History of Portland Park

The lands of Portland Park have had an interesting and colouful past including industry, royal ancestral owners and bloodshed. Find out more…

The Story Begins…

In 1597 Bess of Hardwick, the Countess of Shrewsbury, gave her son Sir Charles Cavendish the sum of £300 to build a home in Nottinghamshire. Work began on a site known as the Marrot (so called after the Marriot family who had previously owned land there). This is the high point of land behind the current Portland Park Visitor Centre, but the building work was never finished.

During a visit to the site a gang fight broke out between friends of Sir Charles' step brother and 'the Stanhopes'. Workers from the site came to their aid and during the ensuing exchange one of the Stanhopes gang was killed while others fled the scene.

After the incident it is said that Sir Charles no longer wanted to continue building the house in what he considered a neighbourhood polluted by violence and death, and as a consequence Kirkby was robbed of what would have been a magnificent manor house.

In 1734 the lands at Kirkby passed into the hands of the Portland family.

Bess of Hardwick in the 1590

Bess of Hardwick - the Countess of Shrewsbury from the 1590's.
Painting by Rowland Lockey.

An Industrious Past

The park is locally known as 'The Quarries' - a name alluding to its past usage as a stone quarry. In fact it is said that some of this high quality stone from this unique site was sent to London to be used in the building of the Houses of Parliament though this is very unlikely.

This process also shaped the site. Many trees were stripped from the locality including the Grives and Studfold Woods to be used for charcoal burning in local lime kilns - a now forgotten but hugely important industry common in areas like this. This combination of tree removal and quarrying also gave rise to another local name 'The Humps and Hollows'. Commercial quarrying had stopped by the time the land was given over by the Duke of Portland in 1914.

An Anniversary Gift

Most of the lands that now make up Portland Park were given to the then Urban District Council in 1914 by William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 6th Duke of Portland, to mark his 25th wedding anniversary and the 21st birthday of his son, William Arthur Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Lord Titchfield. An additional gift of land was made later in 1931 to enable the Park to be extended further. Victoria Lake, named after the 6th Duke of Portland’s daughter, was dug shortly after the land was given to the Urban District Council.

The Council proceeded to develop 'Portland Park' as a formal recreational area for local people and the park became a popular rendezvous especially on Sundays for church services, family walks and picnics, listening to concerts in the now sadly gone bandstand, tennis and playing on the swings. Other features included formal gardens, paddling pools (now ponds) and a bowling green and a rifle range. The ponds and concrete bridges are the only significant remaining features of the formal pleasure grounds.

A shortage of staff after the Second World War led to less intensive management and areas of the park became less formal. Over time all of the more formal features of the park were removed, such as the bandstand, bowling green and play area. Following designation of the park as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1974, the park was over time transformed into an informal country park.
The 6th Duke of Portland

Bess of Hardwick - the Countess of Shrewsbury from the 1590's. Painting by Rowland Lockey.

The 'Old Quarries' 1913-14

A section from the OS Map for Kirkby-in-Ashfield from drawings last revised 1913-14. Note the 'Old Quarries' - a name still used today for the park by some local residents. Notice also the listing of the Ruin in the field next to Grives Wood. The train network was much busier in those days too!
Portland Park in 1913

Click image for larger preview

The Arrival of the Railways

The great railway revolution that dramatically changed the English landscape came to have a significant effect on the lands that later became Portland Park. The Mansfield and Pinxton line was the first to be constructed in 1819 and ran along what was to become the the western boundary of the park. The main footpath to the west of Portland Park that leads to the'Humps and Hollows' was the original embankment for this line. It was an early horse-drawn railway company built to transport Derbyshire coal from nearby Pinxton to Mansfield, and in 1832 a coach was introduced each Thursday (market day) for second and third class passengers to travel to Mansfield.

In 1847 the line was taken over by the newly-formed Midland railway and by then railway technology had moved on so the track needed to be re-laid. 1849 saw a second line, this one linking Nottingham to Kirkby constructed, resulting in the Kirkby tunnel being dug through the Robin Hood Hills and forming the north eastern boundary of what was to become Portland Park. Nearly 50 years later (1898) the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincoln Railway, later the Great Central Railway, had constructed a route to Sheffield via the Annesley tunnel. This line ran east to west through the northern section and in effect separating the main body of what was to become the Park from the "Humps and Hollows'.

A few years later in the early 1900's the Great Northern Railway company had constructed another line this time to Sutton which joined the Great Central line of what would become the northern boundary of the park. This got even busier with the addition of the Mansfield railway in 1917 and was named the Kirkby South Junction. After this hiatus railway traffic and infra structure building began to slow, especially during the war years, culminating in many closures in the late 1960's Beeching era. In fact all that remained were the Great Northern Railway and part of the Midland Railway and these were used purely for freight traffic and not passenger services.

Recently though things have changed and by the turn of the millennium 'The Robin Hood Line' was completed and once again Portland Park finds itself with an active passenger train service running along its boundary again!

Further information and resources
Please see below for any further information and resources related to the history of Portland Park. New information will be added as it arises. If you have any information or photography, old maps, books or anything else about Portland Park please get in touch.
Flora of Portland Park
Birds - Chaffinch
Birds of Portland Park
Fauna - Grass Snake
Fauna of Portland Park
Geology - Dolomitic Limestone
Geology of Portland Park
Walks - Bottom path, Portland Park
Walks of Portland Park
History - Bess of Hardwick
History of Portland Park