Heaton Park is the largest urban park in the UK, covering over 600 acres. Grade II listed by the English Heritage Register of Parks, the park contains a number of features including, a golf course, boating lake, animal farm, ornamental gardens, woodlands, adventure playground and bowling greens.
This Heaton Park sound walk explores the history of the park and the many changes over the years. You can follow all of the stops in order; or you can customise the walk to visit the locations of your choice. You can even make a rest stop at one of the 4 cafés in the park; located at the stables, the boathouse, Heaton Park garden centre and Heaton Park golf centre.
The audio clips for this sound walk are from the Manchester Oral Histories collection (UAP007) held at Archives+, Manchester Central Library and from Manchester Studies collection (UAP008) held at Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, Ashton.
In 1772 Sir Thomas Egerton commissioned James Wyatt to design a home for his family. Heaton Hall was completed in 1789. James Wyatt also designed some of the other buildings around the park. Sir Thomas later employed William Emes to landscape the park. The estate remained in the Egerton family until 1902 when the 5th Earl of Wilton decided to sell the hall and park. Manchester Corporation bought the estate for £230,000 and provided a number of public facilities.
During WWI the park was used as a training ground for the Manchester Pals battalions and the hall became a military hospital. During WWII the Royal Air Force used the park to train aircrew and a barrage balloon was placed there.
The park was restored in a partnership between the Heritage Lottery Fund and Manchester City Council. This recreated some of the original Emes landscape around the Hall and restored four of the Wyatt buildings.
Stop 1 – Grand Lodge
Sir Thomas Egerton wanted an impressive entrance to the park and in 1807 he commissioned Lewis Wyatt, nephew of James, who designed Heaton Hall. The triumphal arch originally led to a long carriage drive up to the hall. The lodge has 2 two floors of accommodation, with cellars under the west wing and an attic over the arch. There is a memorial plaque to the ‘Manchester Pals’ who trained in the park during WWI. Today the lodge has been also been renovated and converted into self-catering accommodation.
First Mr. Diggle talks about his family background; his grandfather worked for Lord Wilton on the Heaton Park estate. “…my father and his brothers were brought up at the grand lodge…” (1103/662) e01; then Peter Smith on the Grand Lodge at the entrance to the park. “The other entrance I believe was the Grand Lodge, which was built for the Earl of Wilton…” (OH-2380_e01GL)
Stop 2 – Boating lake and boat house
The boating lake was not part of the original estate, but constructed between 1908 and 1912. Teams of previously unemployed men created the 12 acre lake and three islands using only shovels and hand pulled carts. During the summer months today boats and pedalos are available to hire. It is also possible to obtain fishing permits from the park’s host fishing club, the King William IV Angling Society.
First Marian Keshishian remembers the boating lake near the Heaton Park entrance and the different types of boats there. “…you could have a row boat which would take 3 I suppose…or you could have a skiff which was a light boat just for one, or you could go on the big steamer…” (OH-2369_e01); then Peter Smith recalls the lake freezing over “I think the winter of 1940…the lake was frozen…for 6 weeks, a very harsh winter, of course everyone was skating then…” (OH-2380_e06)
Stop 3 – Hutments and Prefabs by Sheepfoot Lane and Middleton Road
From September 1914, this area was used as a tented camp for four battalions of the Manchester Regiment. In 1915 the park became a convalescent centre with the tents replaced by wooden army huts and used by recuperating soldiers. In the early 1920s they were converted into accommodation, with some buildings used for a shop, washhouse and bathhouse.
The prefabs were built in 1947 on the site by Sheepfoot Lane and Middleton Road. In total 207 detached homes were assembled by German prisoners of war. Intended as temporary accommodation due to war time housing shortages, families were still living in the prefabs until they were demolished in the 1960s.
The White Heather Club was a charity set up between the wars to help poor children. A camp was created behind the hutments in the 1920s and 1930s using surplus tents with organised games and activities.
First Brian Brown shares details of the prefabs and recalls the housing in the park prior to the 1940s prefabs. He outlines how the 17th Manchester Volunteer battalion were billeted in the park during WWI. “They were in avenues which were just served by a footpath between them, the main road was a ‘H’ shape, with the access being off Sheepfoot Lane…” (OH-2393_e01 and OH-2393_e02); then Peter Smith talks about the White Heather camp and seeing the opening of the camp by Amy Johnson. “My first memory of it was it was opened by Amy Johnson and my father took my sister and myself to see the opening, to see the famous Amy Johnson back from her exploits…” (OH-2380_e07)
Stop 4 – Trams
After Heaton Park was bought by Manchester Corporation a tram line was extended into the park. On 3 May 1903 the first tram brought visitors from the city centre into the park. The following year a pavilion was built for visitors waiting for a return tram back to the city centre. In 1976 the pavilion was converted into a tram shed for the Tramway Museum.
Tram rides continue to take place in the park today between Middleton Road and Lakeside. The depot at Middleton Road is home to the Heaton Park Tramway museum and shop, run by the Manchester Transport Museum Society.
First Peter Smith talks about the tram system round the lake and also mentions the monkey walk that also took place on Sundays. “The tram used to come up and go around the lake, drop anybody off there and come back on to the main thing…” (OH-2380_e05); then Brian Brown recalls visitors coming into the park, some driving and parking by the disused tram side and others arriving by bus. “…to the right was where the old trams used to go when the trams, the Corporation trams, ran in to Heaton Park turned around and came out…the only car park that was ever needed was that disused tram side…” (OH-2393_e08)
Stop 5 – Bandstand
There were 2 bandstands in the park; the larger one built in 1906 looked like an open air theatre with seating. This was ideally sited in the natural hollow between the hall and the lake. At weekends there would be different entertainment, from talent shows to brass bands.
First Jack Taylor on what the band stand was like, where it was located, what events were held there, it’s popularity and eventual decline. “…and they used to have concerts and bands and all sorts down there…concert troupes, plays, dramas, oh it was very popular…” (OH-2367_e03); then Brian Brown remembers the park’s bandstand and the children’s talent contests that used to be held there. “This is where they erect stages now for temporary use, and during the summer months, on a Sunday there’d be a band…but on Saturdays there was a children’s talent contest, which we always felt was the place to go to barrack and boo and hiss and laugh and cheer.” (OH-2393_e03)
Stop 6 – Heaton Hall and orangery
The Grade I listed Heaton Hall was built in two phases. The central block, and the west wing were completed in 1778. Followed by the east wing one year later. The entrance of the house is on the north side, with the main façade facing south. This is a traditional Palladian design. At the front of the Hall is the ‘ha-ha’. This is a wall that cannot be seen from the house. It drops down from the lawn to keep grazing animals out and gives a clear view across the park.
Today, the ground floor rooms on the north east have been converted to a space for exhibitions and are occasionally open to the public for tours.
The Orangery was added to the house around 1823. It was thought to have been built for Lady Mary Stanley, wife of the 2nd Earl, who was interested in botany. Originally the Orangery had a domed, glass roof, this was replaced with a flat roof by Manchester Corporation in 1902. Today, the Orangery is an events and conference centre, run by Manchester City Council.
First Marian Keshishian recounts going to see an exhibition in the Hall and the lions outside at the back. “You could go into the hall, yes, they used to have…I’m not sure if it was just Sundays or certain days, but they used to have exhibitions and displays in the hall and they used to keep changing these from time to time…” (OH-2369_e02); and also talks of the orangery next to the hall which could be hired for events. “Next to the Hall is the orangery where you can hire it for events, weddings and things like that, conferences. It’s a really wonderful place Heaton Park.” (OH-2369_s1_f01_v1_e03)
Stop 7 – Smithy Lodge
The eight-sided Smithy Lodge was designed in 1806. It was the first gatehouse to the park, by the east entrance. The name comes from Blacksmiths shops that used to be on Middleton Road outside the park. The building was also a home for the lodge keeper. After restoration with a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund the cottage has been restored to luxury self-catering accommodation.
First Brian Brown who lived in a prefab in the park and later moved to Blackley recalls returning to the park via the entrance by the Smithy Lodge. “I could be back in Heaton Park by the Smithy Lodge entrance…I could be in the park…within 5 minutes by cutting across the fields and going through the grounds of what was called Cawley’s Dye Works at that time…” (OH-2393_e09); then Peter Smith describes Heaton Park as the lungs for Manchester as there was little green belt space around. “It was always full, because all the, if you can imagine it, it was a sort of lung for Manchester, where some of the children, the only fields they saw were Heaton Park…” (OH-2380_e09)
Stop 8 – Temple
The circular Temple was designed by James Wyatt in 1800. The first Earl was said to have used it as an observatory. It still stands on the highest point in Manchester, giving incredible views of the city and surrounding areas.
First Marian Keshishian describes a walking route from the lake to the temple on the hill. “…and then you go past the lake and you would walk round, as you do now…the temple on the hill and the golf course on the right, walk round then and you would come to the tennis courts there and the hall…” (OH-2369_e02B); then Peter Smith talks about the observatory, as the temple was also known as, and its proximity to the golf course. “There was the observatory, to one side on the park, stands on a hill…you could walk around it but couldn’t go in it. Of course below the observatory was part of the golf course…” (OH-2380_s1_f01_v1_e04A)
Stop 9 – Dower House
Dower House was originally a plain, 18th century brick building. In 1803 the decorative columned front was added. From 2004 the building became the home of the Manchester & District Beekeepers’ Association, now used for beekeeping and conservation.
First Brian Brown recalls the history of the Dower House. “I think with the Dower House it’s when the master of the family passes away, his wife is moved into a Dower house and the son and heir moves into the big house…” (OH-2393_e06); then Jack Taylor talks about the Dower House and shares anecdotes about the director and his wife who lived there. “It used to be the Director that lived in there, Mr Macmillan…if the lads went to do the work up at the Dower House…the gardens…Mrs Macmillan used to make them a drink, a cup of tea and she used to time them how long it took them to drink it…” (OH-2367_e06)
Stop 10 – Rose gardens and dell
The ornamental gardens were thought to be created for the family in the early 1800s. After many years they were returned to their original design, with the tunnel leading from the flower garden to the dell.
First Jack Taylor remembers the location of the old rose garden and shares anecdote about sand disappearing into a tunnel. “They had a delivery of silica sand for mixing with the compost…and this sand started to disappear…they thought someone was pinching it…there was a crack in the concrete and it was running through, they reckon it was running through to the old tunnel from the hall…through to the dell…” (OH-2367_e01); then he talks about the rose garden that is no longer there, the staff and the flower beds, including one containing plants presented by Helena Rubenstein company. “There was one bed, what we called ‘the battleaxe bed’ that had 280 plants in it, they were presented by the company, Helena Rubenstein…” (OH-2367_e05)
Stop 11 – St. Margaret’s entrance
At the entrance on St. Margaret’s Road there is a small lodge with a drive leading up to the hall. This area would have been part of the original deer park. At one time there was a recreation area for visually impaired visitors.
Today the entrance is close to a car park, the bowling pavilion for Heaton Hall Bowling Club and the Garden Centre.
First Peter Smith details the different entrances to the park in the St. Margaret’s area. “Well the nearest entrance was on Bury Old Road, next to St. Margaret’s school, which was a very small entrance…on the right hand side was the house of the head gardener…the other entrance was on St. Margaret’s Road, next to St. Margaret’s church, which was quite an ornate entrance…” (OH-2380_s1_f01_v1_e01STM); then he recalls the recreation area for visually impaired visitors. “Near the St. Margaret’s entrance there was a blind recreational place, where the blind people used to play cricket and bowls and things like that…they used to play cricket with a ball with a bell in it…it was very well attended…” (OH-2380_e10)
Heaton Park sound walk curated by Vicki Caren, Cataloguing Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project north west hub, and Maddie Sheldon, project volunteer. Images from Manchester Local Image Collection, with thanks to Heaton Park Tramway and Manchester and District Beekeeper’s Association for permission to use photographs from their archives.
To experience this walk in person, download the Echoes app, find the walk and then either tap on ‘Stream walk’ or the download button (↓). Use the download option if you want to avoid using mobile data. The walk will then open in autoplay mode – the sound clips will trigger when you enter the circles on the map.
To experience these walks remotely, download the Echoes app, find the walk and then either tap on ‘Stream walk’ or the download button (↓). Then click the menu button (≡) at the top right of the map. Then slide the ‘Autoplay’ button at the top to the left to switch it off. Now you can navigate around the map or list and play the sounds.