The history of open land which has been a feature of the centre of a village for centuries is taking a new turn.
Chase Park is just off Front Street in Whickham in Gateshead , with a listed windmill as one of its features.
Whickham was recorded as a village in the 12th Century and a mill is mentioned in 1307, 1567 and 1720.
Now work has started on a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for almost £1m to restore and upgrade the park, which was once part of a private estate.
This follows the award of development funding of £66,000 to the Friends of Chase Park and Gateshead Council to enable them to jointly progress detailed plans.
The plans, which were drawn up in consultation with award-winning local landscape architects Southern Green Ltd and Tyne & Wear Play Association, will form the basis of an application for a full grant of £930,000 at a later date.
The proposals include the conservation and restoration of heritage features such as the listed windmill, paths, walls and entrances in the park.
Other schemes include the planting of a wildflower meadow and the creation of a community garden, as well as improving play and sports areas and increasing the number of activities and community events in the park.
The Friends were set up in 2009 and have already won a national Flora competition which saw a new play area created in the park last year.
Friends chairman Alan Scott said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this money for the development of our master plan to improve our local park for the whole community. We’ve got this far due to the tremendous effort and commitment of local residents and businesses, volunteering their time and services to support our activity and look forward to working with Gateshead Council to deliver the second round application for the full grant.”
Friends vice chairman Kathryn Malone said: “The park is looking a little tired and we want to bring it back into the heart of the community, We want the park to be a place that the whole community can enjoy.
“There is a real community spirit in Whickham and we want to make the park a part of that.”
Linda Green, Gateshead Council’s cabinet member for culture, said: “With funding from Government reducing year on year, our ability to invest in the local community is also reduced sharply. We are therefore constantly looking for new ways to maintain and develop major assets such as Gateshead’s public parks and encourage the community to play a role in safeguarding them for the future.
“We’re delighted to be working with the Friends on what will be an exciting development of an important community asset.”
The focal point of what was the private estate was a mansion called Whickham House, which was occupied by the Leaton family from the 18th Century until 1864.
Maps in th 19th Century show the mansion, an entrance lodge, wooded pleasure grounds, an orchard and the corn mill. The last owner of the house Mr J Wilkinson, who manufactured mineral water. A keen huntsman, he renamed it The Chase. He sold the site to Gateshead Council in 1937 for £7,000. Although the house was demolished in 1960, the stable block and ornamental gardens remain.
Some of the land was developed for recreation in the 1930s as part of the King George’s Field Foundation initiative.
The King George’s Fields are public open spaces dedicated to the memory of King George V, who died in 1936.