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The Opening of Stanley Park

By Barry Shaw

Illustrated holiday guide cover showing both the Blackpool Illuminations and Stanley Park
Stanley Park illustrated in the 1931 Holiday Guide (Publicity Department Collection)

The greatest period of expansion in Blackpool’s history was between 1870 and 1900, during which time the population increased from around 5,000 to almost 48,000.

From the early 1900s, councillors were drawing attention to the need for open spaces and recreational provision for the town, to meet expectations of a growing residential population and the ever increasing number of visitors.

In 1920, Alderman Sir Robert Lindsay Parkinson purchased a large area of land to the east of the town at 4½d a yard freehold. He then persuaded his fellow councillors to buy the land from him at the same price he had paid for it and seek to develop it as a park and recreational centre. Other adjoining parcels of land were compulsorily purchased with smaller parcels being donated by Alderman Sir John Bickerstaffe, Thomas Marquis Watson and William Lawson. Having assembled this extensive area of around 288 acres, the Council were concerned that it should be developed and laid out to a high standard.

In 1921, the corporation of Blackpool commissioned T.H. Mawson and sons of London and Lancaster to prepare and plan a comprehensive park, recreational centre and planning scheme on the land.

Mawsons, who were notable landscape architects, had travelled the continent to study parks and gardens, and had amongst many commissions advised the government of Greece on the re-planning of their capital, Athens. They also advised on the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the United States, and in 1908 they won a competition to lay out the Peace Palace Gardens at the Hague. Thomas Hayton Mawson’s son, Edward Prentice Mawson, was to oversee the park project.

It was to be the most practical and ambitious development to be attempted by an English municipality in modern times, ranking in importance with the most notable achievements of the continent and America. The area was originally devoid of trees and landscaping, comprising of part cultivated fields to the east of the site, and a most heterogeneous collection of dilapidated buildings, pig sties, hen runs, stables, stagnant ponds, caravan dwellings and a brickworks to the west of the site. All the buildings were of a temporary nature: margarine boxes, tea chests, biscuit tins and petrol signs being pressed into service for walls and roofing materials.

There was at the time considerable difficulty in removing tenants off the site, even after eviction orders. Eventually they were forced to leave when trenches were dug under their properties.

During its layout and construction many problems were encountered, both physical and legal. During the later stages around 120 labourers were employed on a relief scheme for the unemployed, and provided with a certain amount of food in return for ‘getting the job done’. It was intended to be a five-year scheme, ending in Blackpool’s jubilee year 1926.

The original estimated cost of the park was £110,000, but the final cost had escalated to £250,000.

The lake was excavated by using a natural depression, covering 26 acres. It was designed to have been 2 feet 6 inches in depth; however during construction reams of peat were found which consequently increased the average depth to 5 feet. The lake contains an estimated 28 million gallons of water supplied mainly from Whinney Heys Dyke, which flows through the Salisbury Woodland Gardens.

Stone for the banks of the lake came from Appley Bridge Quarries near Wigan, to provide protection from wind and wave erosion. The bridges over the lake carry two Fylde Water Board mains, which originally ran on the bed of the lake. The cost for the lake project amounted to £13,783.

A lake with row boats tied along the bank, a bandstand in the background
Stanley Park Lake and Bandstand in the late 1920s (Albert Eden Collection)

Official Opening Ceremony

The park was officially opened on 2nd October 1926, by Edward George Villiers Stanley – 17th Earl of Derby from whom the park takes its name. There are three parks bearing the family name of Stanley – our own, Stanley Park Liverpool, and Stanley Park in Vancouver, named after Lord Derby’s father, who was Governor General of Canada around the turn of the century.

After opening Blackpool’s new South Promenade in the morning, at 3pm Lord Derby was presented with a golden key by the Mayor Thomas Bickerstaffe with which to unlock the main entrance gates. In performing this ceremony Lord Derby expressed the hope that the park would be a place of recreation and health, not only to residents but to the thousands of visitors who came to the town.

A group of men in smart dress walking down a path.
Lord Derby and Mayor Thomas Bickerstaffe at the opening ceremony in 1926 (Blackpool Gazette)

Lord Derby, the Mayor, the Town Clerk and Councillor T.G. Lumb then walked to the Italian Gardens where the official opening ceremony took place. There it was witnessed by an immense crowd. It was a high-profile occasion, with civic dignitaries and eighty Lord Mayors and Mayors of English cities and boroughs all resplendent with their gold chains of office, with guests wearing morning coats and silk hats. Blackpool Lifeboat Band and the Excelsior Silver Band provided entertainment.

In opening the park, and naming it as he was proud to do by the name of Stanley Park, a great honour was conferred on him. He described it as “one of the most comprehensive park schemes carried out on these islands” and “it shall for all time be open to the public in the name of Stanley Park”.

The Mayor then presented Lord Derby with a bound souvenir of Blackpool’s Jubilee, which he thought would be a happy and pleasing memento of the park.

On conclusion of the opening ceremony, and at the request of the Mayor, the Lord Mayors, Mayors, Mayoresses and officials were photographed. The guests then toured the park, and afterwards were entertained at tea in the large marquee on the Blackpool Cricket Club ground. In the evening a civic banquet was held in the Tower Restaurant.