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History of Stamford Park

The history of Stamford Park is a long and varied one; it’s part of the history of Tameside and importantly part of local peoples’ history. The park is situated on the historic boundary between Ashton under Lyne and Stalybridge, that also being the historic boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire. Below is a very brief history of the park, covering the demand for a park, its opening and early years, the changes of the 20th century and the future of the park.
 

The need for a park

One of the first references to Stamford Park is in JR Coulthart’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of Ashton under Lyne which was published in 1844. At this time the industrial revolution was in full swing and social commentators across the North West recognised the poor health of mill workers and the desperate conditions people were living in. Across the region people began to demand, among other improvements, parks for people to enjoy on their day off. Coulthart stated that that the area lacked ‘convenient space for exercise…all classes of the town, particularly the operative classes would derive much physical and moral improvement from an enclosure of the kind, it is exceedingly desirable that Lord Stamford should grant land sufficient for such purpose’.

The need for a park was raised again in 1856 when a letter was sent to the Ashton Reporter suggesting that the cotton workers themselves should raise the money for a park and not depend on the generosity of the mill owners. Campaigning for the park began, funds were raised and a Committee established. The campaigned was boosted when a local mill owner, Samuel Oldham, died leaving £7,000 for the maintenance of a park as well as funds for the maintenance of an infirmary. By 1872 the Committee were able to instruct local solicitor Henry Darnton to negotiate the purchase of Highfield House and grounds. The house had been built and grounds laid out in 1830; it was the former home of Abel Harrison, a local cotton manufacturer until his death in 1865 when the site was put up for sale. A purchase price of £15,000 was agreed and the conveyance records the transfer of the land from the Earl of Stamford to the ‘Trustees of the Public Park for Ashton under Lyne and Neighbourhood’. The task then was to turn what had been a private estate into a public park.
 

The History of Stamford as a Public Park

Local supporters had wanted to employ Joseph Paxton (Birkenhead Park, Chatsworth, People’s Park Halifax) to produce a design but it went out to competition and a Mr Lindley won. However the contract eventually went to Gregory Gill of Stalybridge, who came second, because his designs were more ‘practicable, especially on the grounds of expense’.

Stamford Park was opened officially on the 12th July 1873 to great celebration. The previous day the Lord and Lady Stamford arrived and the towns of Ashton, Stalybridge and Dukinfield were decked out in bunting and flags. A crowd of 60-80,000 arrived on the day to watch the procession and opening ceremony. Following his speech Lord Stamford declared the park open; there was cheering, a fanfare of trumpets and the firing of cannon.

The park was smaller than it is today but featured a range of attractions including a bowling green, flower garden (including the star shapes we still see today), Highfield House (which opened as a museum in 1875) and various curving paths around shrubberies. The cock brook valley (now known as the Dingle) was also within the park although the mills on the other side of the valley were still operating.

Over the following two decades the park developed at pace, first incorporating more land into the park, and then developing the lake to ensure it was safe for boating and skating. Much of the work this period was carried out by Eaton and Sons, local architects who were responsible for the development of the boathouse, ticket office and tool house in the centre of the park. The development of the boating lake and ticket kiosk had other consequences – blue knitted jerseys and cloth caps were ordered for the gardeners to wear when they were operating the boating lake so they would be in keeping with the nautical theme! The late 1890s saw the improvement of the Dingle, and the introduction of the rock work into this area by a Mr George Briggs of Ashton under Lyne. His father, Francis Briggs, had been landscape gardener to Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth and had trained his son in the design and building of rock work. Swings and a ladies gymnasium were also added to the park at around this time.

Monuments and memorials have been added to the park all through its history to commemorate and remember both people and events. Among these the Joseph Raynor Stephens memorial was unveiled in 1888. The memorial was commissioned by local factory workers to commemorate the work Stephens had done promoting fair wages and working conditions. Other memorials included the Hannon Fountain; William Isaac Hannon was an important local botanist who had introduced wild flowers into the Cock Brook valley.
 

Into the 20th Century

The park progressed further in the early part of the 20th century, the Ordnance Survey Map of 1906 shows the layout of two additional bowling greens, model boating pool and a bandstand. The conservatory opened in 1907 and was donated by John Nield; it housed palms, bananas, orange, cotton and other subtropical plants. By the start of World War Two the railings and bandstand were removed from the park and ‘Holidays at Home’ were promoted. Stamford Park had always been the place for a ‘grand day out’ and this became even more important both during and after the War.

The 1950s saw the Coronation gates installed at Ashton and Stalybridge entrances, the demolition of Highfield House and the opening of the aviary, miniature garden and garden for the blind.

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