During the early part of the 1900s our parks provided a refuge for workers at weekends when they were released from the chains of industry and able to walk in green spaces and enjoy a park’s peaceful surroundings.

Open spaces took them away from the grim terraced houses in which most workers lived and it must have been heaven being away from hard work and the noise of industrial machinery. In the mid-1800s Britain’s industrialists saw the benefit of green spaces for their workers with many of them having moved from farming to work in mill towns.

Eddy Rawlinson Towneley Park
Towneley Hall was the home of the Towneley family for over 500 years and in 1901 was sold to Burnley Corporation who made it an international visited art gallery and museum The grounds cover an area of some 180 hectares (440 acres).

“Manicured carpets of green grass were places where no visitor could tread”

Some bosses bought land, had it landscaped, and the word parkland was no longer the name just for a place where the rich went hunting. Mill owners became philanthropists with their gift to the community of open land being made into parks and bearing their names, still with us today. In the late 1800s and at the start of the last century town council’s also bought up space for leisure development and people’s parks came into being.

My own local Towneley Park with its famous hall was bought by Burnley Council in 1902 from the Towneley family. My early memories of Towneley are from the 1930/40s when ‘keep off the grass’ was an order to be obeyed. Manicured carpets of green grass were places where no visitor could tread and numerous heavy metal signs passed on that ‘keep off’ warning. Uniformed park keepers with the wave of a stick would shout: “Ger off that grass” and offenders respectfully obeyed. Restrictions included kicking a ball on a park pitch was only allowed by organised football teams on a Saturday afternoon. In all areas of the park all dogs, there were more mongrels than thoroughbreds, had to be on a permanent lead.

Eddy Rawlinson Towneley Park
Matchstick Match… The playfields are part of Towneley’s activities.

“War interrupted many of those park romances when those boys and girls were called up to serve their country”

With people not having motor cars and unable to travel far, their nearest park became territorial and their home ground. On a Sunday, with no entertainment other than listening to the gospel in the morning and Sunday school in the afternoon, the young ones after religious teachings would head for their local park. It was a place where boys met girls from which many a marriage followed. War interrupted many of those park romances when those boys and girls were called up to serve their country.

In my local Towneley Park grassed areas, once ‘no-go’ areas, are where visitors now walk freely with children able to run and play on this once hallowed ground. Today our parks are no longer just a get away from industrial surroundings and park keepers shouting: “stop running” if a group of young ones broke into a gallop. Every Saturday morning at Towneley hundreds of women, men and youngsters set off early on an organised 5k park run then jump into their cars and go home. Like other parks Towneley has kept up with the times.

I have been honoured with my black and white photographs of today’s modern Towneley to go on show in the hall’s Stocks Massey gallery along with another photographic display, “It’s Not Negative”. The exhibition starts on the 31st of October until the 4th of February 2018 with the hall open every Saturday and Sunday from midday until 5pm.

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