The Opening of Queen's Park

‘Never before, in the history of Heywood, was there such rejoicing in the town as on Saturday last, when the new public park, presented by Her Majesty the Queen, was formerly opened. From north to south, and from east to west, nothing has been heard for the past few weeks but the talk about the park opening, and perhaps the preparations made for the event have never been surpassed in the town or neighbourhood.’ (Heywood Advertiser, 9 August 1897)
(Heywood Advertiser, 9 August 1897)
‘The public parks in the suburbs of many of the principal Lancashire towns, with their playgrounds and gymnasia, are unexcelled. Manchester has no fewer than five, including the recent noble gift of the ‘Whitworth.’ Salford has good reason to be proud of its ‘Peel Park.’ Blackburn, Preston, Oldham, Lancaster, Wigan, Southport, and Heywood have also done their best.’ (Leo Grindon, 1892)
The award-winning Queen's Park is one of the icons of Heywood. It began life in August 1879 as one of the many grand Victorian- era public parks that sprang up in industrial Lancashire towns as symbols of thriving civic health. Heywood was indeed thriving at that time. Although it was still a township with the boundaries of Bury, it had recently grown rapidly from a village and now contained the areas of Heap, parts of Hopwood, Birtle-with-Bamford, Pilsworth and Castleton. It was about 18 months away from being granted borough status and becoming the Municipal Borough of Heywood. Amid this strong sense of growing confidence, the opening of the new park in 1879 inspired a grand celebration in Monkey Town. The park, however, almost didn't come to be.

Most Heywoodites are familiar with the story of how local landowner Charles Martin Newhouse died in 1873 in a derailed train carriage accident (you can read his story here). He had not left a will, so his money and land was handed to the Duchy of Lancaster, which asked the Heywood Local Board if it wanted to accept the land 'as a gift of the Queen'. The money, however, was earmarked for a county asylum. The chairman of the Local Board, Captain Hartley, believed that the money should instead be spent on a ‘high class school for the town of Heywood’. It was his successor, William Bell, who persuaded the Duchy to present the legacy to Heywood as a public park, to be maintained at the expense of the ratepayers of Heywood.

The park was duly designed and constructed, originally covering 20 acres of the high ground and slopes adjacent to the old Heywood Hall and overlooking Crimble in the Roch Valley. This is less than half the size of the current park, and the original sections became known as the 'top park' after the boating lake was built and new lower land were added during the 1920s. The park contained a large array of newly-laid lawns and up to 25,000 shrubs, flowers, and enduring trees such as beech, horse chestnut, sycamore, and elm. The gardens could be viewed from numerous walkways. There was an ornamental iron bandstand with 'dancing lawn', a bowling green and pavilion, a refreshment room, and a Tudor-style Lodge House built of stone and timber, with a red Staffordshire tiled roof. The main entrance was originally next to this house, but new gates were erected to the south when the park was redesigned during the 1930s. There was also a grand three-basin ornamental fountain, elaborately decorated with dolphins and swans.

The original bandstand in Queen's Park, Heywood.

The grand ceremony took place  and on 2 August 1879 amid a carnival atmosphere. As was reported in a special edition of the Heywood Advertiser that same day:
‘Never has there been so much preparation for any event in the history of Heywood. From north to south and from east to west, nothing has been heard for the past few weeks but talk about the park opening and nothing has been done but what has had some reference to this day of days.'
Heywood was at its absolute best on the day of the opening of the new park. The weather was warm and sunny, and the town swarmed with thousands of locals and visitors from neighbouring towns as far away as Manchester. Almost every factory building and house along the route of the planned procession was festooned with decorative banners. A large lamp-post at the junction of Manchester and Middleton roads was surrounded by four high poles with Venetian banners at the top and encircled by smaller banners lower down. Many banners featured colourful mottoes such as royalist emblems, ‘Success to the Park’, ‘God save the Queen’, ‘Long live the name of Newhouse’, and ‘Success to the Town and Trade of Heywood’. A triumphal arch was erected over Market Place, near the Queen Anne Inn, consisting of three bays. The sides of the central arch featured portraits of Queen Victoria which, so it was reported, ‘did very little, if any justice to our sovereign’.

About 10,000 people took part in the procession. They assembled near Wham Bar, and at 11.15 am they began their parade, walking through the main streets up to Hopwood, then turning back down to Rochdale Lane, then up York Street, and down William Street (now Queens Park Road) to the park.

The parade was led by six companies of the 8th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers and their band, followed by the Sunday Schools, complete with flags, banners and more bands, including the ‘Ardwick Industrial’. There were 4,000 marchers in the ‘Noncomformist’ section, and there were contingents from the Church of England schools, the Ragged School, the Dissenting Church schools. Behind these children were dignitaries in carriages, including the High Sheriff and Colonel Thomas E. Taylor, M.P. and ‘Chancellor of Her Majesty’s Duchy and County Palatine’, accompanied by a troop of the Duke of Lancaster’s Yeomanry. As the representative of Victoria, Taylor would be the person officially handing over the keys of the park to the Local Board.

Serving and former members of the Heywood Local Board were next in the parade, in private carriages, followed by the ‘friendly and trade societies’. These included the Naphthah Masonic Lodge and the Shepherds. Then came the Heywood Handbell Ringers, who ‘rang out a merry tune as they went along’, and the Waterworks Department with their float drawn by six fine horses. Behind them were several horses carrying specimens of coal from various local collieries. Then came floats displaying industrial machinery of local manufacturers, including steam boilers, carding engines and woollen looms. There were also wagonloads of flour, limestone, ‘bleached waste’, brushes, freshly-butchered pigs, and tinplate. At the rear was a ‘mounted masquerade, representing Henry the Eighth, Charles the Second, a courtier, a jester, a brigand, and a Russian bear’.

The streets were lined with about 10,000 spectators, and the parade took one and a half hours to pass by any given point. When they reached the main gates by the park-keeper’s lodge, Colonel Taylor and the Heywood Local Board members entered the park, where 7-year-old Bessie Hill Booth, of Rose Bank, presented the gate key to Taylor, who then formally handed the park over William Bell, chairman of the Local Board, in the name of the Queen.

The public then poured into the new park and explored the gardens and pathways. The festivities continued that evening as dignitaries attended a banquet and the townsfolk enjoyed a rare gas-powered illumination display in the town centre. Two nights later the Local Board hosted a full-dress ball. 

The opening festivities for Queen’s Park had been a remarkable show of local pride and confidence. The increasing prosperity and status of the young town was now reflected in the magnificence of St Luke’s church and the grand new public park. The population was growing, the cotton trade was doing well, and within two years the town would be governed by its own municipal corporation. Heywood was entering a 50-year period that would be remembered as its heyday.
‘Never did the sun’s brightest beams illuminate a fairer, a gayer, or a more brilliant scene in Heywood than was witnessed on Saturday morning. Never before was the town such a centre of attraction and interest to its numerous neighbours.’ (Heywood Advertiser, 9 August 1879)

   Related pages   
  • Rushbearing in Heywood: An ancient rural religious festival that became so rowdy that it was banned in 19th-century Heywood.
  • A Calendar of Festivals and Holidays: The Heywood year was once full of local traditions and festivals. You can read about them here. (Page under construction) 
  • Poets and Teetotallers of Victorian Heywood: A fascinating bibliography of notable Heywoodites of the 19th century.
  • Early Heywood Pubs: Did Heywood once have the 'most number of pubs per person', and how did the thriving local pub industry develop?
  • The Many Pubs of Heywood: A list of the many different beerhouses and pubs that have existed in Heywood over time.
  • How Green Was My Valley: The bucolic writings of Victorian-era ramblers and botanists around Heywood.
  • At the Movies: A look at the different movie houses that used to exist in Heywood. (Page under construction)
  • Into the Valley: When sleepy Deeply Vale hosted a series of famous free rock festivals during the late 1970s. (Page under construction)

   References   
  • Heywood Advertiser, 2 August 1879, 9 August 1879.
  • Leo Hartley Grindon, Lancashire: Brief Historical and Descriptive Notes, London: Seeley and Co., 1892.
  • Terry Wyke and Harry Cocks, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004.
  • 'Queen's Park', Historic England website.
  • Rochdale Observer, August 1879.

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