West End Park – Ashton under Lyne

This is a short history of a park, a short history of my family and me.

The movement of earth and people, a tale until now untold now told.

West End Park is a public park, opened in 1893. The site is bounded by Stockport Road, Manchester Road and William Lane. It was developed on land associated with St Peter’s Church.

St Peter’s was built between 1821 and 1824, and was designed by Francis Goodwin. A grant of £13,191 was given towards its construction by the Church Building Commission. The land for the church was given by the patronage of George 6th Earl of Stamford and Warrington, whose cousin, Revd Sir George Booth, had been Rector of Ashton from 1758 until 1797

The benevolent Victorian landowners thought it politic to provide parks for the working folk, fresh air, exercise and perambulation being preferable to the demon drink.

Friendship Old Street – now a solicitor’s office

The area around the park was a dense warren of housing and industry.

Britain from Above

The parks provided a welcome relief from the tarmac, brick and concrete – very, very few homes having had access to a garden.

During the 1930s local councillors simply can’t resist the charms of the rocking horse.

And a burst of colour in the summertime.

The West End was transformed in the 60’s, through slum clearance, the subsequent building of high rise and the introduction of light industry.

My Grandfather Samuel Jones lived in the area – at one time next door to George Formby Senior.

Later moving to nearby Hill Street.

There’s a plaque for George – there isn’t one for Sam.

During the Great Depression men were required to work for the Dole – Sam was required to dig out a sunken garden in the park – he was a collier by trade, a good man with a shovel, built for back breaking work on Ashton Moss.

David Vaughan

Sam in Blackpool 1954

This is the sunken garden in the 1960s

Thirty yards wide, forty yards long and three yards deep, shifted by hand.

Three thousand six hundred cubic yards of earth.

One cubic yard of topsoil weighs about two thousand pounds on average.

Seven million two hundred thousand pounds of earth.

I worked there in the 1970s along with Alec and Danny bedding out the sunken garden, maintaining the bowling green, tennis courts and playground.

Keith Ingham

There were two permanent gardeners in the park, and a keeper in the summer – plus Danny Byrne and me brought in to help at busy times.

Throughout the 70s and onwards, economic decline hit the area hard, the closure of the cotton mills and little hope for the future. Rising unemployment and severe cuts to public spending did little to assure a rosy future for West End Park, or anything or anyone else for that matter.

Help was at hand – one of many public projects funded by our old friends the EU. Changes in the way that parks were used and further spending cuts sounded the death knell for the flowers and bowling. Large open grassed areas were cheaper and easier to maintain.

And so the sunken garden was filled in, this time by mechanical means – all in a days work for a bloke with a JCB.

So I sit and reflect on the labour and conditions that created this and many of our public parks, our legacy is a much impoverished version of the original vision.

I think of my grandad Sam and his comrades, the sweat of their collective brows buried forever.

Our legacy the small state, a bring and buy your own world economy.

It would make you weep.

Ash Hotel – Stockport

232 Manchester Road Heaton Chapel Stockport SK4 1NN

So once there was a pleasure gardens, and then in 1901 a pub.

Wilson’s Brewery built The Ash Hotel, a grand boozer in a Jacobean manor manner, complete with bowling green and billiard room.

It lasted through to the 70’s and 90’s but gradually it became harder and harder to manage and fill a pub of such size and stature.

Closed – standing unloved and unused until it was finally converted into the Ash Tea Rooms in 2011.

Only to be closed again in May 2018.

Once ringing with the chink of glass on glass, songs and laughter it awaits its latest fate – conversion to flats.

One can only hope that much of its architectural detail will be preserved – particularly the architectural type fascia sign.

And the mosaic flooring.

Only time will tell – if you’re passing tip your hat take a look and celebrate a grand old building which somehow will prevail.

Heaton Norris Park – Stockport

Heaton Norris Park’s elevated position gives stunning views of the Stockport town centre skyline and of the Cheshire plain. The central position of the Park means that it is a green retreat for shoppers and local residents. Also it is within easy reach of the Stockport town centre. The land for this park was acquired by public subscription and as a gift from Lord Egerton. Work on laying out the site as a public park began in May 1873, and it was formally opened on June 5th 1875. Since then it has undergone a number of changes. The construction of the M60 has shaved several acres off the park’s size.

The park began life as Drabble Ash Pleasure Gardens – entrance strictly by token only, as commemorated on the BHS Murals in Merseyway.

5 November 1905 – Edward VII declares his eldest daughter The Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife, the Princess Royal.

He also orders that the daughters of Princess Louise, Lady Alexandra Duff and Lady Maud Duff are to be styled as Princesses of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the style Highness.

So they built a big bonfire on bonfire night at Heaton Norris Park – sometimes they still do.

Picture courtesy of ©Phil Rowbotham

In 1935 the area seems to be little more than windswept cinders and thin forlorn grass, traversed by broad uneven paths – overlooking the dark industrial mire below.

Into the 1960s and although now there is the provision of a children’s play area, the park is still in need of a little more care and attention, the immediate surroundings a dense dark warren of industrial activity and terraced housing.

In 1968 the construction of two twelve storey Stockport County Borough Council residential blocks begins, alongside the recreation grounds, Heaton and Norris Towers, creating 136 new homes.

The 1970s sees the banked gardens bedded out with summer flowers and a crazy golf course on the edge of the bowling area. Both of these features are now a thing of the past, the future financing, care and maintenance of our parks is always precarious, especially during times of central government funding cuts and enforced austerity.

© John Davies

The park now has a Friends group to support it, along with I Love Heaton Norris. The area is cared for and used by all ages and interests children’s play, bowls, tennis, conservation area, football, picnic and floral areas – somewhere and something to be very proud of, social spaces for sociable people.

And much beloved of Natalie Bradbury the SS Norris concrete boat.

Take a walk over the concrete bridge or along Love Lane and treat yourself to a day in the park

Archive photographs Stockport Local Image Archive