On this day … 5 May 1877

The Preston papers carried articles heralding the opening of the new Public Nursery and Pleasure Gardens at Farringdon Park, and promising further development on land stretching down to the Ribble that would include a hotel and restaurant and smart villa housing.

Farringdon Hall and its park had been bought a few years earlier by a prosperous Preston nurseryman, James Huddart, from the Hesketh family, which had sold off adjoining fields as the site for the Preston Cemetery on New Hall Lane (giving their name to the Hesketh Arms). The site was bought earlier in 1877 by the company that developed it as the Pleasure Gardens.

The Preston Chronicle was given a tour round the gardens before their official opening, and the reporter was fulsome in his praise:

… we venture to assert … that two-thirds of Preston are totally ignorant of the extensive scale on which it is now being carried on, and of the still greater dimensions it is likely to assume, also of the natural advantages it affords to make it one of the most attractive, most picturesque, and most pleasurable public resorts in or about the town for miles around.

It was enormous site, stretching to ninety acres, with twelve miles of paths wandering through the grounds and, ‘The visitor, on approaching the gardens, will at once be struck by the appearance of a fine gothic entrance lodge, now in course of erection’.

Already built was:

… the grand new show conservatory, probably the largest in the North of England. This elegant building, which has cost the company £1,000, and contains plants amounting in value to almost double that sum … the roof is one compact glass structure, unsupported by pillars, making the whole extremely light and eminently adapted for the rearing of tree ferns, and other plants of larger growth.

Future plans included developing the land on the other side of New Hall Lane, stretching down to the Ribble, with ornamental grounds, pleasure boats on the river, bowling greens, and cricket grounds. The company planned a hotel and restaurant, and intended to develop an up-market estate of expensive villas nearby.

Clearly an ambitious undertaking, but one doomed to fail. The planned expansion did not take off, and in 1880 the company went into liquidation. Afterwards the gardens site was used for range of activities, including sports grounds, a trotting horse circuit and a dance hall.

Between the wars it was home to a Speedway dirt track, but after the war it fell into disuse.

By the 1970s, the site had been cleared, was squashed between housing estates and was being used as a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish. A job creation team was employed to clear the site, and ‘a potential site of an unusual kind was discovered’ that attracted the interest of the county archaeologist Ben Edwards, who wrote up the find in the Lancashire Archaeological Society’s journal:

At one point the stream running down the valley which formed the centre of the Pleasure Gardens disappeared underground and emerged some twenty yards downstream. Between the points of disappearance and re-emergence of the stream was recently discovered a flight of steps some six feet wide and leading downwards. At the bottom of these, on the left, was a stone-blocked doorway itself built of stone. It was at first thought that this might have been the entrance to an ice-house.

Clearing of the doorway revealed that the area behind if was blocked with earth and clay. The cutting of o trench from above showed a few inches of ash derived from the paths of the area, succeeded by nearly three feet of clay. Below this, however, lay mixed sand, gravel and ash, clearly not natural. At this point, it was found necessary to re-fill the excavation because of lack of resources; but it is hoped. that it will be possible after a few weeks, to pursue the investigations further.

It is not known if any further investigation was carried out, so the extent and purpose of the underground structure remains a mystery.

The Preston Chronicle archive, which can be accessed on line for free by anybody with a Lancashire library membership.
Ben Edwards article: https://lancsarchaeologicalsociety.files.wordpress.com/2023/03/lab-3-1.pdf

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