15 facts you might not know about Peel Park
Mar 13, 2018
It might not feel like it at the moment (thanks to the ‘Beast from the East’ earlier this month) but Spring is just around the corner.
1. Ahead of the Curve
Peel Park (named in honour of Sir Robert Peel, a Lancashire lad and former Prime Minister) was one of the very first municipal parks to open in the world on 22 August 1846. It was followed by two other parks in Manchester; Queen’s Park and Philips Park, after a seven year campaign to have public parks accessible for all with the aim to encourage a mixing of the classes. It was a requirement for each of the parks to have playgrounds, as well as provision for archery and quoits, together with skittle and ball alleys, a refreshment room, one or more fountains and retiring places.
2. For the People
What we now know as Salford Museum and Art Gallery was originally Lark Hill Villa, an on-site park mansion serving as refreshment rooms for the public. It was converted to the Royal Museum & Public Library four years later in 1950. The library is said to be the first unconditionally free public library and reading space in the whole of England.
3. The Royal Visit
The statue of Queen Victoria in front of the Salford Museum and Art Gallery was erected in 1857 to commemorate her visit to the Manchester and Salford area in 1851. This was the first royal visit to the region for a century and a half and both Manchester and Salford went to considerable lengths to ensure the visit would be one to remember. From Peel Park the royal procession continued into Manchester, accumulating an estimated whopping 800,000 spectators with a predicted 82,000 Sunday school children performing the National Anthem for Her Majesty during the royal parade.
4. L. S. Lowry
Between 1915-1928 Lawrence Stephen Lowry studied Art at the Salford Royal Technical School, now known as Peel Building (post-1967) after it was granted university status (the University of Salford). There he developed an interest in industrial landscapes and began to establish his own unique style of painting. Lowry built up a strong admiration towards Peel Park and went on to produce several drawings and paintings of it, including one from a balcony in the Peel Building called ‘A View from the Window of the Royal Technical College, Salford’.
5. The Year of the Great Flood
In November 1866, heavy rain fell for three continuous days, bursting the banks of the River Irwell and flooding the surrounding area. The water levels of the river had risen 14 feet above the norm, reaching a flood level of 8 feet 6 inches on Peel Park itself. Street lamps could not be lit and mills were brought to a stop because of it. Located on Peel Park is the original flood obelisk marking the enormity of the great flood as well as marking a second flood that occurred less than four years later which rose to 4 feet 3 inches.
6. The Transformation of Peel Park
Due to its unkempt condition throughout the latter years of the 20th century, Peel Park had sadly fell into disrepair with only a small number of the public actually making use of the grounds, but was successful in a bid made to the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate the park. Then in 2016 received a £1.6m investment sum for refurbishment to restore the park as far back as possible to the structure of its 1890 self by reintroducing some of its historic figures. With the mission statement 'To create the best possible quality of life for the people of Salford' set out by Salford City Council in 2014 with the vision to 'create an attractive, well used park fit for 21st century living, providing a place for enjoyment, inspiration and reflection and a source of local pride'. The project not only celebrated the role the park has played in the life of a constantly growing city but also the renewed emphasis of public use to make the park once again a 'park for the people'.
7. Pink Picnics
The Pink Picnic organisation has been taking over the park for an annual LGBT pride celebration since 2011, with numbers rising from around 120 in 2011 to around 2,000 people in 2014. The event is a brilliant way for people in the LGBT community to get together in a friendly environment and help make neighbourhoods in Salford safe and friendly places to live, work and enjoy social activities together. For those interested in attending The Pink Picnic 2018, it will be taking place on Saturday 14 July in Peel Park and is free for all to attend.
Voluntary nature conservation sessions take place regularly at the park which are open to the public as well as students led by the Salford Ranger Team (for details on how and when to get involved go to www.salford.gov.uk/parks-and-open-spaces/volunteering). There are also organisations like Friends of Peel Park who organise events for the park as well as meet up on a regular basis to discuss park maintenance. For more information about Friends of Peel Park head to www.friendsofpeelpark.co.uk/test.html, new members are always welcome!
9. The Fabric of Nature
Located on the park grounds at the derelict tennis courts next to the children’s play area, is a spiral earthwork/garden set named The Fabric of Nature inspired by Victorian textile design and architectural detailing on nearby buildings as well as the River Irwell that flows adjacent to the park. Conceived as layers of spirals at different levels of detail with each path up the mound leading to a semi hidden central space containing a carved brick seat in the shape of unfurling leaves overlooking a circle of paving set with metal panels of etched leaves of all the trees in the park, inviting you in to looking in detail at the trees of the park and out again to discover them.
10. Joseph Brotherton
Upon the construction of the Maxwell building around 1960, several features of the park were removed, including the statue of Joseph Brotherton. This statue has just been returned back to the park with an event to be taking place to mark its return. Joseph Brotherton was the son of a local mill owner and worked in the mill growing up as a young lad, until he was old enough to help his father in running the business. He retired young and stood for election in 1832 when Salford could vote for its own Member of Parliament for the first time, we was elected and then later re-elected. Joseph was an admirable and well respected man as people knew he had experienced the kind of work that they did. He was also an early advocate of vegetarianism and his wife wrote one of the very first vegetarian cookbooks.
11. John Plant
John Plant (the first curator of the Salford Museum) recorded 71 different species of birds here on the park, of which 34 of those species were breeding in the 1850s. By 1882 his records shown there were as little as 5 species remaining residentially on the park with only Sparrow and Starling breeding. He blamed the pollution of both air and water from surrounding mills and factories for this radical reduction of wildlife.
12. Black Silt
The Head Gardener of the park reports talk of flood events depositing polluted river water on the park leaving behind a coat of black silt which killed trees, shrubbery and bedding plants. And also about the first Head Gardener of the park who sadly drowned trying to save a woman from the river in the latter end of the 19th century.
Conditions on the park have improved so much that there is now an abundance of life in the park and the River Irwell is a designated Site of Biological Interest for wintering waterfowl. There are now also residential Little Grebes, Moorhens, Cormorants and Herons (all of which rely on aquatic food), as well as other bird species on the park such as Woodpeckers, Nuthatch and the occasional Ring Necked Parakeets.
14. Crescent Meadow
The meadow across the river from the park is managed as a protected wildlife site and is considered a ‘Brownfield site’ due to its many uses over the years, including a pond which has abundant life and is great for Newts and also popular with Herons.
15. The Victorian Peel Park
On Sunday 22nd April between 12pm - 4pm The Victorian Peel Park is opening its gates to visitors after undergoing an extensive refurbishment funded by the Heritage Lottery and Big Lottery. Why not join them for this free fun day to celebrate spring. There will be live music, performance, archery, games, arts workshops and much more. Why not bring the family and a picnic to enjoy in the beautiful new surroundings.