Three Rochdale Parks

As with many towns in the United Kingdom, Rochdale has a number of parks in which people can spend time with little cost. Stanney Brook, Denehurst and Hare Hill at Littleborough are amongst them but here I focus on three large parks in the borough, Broadfield, Falinge and Springfield.

Broadfield Park

The 30 acres of land below Rochdale Parish Church were for many years glebe lands for the use of the parish priest and ‘acceptable gentlemen’ who might wish to take the air. In the 19th century the area consisted of three gravel paths bordered by shrubs and flower beds. However, pressure mounted in the 18th century, especially from Liberals on the council, to purchase the land for a public park. The church stood firm at £600 an acre and the Tory party disagreed with the whole idea, believing that working people had no time for recreation. However, after the passing of the Vicarage Bill which gave more power to local authorities, a sale was agreed in 1868. The park was landscaped by Stansfield’s of Todmorden to include a lake and separate playgrounds for girls and for boys and on 1st August 1874 Broadfield Park was opened to the public.

The oldest park in Rochdale, boundary walls were built in the early 20th century and the park extensively refurbished over the years to include a Victorian-style bandstand, bowling greens (1908) and further play areas for children. Broadfield also contains important town monuments, the statue of John Bright MP and a monument erected in 1900 to the memory of Rochdale’s dialect poets. Some of the stranger aspects of Broadfield Park’s history include the presence at one time of a large cannon, supposedly dating from the Crimean War which was known as Big Bertha. Before it was taken away to be used as metal for the war effort in the early 1940’s it stood near to what became the nurse’s home, now a hotel. Elsewhere in the park is the large boulder (I was always, wrongly, told that it was a meteorite) found at Cown Top in Castleton and presented to the corporation and at one time near St Albans Street there was allegedly a tombstone to a dog which had been owned by Miss Harriot Drake daughter of a former vicar at the Parish Church.

Falinge Park

An estate of 18 acres between Falinge Road and Sheriff Street had been owned by the Royds family since 1799 with Mount Falinge mansion at its centre built in early 19th century by James Royd who lived in it until subsequent generations of Royds took it over. In the early days the house, which had been a political centre for liberalism, was offered for sale in the 1860’s but it was not until the early 20th century that the entire estate was sold. Samuel Turner, one of the brothers who went on to transform TBA from its beginnings as a cotton mill, had started negotiations with the Royds family in the 1890’s to purchase Mount Falinge estate, including mansion, outbuildings and grounds. Unoccupied since 1891, the house was by that time run down and Turner, the mayor of Rochdale in 1902, settled on ‘a rather stiff price’ with Albert Hudson Royds but after securing the sale he presented it as a park to the town. It has been estimated that it cost Turner £20,000 plus a donation of £2500 towards the £9000 cost of fencing and park lay-out. The large conservatories and 4 or 5 vine houses needed repair but a decision was made to demolish many of the outbuildings, stables and other buildings instead and convert part of the mansion for use as a museum and art gallery.

Following a procession from the Town Hall, the park was opened to the public on 5th August 1905 by Samuel Turner with a golden key ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of the borough.’  An old bandstand which was built, burnt down and later rebuilt saw bands playing there for many years, latterly under the auspices of the Friends of Falinge Park. Eventually the mansion was demolished, leaving only the sealed façade that can be seen to this day, a sad end to a long Rochdale heritage.

Springfield Park

Springfield Park, located between Rochdale and Heywood is the town’s largest park. The Borough’s General Purpose Committee was authorised in 1914 to acquire from Mr J Davenport the Springfield Estate (Springfield House, Springfield Farm and adjoining buildings) in order to establish a tuberculosis sanitorium as part of an anti-consumption crusade, although by 1924 it was in use as a maternity hospital. Further negotiations and expansion went on through the 1920’s with the development of tennis courts, bowling green and a 9-hole putting course. The Mere pastures and 6 acres from Mereside Farm were purchased in 1925 enabling schools to use land for sporting activities. When 44 acres of Marland Fold Farm became available a local benefactor, Frederick Lye, stepped up (literally) to the tee. Lye, a successful business man had already bequeathed land for playing fields at Firgrove and Lenny Barn but was a keen golfer so with the help of a £2000 loan from the Ministry of Health bought land which he gave to the borough in order to build a municipal golf course in the park which was opened in April 1927.

Springfield Park continues to be popular with its ‘Fish Pond’, its miniature railway, its running track, playing fields, golf course and tennis courts, all adding a further aspect to Rochdale’s rich recreational environment.

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