“Gardens for the gardenless”
Lecture held on Feb 15th 2012 at the Methodist Church Hall, Delph

The talk was given by Ruth Colton of Manchester University, who had stepped in at the last moment to replace Dr Hannah Cobb, who was unfortunately unwell.


The period 1880 to 1914 saw the idea of parks being created for the use of all, the lungs of the cities, for games and recreation.


Funds were raised by philanthropists, councils and the public, and by 1914 sixty seven had been built. The new wealth of the middle class allowed temperance and welfare societies to be set up, the wealthy having moved out of the squalid and overcrowded cities. The population growth was so high people were sharing beds in dormitories. There was nostalgia for the past and nature, as seen in John Constable’s paintings of the countryside, but actually machines were replacing people on the land and they had to go to the city for work.


There was concern at the lowering of morals and excessive drinking when working men and women worked together for long hours.


The Guardian in 1886 reported women and children reeling about Manchester so the Temperance Society was set up.


Train travel gave the workers more freedom with reduced working hours, and the parks were used for walking and cycling, but closed at dusk. Ladies were not allowed to stay too late in the park


A comparison of Whitworth Park in Manchester, and Roundwood Park in London shows Whitworth to have had impressive entrance gates, statues of the King and Christ to indicate the Empires wealth and induce people to behave properly. Roundwood had gates and drinking fountains, clean water being a replacement for beer.


Whitworth had straight paths following geometric patterns, Roundwood had meandering paths which lead to a hilly area with views over the city. Benches were mainly used by men, and women had to avert their eyes when walking past men.


The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project has been digging trenches in the park which have found clay pipes, marbles and games, 1932 coronation medallions, and evidence of the lake, an observatory and a red Victorian pathway. The whole community has been involved, residents, students and school children, and the long term unemployed.


In the past there were circuses, Wild West shows, brass bands and it is believed there is an elephant buried somewhere.


There was a Park Keeper who kept control, flowers in beds with their Latin names and in 1916 plants from the 1600’s were planted in a Shakespeare Garden, but there was little for children to play on until late Victorian times.


After the second World War investment in parks was cut back, but in the 1980’s and 90’s there was a revived interest and there is now a Friends of Whitworth Park group so people can be involved.


Edith Howarth     

© Saddleworth Archaeological Trust , 2012