On this day … 6 February 1864

The Preston Guardian published a report on the laying out of Avenham Park. Work continued on the park and on Miller Park and Moor Park for a number of years until all three were officially opened in 1867.

That’s the date that Hewitson gives for the opening of Moor Park in his History of Preston. It is repeated by David Hunt in his more recent history of the town, where he writes that the park ‘was laid out during the Cotton Famine and opened in 1867’.

This calls into question the town’s proud claim to have created the first municipal park in 1833 when it enclosed the final piece of Preston Moor to the north of the town to create a park. The claim was recognised in the park’s listing as Grade II* in 1994, but did not go unchallenged.

That challenge came from a UCLan history professor.

Prof Richard Hoyle, in a long article in a prestigious academic journal in which he said farewell to the town where he had lived (in Lower Bank Road overlooking the park) for nearly two decades, provided detailed arguments to support the assertion of the other two historians.

But they got it wrong. Moor Park’s claim is backed not just by Historic England and the Grade II* listing, which recognises it as ‘an especially early example of a municipal park … the first municipal park laid out by an industrial town’, but by other authorities and by clear physical evidence.

On its website Historic England writes, ‘The “Plan of improvements on Preston Moor”, published in the Preston Chronicle (1833), shows the boundaries and basic design of the site remain unchanged.’

And adds:

During the Cotton Famine of the early 1860s, the Town Council commissioned Edward Milner to prepare a report on Preston’s parks. This was part of a wider scheme to assist out-of-work cotton operatives … At Moor Park, Milner retained all the features of the original plan of 1833, adding roads across and round the site, enhancing the tree cover and plantings of ornamental shrubs and landscaping the north-west quarter of the site, including the addition of a rockery and cricket ground.

The key text on the subject of municipal parks is Hazel Conway’s People’s Parks in which she named Moor Park as ‘the first to be established in an industrial town’. In her chronological listing of park foundations, she puts Moor Park third after Regent’s Park in London and the Royal Victoria Park in Bath.

As early as 1845, a major government report had praised Preston for being the only town in Lancashire to possess a public park, surely definitively establishing the town’s claim to precedence, at least in Lancashire. And when in 1836 the council built the pub on the edge of the park on Garstang Road they named it the Moor Park Inn.

Perhaps the clincher is to compare the layout of Moor Park as shown on the Ordnance Survey map of the town in the 1840s (where it is clearly labelled Moor Park) with the layout of Avenham Park shown on the OS map of the 1890s.

Don’t they look remarkably similar in the park features they share? Moor Park was clearly a proper park long before its ‘official’ opening in 1867.

Map of Moor Park, Preston, in the 1840s

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