There have always been a lot of benches in front of Towneley Hall since the opening of the public park in 1902. This photograph dates from the late 1980s with only a small number of memorial oak benches in the courtyard.
In April 2013, A seat in the Sun mentioned the earliest gift of a bench by the Women’s Gas Federation in 1960 and the earliest private memorial bench donated in 1979. This was presented by Mr & Mrs J. Steadman in memory of their son Donald who died on April 5th 1979. The 1960 bench has not survived but the bench in memory of Donald Steadman is still in place in front of Towneley Hall.
The great increase in the number of memorial oak benches in Towneley Park began in the 1990’s with over 30 benches donated between 1991 and 1999. There were on average another 5 benches added each year in the following 10 years. The cult of the memorial bench can be seen in most public parks throughout the country and the subject was discussed in the BBC1 One Show last October, see Tales From a Park Bench .
In August 2013, 95 memorial and commemorative benches were recorded in Towneley Park. You can download the August 2013 record Towneley_Benches_2013 here as a PDF. It can be used to take a walk around the park, reading the memorials.
Probably the oldest existing memorial bench is outside the Local History Museum. There is a slide of the bench from Winter 1976 showing it in its present position.
It is to the memory of Councillor Arthur Haworth, who was Chairman of the Library and Arts Committee in 1967-68. There is no record who gave it or when but it is likely that this bench was donated by the Towneley Hall Society when the Local History Museum was first opened in 1971. Councillor Haworth was involved in the early proposals by the Towneley Hall Society to repair the building in 1967 but he died in February 1968.
In the last five years, most of the additional memorial benches have been refurbished old park benches painted black rather than oak benches. There are still one or two of the old green park benches with the iron legs painted red out on the golf course.
After Towneley was opened as a public park in 1902, three things were at the top of the Parks Committee’s to-do list – cafe, toilets and seats. In 1904, there were complaints of insufficient benches and, on June 29th, the committee ordered 30 more at a cost of £39. This photograph, with Foldys Cross in the foreground, shows a large number of benches and dates from around 1905 to 1907. (The chimneys seen on the south tower and south buttress were removed in 1908.)
Over the years there has been a gradual replacement of old benches thanks to public gifts. One of the earliest such gifts came from the Burnley committee of the Women’s Gas Federation in 1960 to mark the 21st anniversary of their organisation. The form was a solid structure of teak and was placed in the courtyard at Towneley Hall. Then in 1965, the British Dahlia Growers’ Association offered a seat and plaque to mark the work of J F Barwise to improve the dahlia and this was followed by a similar donation from Burnley Horticultural Society the same year. In 1976, Towneley Tennis Club donated two 6 foot boulevard seats to celebrate 50 years of tennis at Causeway End.
It appears the first donation of a memorial seat from private individuals was in 1979, when according to the minutes of the Recreation and Leisure Committee “the Borough Recreation Officer reported that persons mentioned wish to donate a seat in memory of their son in one of the parks. The donation was gratefully received and the officers were authorised to deal with similar future donations on their merits and locate them on appropriate sites under control of this committee”.
There have been so many of these memorial donations since 1979 that the Heritage Lottery Fund have suggested that the modern benches were not in keeping with the historic landscape. As a result, the offer of benches is now discouraged.