Taking advantage of a rare sunny day in Burnley, Lancashire, we headed for one of the local parks, Thompson Park. This is an Edwardian urban garden with many of the original features (see history below) including the boating lake.
The main attraction for us was the miniature railway run by the Burnley and Pendle miniature railway society and the playground, both recent additions to the park’s attractions.
History of the park
Thompson Park was built in the 1920s after a local benefactor – James Witham Thompson – left the council £50,000 in his will.
The council bought a piece of land which was then used as a plantation and alotments from the local mine owner. It formed part of the grounds of Bank Hall which had been the home of General Scarlett, a hero of the Crimean War for the successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaklava which routed the Russians. Although London born and Eton-educated he married a Burnley coal heiress and made his home in the town where he died and was buried in 1871.
The park was officially opened in 1930 and the construction work was mainly carried out by the unemployed. Locals used to say that men were forced to work there in order to qualify to receive their dole money which was 15 shillings a week for 15 weeks (that’s 75p in modern money). The conservative government had only passed the Unemployment Insurance Act legislation in 1920 when there was little unemployment but that changed the following year as unemployment swiftly rose..
The park contained a boating lake and a children’s paddling pool, created by damming the River Brun, a boathouse, Italian gardens, a conservatory, tea rooms, a rose garden with 5,000 trees, and an ornamental bridge over the lake.
During the second world war the park was used for growing vegetables. The only bomb to drop on Burnley during that war fell on the conservatory in 1940.
Bank Hall later became a maternity hospital and there was an Open Air school for “physically defective children“. These residential schools were originally set up to tackle tuberculosis by giving children as much fresh air as possible. With the introduction of antibiotics after WWII tuberculosis case declined so they were used to educate children with physical handicaps. The school was demolished in 1972 and is now the site of the miniature railway.
There was also a bandstand there in the 1960s and the boating lake was popular on Sundays with local lads taking their girls out for a row in a skiff (that’s how I learned to row).