Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Postcards From Home : Park Pride


Old picture postcards provide us with a fine indication of what people saw as important about the area in which they lived or they were visiting. On some occasions they would reflect great industrial or commercial achievement: tall mills, railway viaducts that put mother nature in her place, or busy street scenes full of shops, hotels and lines of horses and carriages. On other occasions they would highlight natural wonders: plunging gorges, tall mountains and ever-winding rivers. There was always an element of local pride in the displayed photographs, and because this was an era of vibrant local government, it was civic pride that was on display. That is why so many of these classic postcards of the first two decades of the twentieth century feature local parks.

This example features three photographs of two of the finest parks in Halifax: Akroyd Park and People's Park. The origin of both can be traced to two of the foremost textile families of the town: - the Akroyd's and the Crossley's. Bankfield Museum and the surrounding Akroyd Park were the former home of Colonel Edward Akroyd (1810-1887): mill-owner, reformer, Member of Parliament, and the prime mover behind a host of schemes to improve the lives of working people. Shortly before  his death - and after he had retired to the seaside - Halifax Town Council bought the Bankfield estate for £6,000, using the mansion to house the town museum and the grounds to form a public park.


This was not the town's first park, by any means. Akroyd had already been one of the prime movers behind the creation of Shroggs Park, and Henry Charles McCrea had given both West View Park and Albert Promenade to the town. But perhaps Halifax's most famous park was the gift of another of these textile titans - Sir Francis Crossley and his creation People's Park.


Crossley, never one to avoid a religiously uplifting story, later wrote about how the idea of the park came to him, during a visit to Canada and the USA in 1855. He wrote about the time that he and his party visited the White Mountains in the State of Maine, in the following terms:-

"I remember that when we arrived at the hotel at White Mountains, the ladies sat down to a cup of tea, but I preferred to take a walk alone. It was a beautiful spot. The sun was just then reclining his head behind Mount Washington, with all that glorious drapery of an American sunset, of which we know nothing in this country. I felt that I should like to be walking with my God on this earth! I said, 'What shall I render to my Lord for all His benefits to me?' I was led further to repeat that question which Paul asked under other circumstances, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' The answer came immediately. It was this: 'It is true thou canst not bring the many thousands thou hast left in thy native country to see this beautiful scenery; but thou canst create beautiful scenes for them. It is possible on a suitable spot so to arrange art and nature, that they shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax; that he shall go and take his stroll there after he has done his hard day's toil, and be able to get home again without being tired.'"

Francis Crossley kept this moment of divine intervention in the forefront of his mind and on his return to Halifax immediately set about realising it. He hired the most famous landscape designer of his day – Sir Joseph Paxton, who, a few years earlier had designed the iconic Crystal Palace – to lay out a park in Halifax and on the 14th August 1857, a day declared a public holiday in Halifax, the People’s Park was opened.

This particular postcard which features these three views of Halifax parks was sent in 1915 by an unknown visitor to the town. In the brief message on the reverse of the card she mentions the parks - "the parks are nice here". Brief as it is, it is a fitting memorial to the town and the parks it was so proud of.




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