Category Archives: Rabbit walk

1902 – The People’s Park


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.


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