Monthly Archives: December 2013

Visitors from America – the 1880s and the flower garden

Towneley Hall - croquet lawn in the 1860s

This is one of the earliest photographs of the gardens at Towneley in the 1860s. In the foreground are croquet hoops, while a flower garden enclosed by a wire fence can just be made out to the south east of the house .

In the 1880s, the fictitious Lawrence-Townley Estate was used to separate thousands of people in North America from their money in a great fraud. It was suggested there was a large estate in England held in the Court of Chancery because the rightful heirs had gone to America. These heirs were the descendant of Mary Townley who married John Lawrence. All the heirs needed was the loan of money to prove their claim in the English courts and, when successful, the heirs would repay the loans ten times over.

While this does not concern Towneley Park directly, it tells us that Towneley was well known throughout America and some of those duped came over to England and recorded their visit to Towneley. Amongst these records is one giving a good description of the gardens around 1884. It is the only known written account of the flower garden to the south east of the Hall in the 19th century:

“”From the side windows of both drawing rooms there is a beautiful grass plat surmounted by a fine wire fence to keep the hares out. This is changed into a beautiful garden in the center by beds of flowers which are arranged into different designs each year. The design at present is a crescent about two feet wide by ten feet curve, filled with red and yellow flowers; opposite the curve, some three feet away, is a rosette some four feet in diameter filled with flowers; then to the right of the first crescent is another facing the other way and a rosette in front of it, and on the opposite side another one with a rosette in front of that; beyond the three is a diamond. The same arrangement is on the other end, while in the center the crescents are reversed; the whole with the bright colored flowers making a beautiful picture. In the rear of the gardens are large sized forest trees bordered by numerous rhododendrons. In the rear of the building is a smooth, well kept, grassy plot of nearly an acre in size bordered in the distance by large forest trees, several paths lead in different directions through the woods; one to the farm-house, one to the kitchen garden, one to the flower garden, and others to other portions of the estate.” [Other Days, Charles Valentine Townley, Olathe, Kansas] .

The flower garden and the wire screen fence appear in many postcards of Towneley Park after it was opened to the public. These show that Burnley Corporation retained the Victorian flower garden, as can be seen in this postcard from the 1920s, before the War Memorial was built.

Flower Beds, Towneley Park, Burnley

During World War II, the fence was removed for scrap metal, and then in 1944 a fountain-type bird bath added to the garden. In 1950, the current hedge of green and golden yew was planted. The photograph below shows the Italian Garden, as it came to be known, in 1987.

Italian garden in 1987


As part of a 2013/14 Heritage Lottery funded project to explore the history of Towneley Park and its landscape some of the project researchers interviewed local people to record their memories of Towneley. 

With grateful thanks to Joan Vincent and Anne Francis.  Research by Prue Wilkinson & Jackie Hindle South.
Part of Joan’s interview can be seen here:
All bedding box photos here 
All other Towneley photos can be seen here:

Vincent’s Garden Centre.

Joan’s husband, George was the brother of Jim Vincent who was the original owner of the garden centre. Jim worked in the mill and had an allotment in Healey Wood. He grew chrysanthemums and would sell what he could locally. A passerby, Mr Haffner, asked Jim if he had thought of taking up growing flowers as a business. ‘Mr Haffner offered Jim a loan and helped him to get a Towneley small holding (the one left standing).

Jim chose that one because of its position near the river. The business thrived with his wife Carry selling home made produce, eg jams, on a market stall.

clip_image002As the family became more affluent Jim decided to build a bungalow nearby and the stone used was from a chapel in Burnley which had been pulled down. It was believed to be the chapel which was nearby the present Keirby Walk. At a later date a house was built for his son which is also still there. The bungalow can be found down a drive on the right past the garden centre. To find the house go past the garden centre and carry straight on and the house is set back on the left



The Towneley Bedding Box.

Joan has strong memories of visiting her ‘Grandma Francis’ with her Aunt Clara. When Joan visited, the house was on Huffling Lane now pulled down but on the triangle of green below the railway crossing (not actually her grandma but gt aunt).

Grandma Francis was born Mary Shackleton 21st March 1862 and married John Francis 1894 when aged 32. They had one son and ‘Auntie Clara’ married this son. On the censuses for 1881 and 1891 Mary’s occupation is given as cotton weaver. There is no mention of working at Towneley.  clip_image002[3]

However Joan is in possession of a bedding box which she has had for 50 years. Joan remembers it at her Auntie Clara’s house and her Auntie said it belonged to ‘ Grandma Francis’. The story goes that this had been given as a wedding present to her when she left to marry. The wood was from a tree felled at Towneley. This seems an extravagant gift but it was because she had married late in life and had served the family well.

There is a Mary Shackleton on the Towneley servants’ list but the one on the list and Grandma Francis are two different women with 11 years difference and different fathers’ names.

We contacted another member of the Francis family, Anne Francis , who has researched the family history. Anne was very helpful supplying lots of information but despite knowing the story of the bedding box had no proof that Mary had worked at Towneley. Anne is now working to establish if there is any written proof of the Towneley connection.

Joan’s childhood memories of Towneley.

Joan has many happy memories of Towneley. She remembers being able to access the park from a kissing gate on Todmorden Road opposite the bottom of Brooklands Road. This lead to the rabbit walk where they would play as children but also where everyone went when ‘courting’

She remembers the Coop Dairy and Laundry being there. She also remembers when the stables looked like stables. In her memory there were never horses there but benches where you could sit after buying sweets at a little shop around there somewhere. She also remembers going to listen to the bands in the bandstand with her mum and dad and was so sad to see the photos of it today.


As part of a 2013/14 Heritage Lottery funded project to explore the history of Towneley Park and its landscape some of the project researchers interviewed local people to record their memories of Towneley. 

Grateful thanks to Brenda Rochester for this interview, carried out 16th April, 2013. Research by Prue Wilkinson & Jackie Hindle South.

Brenda’s great, great grandfather was James Shackleton born around the mid 1820s and on the 1841 census he was already a gamekeeper living at Clough Foot, Widdop where now only a barn remains. On his marriage to Alice Helliwell on December 27th 1852 he was already 28 years old, still a game keeper and living in Widdop. Their first daughter Mary Jane Shackleton was born just two days later on the 29th of December1852. Mary Jane Shackleton married James Foulds and Brenda is descended from the Foulds line.

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imageJames and Alice had a son born 11th June 1857 when their address is given as Towneley Park and it is believed James worked as a gamekeeper at Towneley from 1853 onwards until at least 1856. Brenda’s grandmother said that James did not live in Towneley Cottages behind the hall but in the gamekeeper’s cottage at the other side near where the present Offshoots is now. James died in the Old House at Cliviger, which was also owned by the Towneley family. 

Brenda had many happy memories of her own including the path through the golf links called the rabbit walk. She also remembered visiting the bandstand which it was felt may be what is known as the theatre.

Part of interview here