The above photograph shows the dignitaries arriving at the Causeway End entrance to Towneley Park just before 3pm on Saturday June 28th 1902. The general public were admitted about a quarter of an hour later in time to see the speeches declaring the formal opening of Towneley Park at front of the hall.
Over the past year, the Friends of Towneley Park have been preparing a leaflet describing changes that took place in the park throughout its history, the main change being the transfer from Towneley Demesne Parkland to The People’s Park after 1900. This might suggest that before 1900, the general public of Burnley were excluded from the Park and that after 1900 they were able to come and go as they wished. Of-course, things are never that simple.
On 10 March 1863, the Prince of Wales married Princess Alexandra and all of Burnley took a day’s holiday. Over 30,000 came to Towneley Park to see a military review. This was the first of many celebrations that took place before Towneley Park was purchased for the town. The greatest gathering was for the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, when on Tuesday June 22nd a crowd of between fifty and sixty thousand heard a choir of 13,000 Sunday School children singing the National anthem.
There had been for many years prior to 1900 a public footpath running through Towneley Park, known as the Rabbit Walk. It is still there today. You need to take great care when you pass along it today as it cuts right across the golf course.
There was not unlimited access to the park after 1900. High Royd was available for Sunday School field days but there was a charge of one guinea each day for its use. The Park gates were locked at night and bye-laws were established to define the opening times and the rules were strictly enforced. In 1916, the Parks Committee refused a request from the Burnley Miners’ Association for workmen employed at Towneley Pit to be allowed to pass through Towneley Park between 6 and 7 a.m. from the Small Holdings.
The term “People’s Park” rather than “Public Park” was first used to describe Birkenhead Park, the first publically funded civic park in Britain, opened in 1847. By 1860, there were over 20 People’s Parks throughout England and the local newspaper, the Burnley Advertiser, from 1860 supported the provision of a People’s Park in Burnley. The first aim was simply to provide space for recreation rather than flower gardens and the first recreation ground was opened at Healey Heights in 1872 on land rented from the Towneley family.
John Hargreaves Scott, a former Mayor of Burnley who died in 1881, left money to purchase and lay out a public park for the people of Burnley. In 1887, the Burnley Gazette reported it was proposed to place this park on a plot of ground near the Rabbit Walk in Towneley Park. The newspaper was very much against this proposal on the grounds that it was too far from the town. The report continued
“Again, the public have the right of entry into Towneley Park, and use it pretty freely as a public resort. The Scott’s Park in this locality can only give us a right to sit down when we are tired more than we now possess, and many people would rather see the park as it now is than when decorated by the gardener. The site chosen for the park is flat, and otherwise unsuitable for a people’s park. Money can of-course do anything in the way of decorating but it cannot make full grown trees. A Scott’s Park may spoil Towneley Park, but we do not see how anything more than a sort of garden can be made near the Rabbit Walk. We feel sure that if this site be chosen for the Public Park, much dissatisfaction will be felt throughout the Town” [Burnley Gazette 22nd October, 1887, page 5]
It was not until 1895 that Scott’s Park was opened on Manchester Road, two years after the opening of Burnley’s first public park, Queens’ Park, on July 1st 1893.