PEEK INTO THE PAST: The original plans for Burnley’s Queen’s Park

Peak Into The Past 656
Peak Into The Past 656

In last week’s edition I finished the first of two articles on the development of Burnley’s Queen’s Park by mentioning the date of its opening. That was July 1st, 1893 and, 118 years later, a group of us celebrated the event by enjoying a Burnley Civic Trust-organised heritage walk around what is Burnley’s oldest public park.

The article was illustrated by a postcard view of the park. It was taken from inside the park looking towards the original Queen Victoria Road entrance and some time before the section which now contains the Park Lodge was detached from the park by the new road which now links Queen’s Park Road to Belvedere Road.

That postcard, for which unfortunately I have no date, is very instructive as it demonstrates that though aspects of the park have changed little, if at all, some things have changed. If you have last week’s article to hand look at the photo and notice, in the top left quarter of the picture, a timber building which, on some maps, is described as a shelter.

What you might not realise is that this building was originally designed as the park’s tennis pavilion. It is shown as such on a “presentation sheet” made available, free, by the Burnley Express to every reader who bought a copy of the paper issued immediately before the park was opened. The document was drawn up by Mr Matthew Birkett of Messrs Maclure & Co. of London, the lithographers to Queen Victoria.

The presentation sheet is a splendid piece of work and accompanied a long article, in the Express, which describes, in detail, how the park had been designed and what facilities it contained at its opening. You might like to know that, originally, there were four tennis courts at this location; two summer courts, laid out as lawns, and two winter courts made of gravel.

The grass courts were slightly elevated, possibly for drainage purposes, and they were surrounded by a border of trees and shrubs. A few of the original facilities can still be identified. The shelter is still there, though now we know it as the Blind Pavilion and I recall visiting, when on council business, the building and the lovely sensory garden behind the structure. A little of the latter still survives and I hope it can be restored as I hear the council is in discussions to re-open the pavilion for refreshments.

Last week’s postcard shows the wide paths which were, and remain, a feature of the park. In fact when the park was planned access to the park was of great importance for planners. This can be seen at the main entrance which is just above Ormerod Road’s Godley Bridge park gates. The gates themselves are very impressive – perhaps the best in Burnley – and made, I think, like the park’s railings, by the Burnley firm of Thomas Ashworth & Co., who once specialised in iron gate and palisade making.

In front of the gates there is a triangular area of 320 square yards designed as standing room for visitors and conveyances. This area was out of the way of passing vehicles and made access to the park easy. From the beginning, the gates themselves were painted and gilded and are beautifully made with impressive Burnley borough coats of arms on both the larger gates. The massive and well-designed stone pillars, which are 15ft apart and support the gates, have survived though the finial at the top of each pillar is now missing.

Today’s postcard shows the gates as they were over 100 years ago and the finials can clearly be seen. One of them has survived on the smaller but equally impressive Pheasantford Gates at the other end of the park. However, the image in front of you is a reminder that the smaller (5ft. wide) pedestrian gates are still with us. It is my view that if these gates are not listed, they should be.

Notice the Park Keeper’s Lodge behind the gates. This too has survived as has the equivalent in Thompson’s Park though the one in Scott Park has been demolished. The lodge is a fine building (which should also be listed) and, when the park was opened, it was described as being “commodious and comfortable”. The building is in what was, when it was designed, the fashionable “domestic gothic” style. It had a red tiled roof (uncommon in Victorian Burnley) which, it was said, contrasted with the tall trees on the canal bank.

Once in the park there was about two miles of paths available for walking. Early plans show a complicated network of paths which gave access to all areas but, today, there is a large section of the original system missing. In the upper part of the park there was a path from the Ridge entrance, which was not completed when the park was opened, all the way to the Pheasantford entrance. This has now gone and the lack of the path makes an internal circular tour of the park difficult. On the other hand, at the time Queen’s Park opened, it was recognised the roads around the park – Queen Victoria Road, Todmorden Road and what is now Queen’s Park Road – made a wonderful circular route, with good views, for walkers, riders and those out for a carriage drive.

The designer of the park, especially the plantings, was the landscape gardener, Mr Robert Murray, the first occupant of the Park Keeper’s Lodge. Mr Murray, two years later, was responsible for the design of the plantings at Scott Park. The two projects could not have been more different. At the latter Mr Murray had to take account of the existing gardens of the Hood House estate but at Queen’s Park, as we discovered last week, the plot was almost barren.

There was one thing on the site with which Mr Murray had to deal and the designer’s solution to what was a difficult problem has survived, at least in part. The site of Queen’s Park was crossed by a mineral railway which linked Bank Hall Colliery to others at Rowley and the Bee Hole Mine, at Turf Moor. Sir John Thursby needed the mineral railway to continue so Robert Murray planned a clever scheme to hide as much of the railway as possible from public view. He did this with a planting of trees and shrubs across the middle of the park which can still be identified.

Queen’s Park contained numerous facilities for visitors. I have mentioned the original tennis courts but there was also, at the outset, a single bowling green, a 7-acre football and cricket area and two “gymnasiums”. The latter worried me, at first, but a little research revealed that, in reality, the gymnasiums were children’s play grounds, one for boys, the other for girls.

To give you an idea of what they were like – the “youths and young men’s” gymnasium contained six see-saws, two vaulting horses, parallel bars, horizontal bars, six swings for boys, three high swings, three rings and three trapezes. The girls had six boats, nine swings and six see-saws and the writer of the Express article added the very Victorian “male and female will be rigidly kept to their respective grounds and here, amid artistic surroundings, they may indulge to the full in healthy and enjoyable exercise”.

I would admit I have not been able to give you a complete picture of Burnley’s Queen’s Park. What surprised me was that it was planned so thoughtfully and I am sure Sir John Thursby was very happy with Burnley’s first public park.