All of what we know today as Chevin Forest Park would still have been in private ownership at the start of this time period. The Danefield Estate was still owned by the Fawkes family, and the Surprise View and White House areas owned by various different families.
But as a result of the two World Wars this situation was about to change.
During the wars, the nearby RAF base (today known as Leeds-Bradford Airport) was a target for enemy aircraft. Shallow, circular depressions can be seen near Shawfield where Beaufort guns and searchlights would have been stationed pointing up into the sky looking for enemy aircraft. A number of bombs were dropped on parts of the Chevin as enemy aircraft sought to lighten their load before returning home. Some of the craters left by these bombs can still be seen to the west of Surprise View near the main path leading to Yorkgate Quarry.
Most of the trees on the Danefield Estate were felled to provide timber for the war effort. A contract dated 1st June 1942 indicated that 1 019 trees were sold to the local timber merchants William Brear and Sons for £2000. Most of the trees felled were Beech (used for rifle butts), Sweet Chestnut (used for railway sleepers) and Oak (used for coffins). This would have been a dramatic impact on the local landscape as these trees first planted by Walter Fawkes in the 1780s were felled.
This is the main reason that most trees on the Danefield Estate today are relatively young, only those trees that escaped this clear-felling are older than 70 years (such as some Sweet Chestnut and Oaks on slopes and along becks).
In August 1944 Major Legender G.W. Horton-Fawkes of Farnley Hall decided to give the Danefield Estate (110 hectares) to the people of Otley. In a letter to Otley Urban District Council he said:
“Your Council may even now be considering alternative forms of war memorials. It occurs to me that an open space which can be beautified by trees and preserved in a natural state might offer an opportunity as a memorial to all who fought and furthered the war of Freedom on all fronts.”
This act of generosity saw the Danefield Estate become open to the public for the first time since the Land Enclosure Acts of the 1780s, and the first steps were taken to create the Chevin Forest Park that we know today.
In the 1950s replanting of the recently felled Danefield Estate was soon underway supervised by the expert guidance of Reginald Rawling – the first Head Forester in this new chapter in the Chevin’s history. A memorial stone was installed near Holbeck Gate and another within Memorial Plantation with the intention of reminding visitors to the Chevin of those who were less fortunate during the Second World War.
During the 1960s a Foresters building and workshop was made to accommodate the foresters working within the Danefield Estate and allow timber to be processed for estate maintenance. The layout of the Danefield Estate with its path network, access points and car parks is all down to the vision of these dedicated forestry workers.
In 1974 the local government reorganisation saw the management of the Danefield Estate pass from Otley Urban District Council to Leeds City Council. This was followed by attempts by Leeds City Council to increase the land holding of the park.
The events that led to land being added to the park further west of East Chevin Road are a little more complicated and have resulted mainly from individual land sales.
In 1972 the Sam Chippendale Foundation purchased land at Beacon Hill (today known as Surprise View) including Jenny’s Cottage and land around the White House including the White House buildings. In 1977 these plots of land and buildings were purchased for £15 000 by Leeds City Council. It appears this was an act of generosity by Sam Chippendale to allow the sale to go ahead and the proceeds were used to help refurbish the swimming pool at Prince Henrys Grammar School.
At this time the White House buildings had not been lived in for almost 20 years and were in dire need of renovation. Under the leadership of Keith Rawling (son of Reginald Rawling) work soon started to renovate the White House and rebuild the adjacent buildings to preserve the familiar landmark that overlooks the Market town of Otley today.
This addition of land to the Danefield Estate almost doubled the size of the park and created what we are familiar with today as Chevin Forest Park. In 1999 the foresters that were still based within the Foresters Cabins on the Danefield Estate moved across to the more grand surrounds of The White House.
Additional plots of land have been purchased over the last couple of decades.
The most significant has been Yorkgate Quarry, which was the last piece of land on the Chevin to be actively quarried. It was subject to a number of public protests when plans were made to extract stone over the lip of the summit and 150 metres down the slope. This would have left a scar visible from Otley. Between 1967 and 1973 well-respected local men including Arthur Gemmel, Eric Cowling and Edward Winpenny mounted a successful campaign to prevent this taking place. This probably led to the eventual handing over of Yorkgate Quarry in 1987 to be added to the park.
More recently Manby Field was purchased in 1979 from Wharfedale Auction Mart in a sale cleverly negotiated by Keith Rawling. In 1985 a field formerly occupied by Dibb Cottages was purchased from the Airey family (who used it as a pig farm). In 1995 a field known as Sinclair’s Field was purchased from the Rose family (helped by a donation from William Sinclair and Sons stationers in Otley).
In 1989 all of Chevin Forest Park was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in recognition of its value for both people and wildlife.