A History of Thompson Park
The history of Thompson Park dates back to 1920 when, after the death of James Witham Thompson, £50,000 was left in his will for the Council to build a public park. The area chosen was on part of the Bank Hall Estate adjacent Burnley College in the centre of town, and was formerly part of Sand Holme Farm, a plantation and allotments.
An option to purchase the land for £10,000 was obtained from the owner, Sir John Thursby Bart. a local mine owner and the scheme was approved in October 1922. Notice of termination of tenancies for the allotments was issued in 1928 and work began on construction.
Construction of Boating Lake and Italian Gardens
The Park was designed by the Borough Engineer, Mr Arthur Race and it bears some similarities to the much larger Stanley Park in Blackpool. The first designs appeared in the Burnley Express in October 1928 and was to consist of a 3 acre boating lake with ornamental bridges crossing the lake and the river, a conservatory 73’ long by 28’ wide, tea rooms, a paddling pool, rose garden, herbaceous garden, Italian Garden, and lodge house. A children’s playground was added in 1932, adjacent to the paddling pool.
During construction, which was carried out by local contractors, over 50,000 trees and shrubs, around 7,000 privets of different varieties and 5,000 roses were planted along with bedding and exotic plants and carnations for the greenhouses, conservatory, and tree carnation house.
Thompson Park Conservatory
Construction was completed by 1930 and the Park was officially opened on July 16th by the Mayor of Burnley, Alderman H.R. Nuttall, J.P. Prior to the official opening the Park was opened to the public at Whitsuntide and such was its popularity that an estimated 4,500 people used the boating lake over the weekend.
Official Opening, July 16th 1930
Originally 20 rowing skiffs and 10 Canadian canoes were ordered from Salter Bros., Oxford, at a cost of £680 10s for use on the lake. In addition it was agreed to introduce motor boats, and the first of these were purchased in 1933.
The boating lake
In 1931 a memorial to the heart disease specialist Sir James Mackenzie, who practiced in Burnley from 1897 to 1907, was unveiled in the rose garden. It consists of a bronze bust by F. Roslyn set in a granite niche.
During the war years the Park was used for growing vegetables and boating was offered free to convalescent servicemen from Whaley Military Hospital. Also of note is that the only bomb to hit Burnley fell in Thompson Park on October 27th 1940 near the conservatory, it was actually intended for Liverpool but was jettisoned over Burnley to rid a returning bomber of weight.
After the war the Park continued to be very popular although a steady decline had begun. Several of the original features were closed or demolished. This began with the relocation of the greenhouses to Queen’s Park in 1957 and continued with the closure of the café in 1971, the phasing out of the motor boats in 1973 and finally, after much debate over the cost of restoration, the demolition of the conservatory in 1975.
From 1977 to 1984 Thompson Park, Queen’s Park, and Scott Park were at the centre of the Burnley by-laws dispute regarding the banning of dogs from parks. After a public outcry and extensive local and national media coverage and a court case that went to the House of Lords dogs were re-admitted to Scott Park but they remain excluded from Thompson and Queen’s Parks.
In the late 1990’s the Friends of Thompson Park were formed and a period of renaissance began.
- The playground and paddling pool were improved and modernised.
- Improvements to the herbaceous garden, shrub beds, rose beds, and flower beds are in progress.
- In the winter of 1999/2000 the Forest of Burnley project planted many specimen trees in the Park and the Friends group planted a community orchard.
- In 1998 the Burnley and Pendle Miniature Railway Society were given permission to build a permanent track in the Park, phase one was completed in 2002, and phase two in 2005.
- Improved signage was installed in the Park and brown tourist signs directing people to the Park have been erected.
- In 1999 the Park attained Green Flag status and also won the North West in Bloom award for the best feature in a public park for the Italian Gardens.
- In 2002 the Friends group opened a small café/kiosk in the boat house.
- The toilets near the playground were roofed (they were previously open air!) and extensively modernised and disabled and baby changing facilities added in 2003.
Throughout its history Thompson Park has proved to be an extremely popular and convenient asset to the town and with the boating lake and paddling pool provides activities rarely available in this area of the country. Locals appreciate the easy access from all areas of town and the Park is widely regarded as the most attractive in Burnley. A debt is owed to the generosity and vision of James Witham Thompson for providing the funds for such a popular and much admired park.