A visit to The People’s Park Halifax
As its name suggests, this is a park specially designed for all the people of Halifax to enjoy at a time when only the largest houses had gardens. Situated about a mile from the town centre on the A58 towards Burnley, this 12.5 acre park, opened in 1857, is a very special one. Designed by Joseph Paxton, originally a gardener at Chatsworth House, The People’s Park is one of several public parks and burial grounds he created. However, he is best known for his design of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851.
The People’s Park was laid out in an area of open fields but is now surrounded by later 19th century housing. Sir Francis Crossley, a local carpet manufacturer of great fame, donated the park for the enjoyment of the people. It was designed to combine art and nature so that it could provide relaxation and pleasure after a hard days work. It was an area of quiet enjoyment where locals could stroll, meet, chat and enjoy music performed on the bandstand. His own home Belle Vue was just across the road.
It has several impressive entrances with stone gate piers and cast iron gates with curving paths leading from each, through impressive deciduous trees, many of which are now over 150 years old, to the more formal centre of the park. Here the main building is the Grade 11 listed Crossley Pavilion with an arcaded seating area and statue of Sir Francis Crossley made by Joseph Durham 1814-1877. His most famous commission is the Memorial to the Great Exhibition 1851 consisting of a fountain surmounted by a bronze statue of Prince Albert and four figures representing the corners of the world which stands in front of the Royal Albert Hall in London. The water feature within the pavilion walls has bowls shaped like scallop shells above which are heads of sea gods. Water was designed to flow from the heads into the shells and from there into pools.
On the adjoining terrace are 7 (formerly 8) marble statues of classical figures. Unfortunately Apollo arrived broken after his journey from Carrara, Italy and sadly a few of the others have sustained later minor injuries too.
Dominating the lawns is the bandstand constructed in 1882 of cast iron and timber with a zinc roof. It has hosted many bands and entertainers over the years. Close by is a 2om diameter pond. Originally blessed with a fountain designed by Paxton called ‘a nest of jets’, it now features a central statue which was moved from the winter garden of Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk in 1914 by the descendants of Frank Crossley.
Nearby is a most impressive sundial which was donated to the park in 1873. Originally created by John Smith 1807-1895 of Bielby near Pocklington East Yorkshire for a school in North Yorkshire in 1858, it is a splendid example of its type. Another piece of his work is the vertical sundial at Castle Howard near York.
The Serpentine Pools, 180m long with an island and crossed by 2 cast iron bridges, are very popular with the local bird life too. 3 marble urns feature at the entrance to one of the bridges and originally the water here was drinking water supplied from a reservoir nearby.
The Drinking Fountain, donated in 1859, is similar to another in nearby Savile Park but a clean water supply could not be restored to it in 1995 although the stonework has been repaired.
Close by, on the North side of the park and screened by trees is the childrens playground whilst on the South side are examples of exotic trees and shrubs. The South West corner originally had glasshouses but now horse chestnut, beech and ash trees have colonised the area although some conifers were planted as part of the 1995 restoration.
Just a mile from Dyer’s Holiday Cottage, take a walk up Wakefield Gate and across Savile Park for a very interesting discovery and exploration of The People’s Park. The map is provided by Calderdale Council.