A fascinating view of two Burnley parks

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This edition of Peek into the Past is going to have another look at Ightenhill Park but we are going to examine it in a slightly different way. Frequent readers of this column will know the park has featured more than once, but I do not think I have introduced you to the aerial photo today.

I have decided to look at the Ightenhill/Gannow part of town as I have been contacted by a number of people who live in the Ightenhill Park area. One gentleman was interested in Whittlefield Recreation Ground and the aerial photo contains a splendid image of the Recreation Ground. You can see it in the top left hand corner of the picture. You will also notice there is no children’s play area, as there is at the present time, and Whittlefield School is not yet built. The school was eventually constructed at the junction of Clifton Road and Tabor Street in the upper right part of the Recreation Ground.

I am going to annoy a few people, I think, when I say the school should not have been built where it has been. Though I do not deny the importance of education, and the fact young children are better educated near their homes, the school buildings occupy a plot of land which was once devoted to the leisure pursuits of young and old alike. Burnley Council, over the years, has had something of a record, and so far as I am concerned, a bad one, of building schools on leisure facilities. Towneley Park became the home of Towneley High School and the sports fields that became the site of St Hilda’s, are two examples. Whittlefield is another and while we, in Burnley are not exactly short of leisure facilities, the use of parks and recreation grounds for things other than their original purposes should be avoided.

We will return to Whittlefield Recreation Ground but another correspondent was interested in the fringes of Ightenhill Park in the area of Southern Avenue. This traffic-restricted highway can be seen in the bottom right of the picture. The houses on Southern Avenue remain incomplete, as the gap between two properties indicates, but the park itself looks quite mature. However, what is notable about this photo is that you can see the park is divided into three distinct sections, something you may not have noticed.

The larger part of the park, as we look at the image, is to the right of Ightenhill Park Lane, the main tree-lined road which runs down the centre of the image. The park is bounded by Brassey Street, in the east, and Southern Avenue, on its west. In addition, the park abuts the property, on its south side, of which the former Jubilee Methodist Chapel, on Padiham Road, is a conspicuous part.

To the left of Ightenhill Park Lane, the triangular section of park is occupied by two bowling greens with a small pavilion between them. To its right there is the former park keeper’s house, the rear of which you can see in one of the other photos. Further left, on the other side of Ighten Road, and almost surrounded by trees, you can see three of the tennis courts once maintained in this park. In fact, I think there were once seven tennis courts in the park and, if anyone can verify this I would be pleased to hear from them. It looks to me that there were more than three courts in the accompanying photo.

The first of the two leisure facilities featured today – Whittlefield Recreation Ground – was constructed in the 1890s but I am not sure of the actual date. I know it was completed by 1900 when Burnley Council made a list of its existing recreation grounds but the document does not indicate when work was carried out.

When Burnley became a borough, in 1861, the new council decided it was not going to build any public parks. Members had other priorities and decided, instead, to construct a Recreation Ground in each of the Electoral Wards which made up the Borough. The first of these, in 1872, was at Healey Heights, off Manchester Road, and others were built at Stoneyholme (on the site where Burnley FC played their first match) Lowerhouse, Gannow, St Andrew’s, Burnley Wood and elsewhere.

Most of the recreation grounds served several purposes. There was to be a planted area, with paths, where short walks could be taken. Another facility was to be a playing field (without much equipment) for the children and then there was to be a flatish area for picnics. Each of the recreation grounds was effectively to be a small park as near as possible to where people lived. Whittlefield was different in at least one respect, and that was that the area in which it was built was only just being developed.

That said, it should be remembered this recreation ground was adjacent to one of the most highly industrialised parts of town, Whittlefield itself. We are very fortunate to have a photo of the recreation ground in use in its earliest days. The picture shows an elderly man sitting on a wooden bench. A young girl plays behind him and, in the distance, there is a fine view of Pendle Hill. Farm buildings can be seen in the middle distance. These might be located at Clifton, but I am not sure. Above the bench you can see the distinctive feature of Whittlefield Recreation Ground, the slope which is now topped by Whittlefield School. Not shown in the picture but, behind the bench, the Whittlefield industrial and housing area was only a few yards away.

Ightenhill Park dates from 1912. It was built on land donated by the first Lord Shuttleworth but the park was laid out by Burnley Council. One fact about the park might interest you and that is that the park has never been within the civil parish of Ightenhill, though, at one time, a small section, near Southern Avenue, might have been.

The evidence for this is still there to examine. In the bottom left corner of the large part of Ightenhill Park, and in the wooded section of the land above which the bowling greens can be seen, there are two cast iron boundary markers set in stone, one each side of Ightenhill Park Lane. They are said to mark the boundary between Burnley and Ightenhill as it was in 1889, the year in which Burnley became a County Borough.

These days the “Ightenhill” sign is located a few yards to the west, close to where Ightenhill Park Lane and Ighten Road meet. I am not completely sure about the actual boundary but, if I was asked to give an opinion, I would suggest the boundary markers are correct. When these signs were put in place there was something of a dispute going on between Burnley and Ightenhill and I can’t imagine either party allowing the other to pinch even a couple of yards!

The photos used today help those interested in Ightehill Park with another problem. If you look very carefully at the aerial photo you will be able to make out two, possibly three, of the shelters, or pavilions, that used to be in the park. The most clearly marked is the one to the left of the Southern Avenue entrance to the park. There is another further along the path, from the Southern Avenue entrance, which heads towards the centre of the park.

It think that it is this latter pavilion which is illustrated in the photo. Notice that there are three children – a boy and two girls – very much aware that a photographer was at work. Difficult, perhaps to see, but the boy is wearing a large dark cap, but his sizeable white collar, even at the distance the photo is taken, is very prominent. Collars like this were popular for about ten years from c1910 to 1920, so we can assume the photo was taken at about that time.

Of course the state of the plantings in the park are helpful in trying to work out a date when the picture was taken. Remember, that most of the plantings in the park were new in 1912. The shrubs, to the right and left, are not newly planted so a date around the end of the First World War might be assumed for this photograph.

I hope you have found something different in this little visit to Ightenhill Park and Whittlefield Recreation Ground. The latter might not look to be all that much in an aerial photo taken, perhaps, 60 years ago but look what a view there was from Whittlefield perhaps 60 years before that.