this.

      Didn’t see anything as big as the Koi Carp you mentioned. Tempted to head back up there with some fish food and look for the big fish in a small pond!

  2. Trevor Audin

    York used to be a beautiful City hanging baskets sidewalks cleaned and washed look at it now on my last visit I was disappointed with the city garbage about dirty store windows. I have heard several people from overseas complain about the state of York.

  3. Hi Trev, don’t let my photos depress you too much (!) – it’s still beautiful, and many people are doing their best to keep it looking good. Many improvements in many places. But I think it’s difficult with parks, cutbacks in funding etc, changing tastes.

  4. There were always goldfish in the pond when I was a child in the 90s. I’m glad to hear they are still there now!

    I always forget about the pond – it’s off such a busy street that I just want to keep moving when I’m there.

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