The question of purchasing and maintaining a recreation ground to serve the population of Somercotes, Leabrooks and Birchwood was discussed by the councillors of the Alfreton Urban District for several years. It was agreed that a recreation ground was required but the cost and location was something which seems to have been a problem, possibly due to the fact that by the time the decision was made, much of the land had already been developed or sold for housing. The Belper News, published on 15 July 1910 reported on various council issues, among them the subject of a recreation ground at Somercotes. The article in part reads: “He [Mr. Palmer-Morewood] was also favourable to the Council’s request for land at Somercotes for a recreation ground, opposite Somercotes cricket ground [this is where Wimsey Way is today], providing the present tenant was agreeable to the arrangement. Failing the success of the latter proposal, the committee recommended that Mr Wilson be approached for a recreation ground for Somercotes.”
Whatever the reason, the land owned by the Palmer-Morewood estate was not used. This is possibly due to the tenant’s objection or several councillors in Somercotes believing that the land was not sufficiently central enough to serve the population of all the villages. The matter came to a head the following year, when the purchase of land which is now currently used as the recreation ground was discussed at length. This was also reported in the Belper News, dated 7 July 1911, and reads: “RECREATION GROUND WANTED – PERMISSION TO BORROW APPLIED FOR – The Alfreton Urban Council have decided to provide a recreation ground for Somercotes by purchasing land from Ald. James Oakes, J.P. for £1,250. As a matter of fact, the land has already been turned into a playground. It is centrally situated in Victoria Street and will serve Somercotes, Lea Brooks, Sleetmoor Lane and a portion of Birchwood. The Council have sought the sanction of the Local Government Board to borrow the necessary money, and on Tuesday morning one of Board’s inspectors (Mr Edgar Dudley) held an inquiry into the application at the council offices. The proceedings were of a routine character, there being no opposition. There was not a single member of the public present beyond Councillors, their officials and their valuer. These included Councillors G. Beastall CC, W Carter Pegg, John Webster, A Lee, G Preston and J Langton, Mr W Watson (Alfreton), Mr H R Cleaver (Clerk to the Council) and Mr R F Ward (Surveyor to the Council). The Clerk said the area of the Urban authority was 4,626 acres, and the population at the last census 19,049. The annual assessable value was £59,565 and the total debt for all purposes owing by the Council was £45,129. The Council had four recreation grounds already, all being rented except the Pye Bridge ground. The new recreation ground at Somercotes was intended to serve at least 5,000 inhabitants. Its area was 4 acres 2 roods and 16 perches and the price £1,250, or about £277 per acre. The Inspector said it was plenty of money to give for it. The clerk remarked it was the only land they could get. In fact it was the only land in that quarter.
Councillor Beastall [said at the meeting] ‘It is centrally situated.’
Mr W Watson, an Alfreton valuer, placed the value of the frontage land at 2s 6d. per yard and the back land 1s 3d. per yard, but if the land was laid out for building purposes the back land would be worth 1s 9d. per yard. It would make good building land, and it was certainly the best site the Council could have in the place.
The Inspector said he could not help thinking that for a village it was rather expensive to acquire building land for a recreation ground. Couldn’t they get land much cheaper half a mile away?
Mr Cleaver said that the ground was for the children, and he was afraid they would not walk half a mile to a recreation ground, but would prefer the streets.
Councillor Beastall said it had taken them two years to get Mr Oakes to place the land in the market. Land was very difficult to obtain.
Councillor Pegg said it was a very popular purchase.
Councillor Beastall said more people used that ground than the whole of the others put together. It was the most suitable they could find in the whole parish.
The inquiry then closed.”
From this long newspaper report it can be seen that the purchase of the land was not without issues. By 1911, most of the land on Somercotes Common had been fully developed, leaving this central island of land which was ripe for building. The Council seems to have agreed to purchase the land at a price more suited to building land, but in doing so they created a recreation ground that was central to the population for which it was intended. The odd shape of the recreation ground reflects the problems associated with obtaining the necessary land at that time.
Over the years, the recreation ground became a popular area, but the Councillors also saw a need for the older population to be represented. Around 1931, a bowling green was provided at a cost of £1,000. In 1933 it was agreed to erect a house for the groundsman of the Somercotes recreation ground on a site facing Brenden Avenue. Eventually, tennis courts and a “crazy-golf” course would be including in the plans. Also in 1933, the Secondary Modern School was built adjacent to the recreation ground, in some respects completing the Councils plans.
In modern times, major changes have been made to the site. Now officially known as “Somercotes Park” the area includes the Somerlea Park Centre, a multi-user games area, outdoor fitness centre, and skate park. Although the tennis courts have been replaced with a synthetic games pitch and the miniature golf course removed, the bowling green still survives and is in regular use throughout the season.
The original main pedestrian entrance to the recreation ground was located on Leabrooks Road, Somercotes. Flanked by two stone pillars it still exists today, although the Somerlea Park Centre is now considered the main gateway to the facilities.