PEEK INTO THE PAST: Ightenhill Park tennis courts captured in years gone by

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We are fortunate, this week, to be able to publish a very rare postcard view of part of Ightenhill Park. The image has been added to the Briercliffe Society’s collection but, though there are a number of postcards of the park and its immediate area in the collection, this one was produced by an unnamed firm which is not otherwise represented.

This is significant because the card is unused and, therefore, undated. It was though, as you can see (bottom right hand corner), the sixth picture in a possible series. Unfortunately, the collection does not contain pictures which conform to this interesting image.

Ightenhill Park is not in the civil parish of Ightenhill and, of Burnley’s municipal parks, it is the least well-documented, something I am in the process of resolving but which, as yet, I have not been able to complete. What I can tell you is that the park was the gift of Lord Shuttleworth who, in 1909, granted five acres to the council for the creation of a public park. It was not until 1912 that the facility was opened by which time a further seven acres had been added.

The park is situated in Ightenhill Park Lane, which locals abbreviate to Park Lane. I find this confusing as there are no less than five roads in Burnley the names of which begin with the word “park” – and that does not include and the names which include the slightly less common “parker”.

Ightenhill Park Lane dissects the park: on the left (going down the lane) there are the formal gardens which have specially laid out walks and a bandstand. To the right there are the tennis courts and bowling greens. The more formal area is bounded by three “roads” in addition to Ightenhill Park Lane. They are: Southern Avenue, Avondale Avenue and Brassey Street. The sporting facilities are also bounded by Ighten Road.

It is difficult to be precise about when the photo used on the postcard was taken. I am not expert enough to determine the date by an analysis of the clothes being worn by the many people in the image but it must have been some time ago as the mill chimneys in the background look pretty complete within the landscape and most of the trees look newly-planted. The photo must have been taken in the first half of the 20th Century but I can’t say much more than that except to add I would not be surprised if the photo was taken in the first third of the century. If you have any ideas I would be pleased to hear from you.

After examining the card, with magnifying glass in hand, there are a number of things which can be said. Notice, on the extreme right, about half way up the picture, there is a small stand on which a number of people are observing the matches being played. There are other spectators directly in front of this stand, but virtually at court level. Of course, you can see a number of youngsters watching the sport sitting on the grass in the foreground. One of them, a small boy in short pants and wearing a cap, appears to be more interested in the cameraman than the game.

I think there are six courts in the picture all of which are being used for playing tennis. It appears there are players from different age groups – some young men playing doubles on the left, boys on the right with other games, including ladies and girls, on the more distant courts.

Ightenhill, as readers know, constitutes one of the better parts of Burnley, in terms of housing, but you would not know it from this picture. This is where my magnifying glass came in very useful because, among the mill chimneys in the background, a number of the slate roofs of rows of houses in less salubrious parts of town can be seen.

When visiting the site, though the trees in the area are now fully grown, it was clear to me Ightenhill Park tennis courts overlook Whittlefield where once there were numerous cotton mills, especially those of one of Burnley’s largest companies, Robert Pickles & Sons Ltd. This firm, which finally closed about 1970 (possibly a year or two before) had several weaving sheds, a bobbin and shuttle works and several other buildings on the canal bank near, and including, Cairo Mill. Pickles also had a mill in Todmorden and another in Belfast.

In Burnley in the past, almost wherever you were, it was impossible to escape the dark reality of its smoke stack industries. Here, the picture must have been taken at a weekend, or possibly in the annual holidays, because none of the chimneys are smoking.

This picture shows an image of a facility which has long since been appreciated in the town. In the past the courts in Ightenhill were used for county competitions and, only in recent years, the council spent money on the bowling green which had been vandalised. Similarly, Ightenhill ward members found the funding to make long overdue improvements to the tennis courts which now can be used for a variety of other ball games.

In fact, the facilities in Burnley’s parks are being continuously upgraded, the most recent improvements being in Padiham. This is how it should be but I thought you would like to see this rare picture of Ightenhill Park’s sporting facilities in the days when they were of very real importance to the town.