“All I need to make a comedy is a policeman, a pretty girl and a park.” Charlie Chaplin
We all love green, open spaces and the battle to preserve them against the constant threat of development seems to be an inevitable part of 21st century life. But was it any different back in Victorian times, when one of our most loved parks was created?
The development of Heaton Moor Park was born out of the administrative, social, and cultural concerns of the Victorian age. The Victorian ideal of preserving open spaces through the development of public parks had gathered pace throughout the country during the second half of the nineteenth century. Stockport Council was keen to buy into this concept, opening Vernon Park in 1858, Heaton Norris Recreation Ground in 1875, Edgeley Park in 1889, and Hollywood Park in 1893.
At the time, Heaton Moor and Heaton Chapel were Victorian middle-class suburbs, which generated much social pressure to develop the local environment. After returning from their offices or businesses in Manchester or Stockport, and after enjoying an evening meal, residents wanted diversion, and especially so during fine weather in the evening. The development of a local park to add to the existing social amenities such as the Heaton Chapel Literary and Philosophical Society, Heaton Mersey Cricket, Tennis and Lacrosse Club, Heaton Moor Golf Club, Heaton Moor Amateur Dramatic Society, Heaton Moor Men’s Club and The Railway Hotel Bowling Club, seemed a natural step in making The Heatons the perfect place to live.
The demand for recreational areas was also very much supported by older residents who were seeing existing open spaces being eaten up by housing for the new wealthy incomers. There were many Heatonians who would remember the district as a completely open, rural and country area, and it was only natural for them to demand the retention of some of their treasured green spaces.
Baron Wilbraham Egerton of Tatton, owner of the Egerton Estates and residual manorial rights, was the benefactor of Heaton Moor Park and he donated approximately four acres of land to Heaton Norris Council in 1894.
When the Park was opened on 17th July 1897, the occasion was linked with a royal event, namely Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The opening of the park had already been planned but the occasion was a good opportunity to hasten the somewhat leisurely progress of the site’s layout and development. The work had been in progress for almost three years, which seems slow, but not when you consider that only three men were involved in the process: a head gardener, an assistant gardener, and a youth to help with the labouring.
Before the advent of mass media, virtually all public events were local events with their own distinctive flavour and character. They were a way in which local people’s groups, churches, and political and social organisations could visibly interact, and a large crowd could almost certainly be guaranteed. Although no photographic evidence exists, the opening was fully reported in the Stockport Advertiser and details that Mr G H Bailey (The Chairman of the Council) presided over the presentation of a handsome gold key to Mr T T Shann (Chairman of the Recreation Ground Committee) with which to perform the ceremony of the opening of the entrance gates. He duly opened them up, proclaiming, ‘I declares these grounds open for ever and ever.’ Mr Bailey then declared that a poem to celebrate the opening of the park had been written by a local lady, Mrs F E Tonkin, and a copy sent to Her Majesty the Queen. A letter had been received from Her Majesty’s Private Secretary, thanking Mrs Tonkin for the poem and an extract was read to the crowd for their enjoyment. After the formal ceremonies, the Heaton Mersey Sunday School Band played selections of music until dusk and a celebratory dinner was held in the evening at Heaton Moor Conservative Club for all the local dignitaries.
Today the park is supported by a local volunteer group, The Friends of Heaton Moor Park, so, if you have a few spare hours, why not join them? Membership is free and open to anyone who is interested. The park has lots to offer in terms of community work and events, or you might want only to meander down on a quiet day and, in the words of the Small Faces, just ‘rest your eyes in shades of green.’