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A HERITAGE WALK AROUND QUEENS PARK, CREWE
by Howard Curran July 1997
An 1882 map of the area shows farmlands straggling the River Waldron (Valley Brook) covering almost 11 fields, these fields consisting of nearly 50 acres of land would eventually be the nucleus of the Park. The river which meandered peacefully through these farmlands, would one day flow into a newly constructed lake.
How fortunate that over forty years earlier that the railway company instead of building their line to Chester across these pastures, chose a more northerly route through Coppenhall Hayes. Otherwise these fields which are now Queens Park would have been lost in providing the Crewe to Chester line.
However, because a different route was chosen, work was able to commence in 1882 on this "Victorian" Park, being designed by Francis William Webb and Edward Kemp. They enlisted the expertise of George Latimer, a forester by trade, who would become the first Park Curator (1888 - 1906). He experimented with his forestry knowledge by planting many different types of trees, which now add greatly to the charm and attraction of the Park. ; To enable this Park to be constructed, Webb had used his influence with the Chairman of the Railway Company (Sir Richard Moon) to acquire the necessary 50 acres of Company land and £10,000 to build the Park.
It was anticipated that the Park would be completed in time for the celebrations of Queen Victoria's Jubilee and Crewe's own Jubilee celebration. On 4th July 1887, exactly 50 years after the first train had stopped at Crewe, there was great rejoicing in the town to commemorate Queen Victoria's 50 years, especially at the dedication of Queens Park.
The actual opening ceremony would take place 12 months later by HRH The Duke of Cambridge KG on Saturday 9th June 1888. For this ceremony, as well as the Duke of Cambridge, there were Sir Richard Moon, Francis William j Webb, Frederick Cook (Town Clerk), many other dignitaries and the driver of the first train into Crewe, James Middleton.
It has been rumoured over the years that the LNWR Company gave the land to stop the GWR Company building a station in the area. This is very hard to establish all one can say is the nearest GWR line is over two miles away at Shavineton and why build a line over a mile from the centre of Crewe? The one thing that is for sure is that in the Director's Minute Book of the LNWR for 1886, it refers to this area being given for the use of a public park. I suppose some things we will never know. The only certain thing is that in Sir Richard Moon's dedication speech in giving the Park to the people of Crewe, he said "that he hoped that the Park would bring pleasure and happiness to the community for generations to come". That I feel without any doubt has been achieved.
The Park Lodge Gates
There are four gates - east, west, south and the main gate. The main gates are supported by four red sandstone gateposts. Each post has emblems surmounted upon them. The gates themselves are very impressive, made in ornamental ironwork. The two side gates have the date of the dedication (1887) moulded into the ironwork, whilst the main gate is surmounted by a royal crown.
The Park Lodges
On either side of the gates are the two lodges built 1887'8 by John Brooke They are
constructed in Stone and timber' the stone being of red sandstone, extracted from railway
cutting that go down Lime St Station Liverpool. The inscription at first floor level on both lodges commemorate both the dedication and opening ceremonies. Both lodges are buildings of special architectural and historical interest therefore they are both Grade 2 listed buildings.
Not an identical pair, the West Lodge has a Bell Tower and was for use by the chief foreman in charge of the gardeners. Whilst the East Lodge was built for the Park's Curator. Incidentally, there have only been four Park Curators in the Park's history. The four curators are>
Ceorge Latimer 1888 - 1906
Lawrence Morgan 1906 -1935
Herbert Probert 1935 -1960
Colin Farmer 1960 -1984
(After 1984 the system was changed, with the park being looked after under a different scheme).
In the apex of the roof on both lodges facing Victoria Avenue are two unique witticisms on the two people who the park owes its very existence to. On the east lodge is a painting of a bat, moon and tree in yellow and green. A pun to Sir Richard Moon, Chairman of the LNWR Company. Whilst the west lodge has a spider's web, a tree and a spider, a pun on Francis William Webb.
The Jubilee Clock
On entrance into the Park down Central Drive from the gates stands the impressive Jubilee Clock. Donated by the employees of the Railway Company and built in 1888. The tower has four large clock faces surmounted by an elaborate support for the weather vane. The tower is a Grade 2 listed building and is of stone and brick construction.
Clearly it can be seen within the ornate sandstone and the faces of Queen Victoria (facing north), the Duke of Cambridge (facing south), Sir Richard Moon (facing east, towards the Curator's Lodge which contains his pun) and Francis William Webb (facing west towards the Lodge with his pun upon it). At the rear of the clock is a cast iron plaque explaining how the clock tower was donated by the employees of the Company and unveiled by James Middlelon. Middleton was given this honour for fifty years service to the Company, quite an impressive achievement. Even more impressive when its realized that Middleton was the driver of the first train that stopped at Crewe on the 4th July 1837.
The South African Memorial
Continuing along Central Drive, built for horse drawn carriages, the South African Memorial stands impressively in front of the Pavilion. Flanked by a sloping bedding display the statue is 31ft high and made of Labrador and Aberdeen Grey granite. Topped by the life-like figure of Tommy Atkins. The north facing side is the only place where the former Arms of the Borough with the moto "Never Behind" can still be seen.
The Copper bronze plaques on the four sides of the monument give the names of the railway volunteers who served in the Boer War (1899 - 1902). Crewe can quite rightly feel proud that through the railway volunteers they were able to send more men to the Boer War than any other town in England or Wales of comparable size.
The Jubilee Pavilion
The Cafeteria standing behind the Memorial is aptly named the Jubilee Cafeteria to commemorate the Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, being officially opened on 12th June 1977.
This modem structure along with the bandstand was built to replace the Victorian Pavilion which unfortunately had burnt down. The front page of Crewe Chronicle told the sorry tale about the original Pavilion on Thursday 4th January 1973 with the following report. A Senior Fire Officer told the Chronicle that possibly an electrical fault was the cause of the fire, early on Friday morning, 29th December 1972, that had destroyed the Park Pavilion.
To make matters worse, it seems that water mains had been fractured by frost and, although firemen pumped water from the lake, it was to no avail and by the grey light of dawn very little was left of the 1887 Pavilion.
The Fossilized Tree
At the rear of the Cafeteria where the two paths combine with the main path, overlooking the lake, a fossilized tree can be found. It is said that this tree dates back to the Devonian period, some 320 million years ago. It is reputed to be the remains of a tulip tree, a
Lepidodendron, turned to stone through fossilisation. This fossilized tree being given to the Park by John Knott when he was Mayor of Crewe in 1888/9.
An exceptional feature of the Park is the extensively landscaped man-made lake. The lake was created by the use of a dam on the west side of the River Waldron (Valley Brook) way back in 1883 flooding about five acres of land. As well as the creation of a dam, an area around the River Waldron to a depth of about five feet was dug out. Then by the method of "puddling" the clay, the bottom was made water-tight.
For just about 30 years the river flowed through the lake creating, I hasten to add, a few problems. The river over these early years brought many tons of silt, making problems along the banks of the lake. By 1913, the decision to culvert the river trying to alleviate these troubles was taken, so from that date the river flowed underneath the lake.
The Lake loses water on a regular basis through evaporation and leakage. Therefore, what better method is there than using the river to refill it. A wormscrew made in Crewe Works back 1913, still in constant use, enables that to happen. The River Waldron by the use of sluice gates can be diverted to refill the lake.
Burma Star Island
In 1968 an island in the middle of the lake, accessible by two bridges, was extensively relandscaped and had new paths and seating positioned. Then on the 26th May 1968 at a service conducted by the Lord Bishop of Chester, the Rt Rev G A Ellison DD, the island was dedicated as a permanent Memorial to the Allied Forces who fought in the Burma Campaign during World War 2. The Memorial Stone, brought from excavations at ICI Works Runcorn, has the famous Kohima epitath:-
"When you go home tell them of us and say for their tomorrow we gave our today".
The Dedication Service was attended by over 30,000 people with many overseas visitors. An American Air Force Band, flown in especially from Germany, led a large military presence from many Countries.
History of the Trees
It is reputed that there are only five trees to remind everyone of the hedgerows from the fields of the original farmlands of over a hundred years ago. They are of course all Oak, three are by the play area, whilst two more are near the Aviary. Most of the trees within the Park have been planted under the guidance of the four Park Curators. Obviously many were planted when the Park was First being created, for instance, the giant Atlantic Cedars. Many of the trees which have been planted by successive Curators over the last 40 or 50 years are now reaching maturity, so its these people to thank for such a remarkable array of trees within the Park.
I am reliably informed there is in excess of 100 species, ranging from Oak, Ash, Beech, Conifers, Yews, Irish Yews, as well as Laburnum and some beautiful scented Hawthorns. Most trees that readily come to mind one could find within the Park, far too many I hasten to add for me to mention. Of course there are many unique trees, like the twisted Willow, the Canadian Balsam and my favourite, the Cedar of Lebanon, nicknamed the "monkey tree" by generations of Crewe children.
The walk runs from the lake back to the foot of the main entrance. Designed in 1935 by Herbert Probert, it is a superb landscaped valley complete with an artificial stream, it holds many surprises. Thought at the time of construction it might possibly be named the Francis Webb Memorial Garden it was eventually called Coronation Walk in 1937.
Along the path a visit to the Aviary is a must. Originally built in 1937 through the efforts of Councillor Mrs Mossford Powell (incidentally, Mrs Mossford Powell lived at Coppenhall Hayes, on the spot where Station House now stands in Victoria Avenue). The first boathouse was being pulled down in 1937 so she donated money to enable it to be converted into the first Aviary.
A large stone that stands by the Aviary is the oldest piece of history in Crewe. It originates from the first glacial age and goes back some 500 million years. It is a piece of Aberdeen granite and was washed down in that period of time. It was discovered when the Foundations for part of the original Company Works was being excavated.
I hope this Heritage Walk around Queens Park has enabled everyone to appreciate many of the hidden charms of this superb Park. It has been said in the past and I don't mind repeating it,
"This Park is without doubt the Jewel in the Crown".