PEEK INTO THE PAST: Burnley park named in honour of Queen Victoria

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By the time you read this article we will not have celebrated the 118th anniversary of the opening of Queen’s Park, Burnley. There is no reason why we should – the 118th year is not a normal year for celebration – but Friday, July 1st, was the 118th anniversary.

In a way, last Wednesday evening, Burnley Civic Trust and the Friends of Queen’s Park, with a few members of the public, did get together, if not to celebrate its opening but to visit Queen’s Park and discover a little about its interesting past.

Queen’s Park has an important place in Burnley’s history. It was opened in 1893 and was the first of the town’s municipal parks, now regarded as some of the best in the country.

There had been parks in Burnley from the Middle Ages but these were private parks mostly kept for hunting deer. In fact Burnley, 600 years ago, was one of the centres of what might be termed the “hunting industry”. The areas we know as Forests (Pendle, Trawden, Rossendale etc.) from 1399 were royal hunting parks owned by the crown.

Below the level of the Forest was the Chase where the great landowners had their hunting estates. Hapton Park covered almost the whole of the present civil parish of Hapton. It was created in the 15th Century for the exclusive use of the Towneley family and their friends. To do this, Sir John Towneley, where his ancestors had long since held land, enclosed the Hapton area removing a number of families from their cottages. He even built a large house for himself (Hapton Tower) which had a commanding view of the area and was more convenient than Towneley Hall for his favourite sport.

Towneley had its own park which has survived into modern times. After hunting fell into disfavour, the park, after much landscaping, became the private grounds of the hall, but then, and for more than 100 years now, much of it has served as Burnley’s largest municipal park. There were other parks in the Burnley area, all in private hands, and these were attached to Bank Hall, Hood House, Ormerod House and Huntroyd. Lastly, there was a further park most of which has survived to modern times. We know it as the Parish of Ightenhill though its proper name is Ightenhill Park.

Burnley was only a very small place until relatively modern times. There was no need for a park in those days. Any resident could get to a green space with consummate ease – most people could see the vast fields from their front doors. The fields were not places to walk through and enjoy the countryside; they were places of work where the land had to be ploughed, crops sown and harvested and animals reared and protected from wolves which roamed our hills until early modern times.

The Industrial Revolution changed all that. Where once our local rivers provided food and drink they were now harnessed to provide power for the increasing number of mills. Burnley expanded but there was still no demand for parkland, probably because residents of the town, like elsewhere, had no concept of having time off to enjoy the open air.

Those who had the time and wealth could enjoy their estates. They – the Towneleys, the Shuttleworths, the Starkies etc. – walked in their newly created “wildernesses”, could enjoy unimpeded views from their terraces because of the introduction of the clever haha wall (one of which survives at Towneley) and began to collect exotic plants from all over the expanding empire.

If you lived in Burnley there was a decreasing amount of green space in the town centre and only the larger houses had gardens. However, these times can be recalled in the names that have survived to us for parts of the town – Orchard Bridge, the Meadows, Sheep Field, the Horsefield, Pickup Croft – can be named among them.

Society was changing. People obtained their wealth not only from the land but from making things. Most of the “manufacturers” and professional men were not interested in farming but their wives and daughters had the time to spend in the countryside and their family wealth made this possible.

By the mid-19th Century, if you were on friendly terms with General Scarlett he might let you have a key for the grounds of Bank Hall where, if you did not disturb him, you might take your family for a picnic on the banks of the Brun. The Towneleys, on the other hand, constantly complained of lads and young men getting into their private park, not only trespassing but also poaching.

When Burnley became a borough in 1861 the new council decided not to have any parks. They would provide recreation grounds – one for each ward – and the first, at Healey Heights, at Rosehill, was opened in 1872. Soon there were about 11 of these recreation grounds, the best preserved of which is at Whittlefield.

They were small in area but did have facilities for children, areas for playing games and small wooded plantations. Some even had flowerbeds but these were not parks and if it had not been for the generosity of Sir John Hardy Thursby, the owner of Burnley’s Hargreaves Collieries, we might not have had any parks in town at all.

This Sir John Thursby (there were two of them) is the man after whom the present Sir John Thursby College is named. He inherited his estates in 1886 but, having seen the advantages of parks over recreation grounds in other parts of the country, had wanted to see a park in his home town for some years.

Sir John had told a number of the leading citizens of Burnley of his intentions but, for legal and political reasons (his son was standing for parliament in the Unionist cause) could not allow his ideas to be made public. In 1887, Sir John, who received his baronetcy at this time, served as High Sheriff of Lancashire. This was the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and Sir John wanted to name his new park in the Queen’s honour.

It was not until November 2nd, 1888, that Sir John made his intentions public. He wrote to the mayor offering the 28-acre site of the present park to the town for the purposes he had already outlined in private.

The golden jubilee had come and gone and the townspeople wanted Sir John to allow his family name to be connected with the park once it opened. Otherwise, it was suggested the park might be called Ormerod Park not only after the road along side which the park was to be built but also after Sir John’s great house in Cliviger.

Needless to say, Sir John got his way and the park was opened on July 1st, 1893 as Queen’s Park, the name by which it has been known ever since.

That, though, is not the end of the story which will be continued next week.