James Hood Brooke, the Presbyterian philanthropist who gave his name to Brooke Park, died on the 2nd August 1865, his will and testament revealed that he left the residue of his estate to be used to acquire an area of land, that forever after would be a place of outdoor recreation for the citizens of Londonderry, and to be a place where in particular the working man could enjoy on the Sabbath day his pipe and a pleasant walk or rest after the labours of a severe week’s toil.
Although no specific area of land was citied in the will, but it was stipulated that 25% of the funds should be retained for the future maintenance of the park.
The money from the estate (£9,100) was placed in a trust fund. After the death of Elizabeth Brooke, James’s sister, in November 1897, the trustees of the will moved to carry out the wishes of Mr Brooke by buying Gwyn’s grounds, with financial assistance from the honourable Irish society, as the site of the new people’s park. The matter was put before the Corporation of Londonderry to gain agreement to it maintaining the park in perpetuity. In August 1901, Brooke Park was handed over to the Londonderry Corporation and has been maintained by the local authority as a public park for the last 113 years.
When the park opened its gates in 1901 it was perceived as a beautiful park land, the gardens of the Gwyn’s institute essentially remained the same although Matthew Robinson, Architect and Engineer, was appointed to prepare the plans for the new parks layout, his task was to make the site suitable and interesting for public use. The most significant change was the removal of most of the wall on the north/west boundary; a pedestrian entrance was added at Creggan Road, which necessitated new pedestrian paths at these locations.
The main thoroughfare was straightened and a lime avenue planted along one side.The productive garden and the orchard which was associated with Gwyn’s institute were removed as it was no longer required. Many of the original features were incorporated into the park and the park would have benefited from the mature shrubs and shelter trees already in place. The mature Gwyn’s shrubs, several of which were rhododendrons were clipped to formal shapes; flowerbeds were planted with brightly coloured conventional park bedding. In effect, the city acquired a readymade Victorian park, which cleverly used landform to maximise the usefulness of the space, rich and varied planting, in the tradition of Victorian gardening, further enriched the public space.