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.
The area around the park was a dense warren of housing and industry.
The parks provided a welcome relief from the tarmac, brick and concrete – very, very few homes having had access to a garden.
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.
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.
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.