Otley's lost Japanese Gardens in the spotlight

Otley's lost Japanese Gardens in their prime, around the start of the 20th Century. Picture courtesy of Otley Museum

Otley's lost Japanese Gardens in their prime, around the start of the 20th Century. Picture courtesy of Otley Museum

First published in Local news Wharfedale Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Otley’s lost Japanese Gardens will be thrust back into the spotlight next week – more than a century after their heyday.

The gardens, once a popular venue for concerts and pageants, were part of the old Recreation Hall/Queens Hall complex that stood behind All Saints Parish Church.

Created by Henry Dacre in 1895, the hall and its grounds “became a very popular centre of Otley life” around the start of the 20th Century, Otley Museum notes in its archives.

But Mr Dacre never managed to make the enterprise pay for itself and his death from a heart attack in 1913 signalled the start of a sharp decline.

Few signs of the site’s past can be found now but Harold Offeh and The Follies of Youth are aiming to rekindle interest when they present The Lost Japanese Gardens of Otley at All Saints Parish Church on Tuesday, May 27.

Miriam Thorpe, from the University of Leeds-based arts group Pavilion, which is presenting the event, said: “It is a very curious site and we hope to draw attention to the existence of the spot, which is currently a scrapyard, and also to the archive of Otley Museum, which is currently without a home.

“The photo supplied for this article is from the Otley Museum archive and shows the Japanese Gardens being used, as they typically were, as a backdrop for staged photographic tableaux with people dressed in traditional costume during pageants and fairs.

“Next week’s event will celebrate the lost landscape of the gardens with a series of talks and music celebrating the 100-year-old site.

“A costume-making workshop will also be held in the church’s Parish Room from 5.30pm, before the main event at 6pm, which includes a short processional walk, designed by artist Harold Offeh, to the garden site.”

Family-friendly, the Lost Japanese Gardens of Otley will run from 5.30pm to 7.30pm and is being held in partnership with Otley Museum, The Japanese Garden Society and Yorkshire Gardens Trust. It will include a presentation of archive photographs and talks about the aesthetics of the Japanese garden and its relationship to the Yorkshire landscape.

A new composition by sound artist Ryoko Akama will be performed in the church.

And Offeh’s new performance, Japamania – which considers the cultural misconceptions arising from the UK’s historic fascination with Japan – will take place at the gardens site itself.

Also featuring Japanese tea and Yorkshire refreshments, the event is free and open to all but places must be booked by sending an e-mail to linzi@pavilion.org.uk or calling (0113) 3432718.

Support for the Recreation Hall and Japanese gardens dwindled following Mr Dacre’s death.

And support was also hampered by the outbreak of the First World War.

Some revival attempts were made between the wars but disappeared with the start of the Second World War in 1939 and the buildings and garden fell into disrepair.

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