1864-67 – The Preston Parks, Lancashire

SM 31 – Dec 13

James 2’s Contribution to the Parks Movement

The ‘Parks Movement’ in Great Britain began during the 1830s and ‘40s as a result of the bad living conditions that had developed in the towns during the early years of the industrial revolution.   Open areas were required for the relaxation and recreation of the industrial workers, and the general objective was to make these places as natural and picturesque as possible within their urban surroundings.   Loudon, Paxton and Milner were three of the leading landscape designers of the day who were involved in park design, and they all adopted the ‘picturesque’ principles so greatly admired and advocated by James Pulham 2.

In fact, it might even be fair to suggest that the introduction of parks at this time helped to provide him with the motivation to start producing his own range of terracotta garden ornaments in his Broxbourne manufactory in 1846.   His fountains and vases were ideal for the more formal areas of municipal parks, and he may well have seen this as a potentially very lucrative market opportunity.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive list of all the parks around the country in which his fountains, vases and balustrading can be found.   The appendix to his promotional booklet only lists the landscaping projects on which his firm had worked up to the date of its publication c1877, and no mention is made of any terracotta installations.[i]   Hardly any local authorities still hold records of the firms who actually supplied these items so long ago, and some of the officers now responsible for their care may not even have heard of the name of Pulham.

James 2 did, however, build Pulhamite installations in some parks, and some of these also housed wares from his manufactory.   Three of them are in Preston.

1865  –  Moor Park

Moor Park in Preston was actually the first municipal park in the country.   It is Preston’s largest open space, with excellent recreational facilities, and plays host to many of the Town’s major outdoor exhibitions and events.   It lies near the centre of the town, and used to be known, before its enclosure in 1833, as Preston Moor.   At that time, it contained nothing more than a lake and some walks, so the local Council commissioned Edward Milner to ‘complete’ its landscaping in 1864.   This was done at a total cost of just over £10,800, and it is interesting to note that almost all of the general labouring work – such as the construction of the roads etc – was done by local labour.   These were the men from the cotton mills made unemployed as a result of the cotton famine suffered by the Lancashire cotton industry during the American Civil War of 1862-65.

5-10-31-01 - Preston Moor -  Archway

 Fig 1  –  The ‘Rocky Tunnel’ in Moor Park, Preston.   A Family Outing c1900 (Left)   (Reproduced by permission of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston), and as it was 100 years later  (Photograph by Norma Clark)

 5-10-31-02 - Moor Park Rockwork - John Gillman P1000528

 Fig 2  –  ‘Rocks for bridges to rest on’ in Moor Park   (Photograph by John Gillman)

James 2 confirms in his ‘Picturesque Ferneries’ booklet that his firm created ‘Rocks for bridges to rest on, Drinking fountain, Rocky Tunnel and roadway’ as part of Milner’s ‘completion’ process in Moor Park.   This was done in 1865 – just at the time when James 2 expanded his firm by bringing in his son, James 3, to become James Pulham and Son – and Fig 1 shows two pictures of the Rocky Tunnel under the roadway – the one on the left being of a family outing taken c1900, and the one on the right was taken from roughly the same spot in 2002.    Fig 2 shows one of the bridge abutments along the stream – ‘rocks for bridges to rest on’ – although this particular bridge has long since disappeared.   The drinking fountain is a bit of a mystery – no such fountain exists today in that area, so maybe it was originally a terracotta ornament from the manufactory.

It is very encouraging to know that Preston City Council are currently in the process of preparing an Application for a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant of roughly £1.5 mil – out of an estimated total cost of £2.0 mil – to help them undertake a comprehensive restoration plan for the park that will include work on the Pulhamite installations, including the bridge.

1866  –  Avenham Park

The increased supply of unemployed labour during the early 1860s also enabled the Preston council to press ahead with the creation of two more parks to the south side of the town, and these, too, opened in 1864.   Avenham and Miller Parks are effectively ‘twins,’ since they are adjacent to each other, separated only by the viaduct of the then East Lancashire Railway.   This obviously created a major boundary feature for both parks, and Milner actually turned this to advantage by using it as a backdrop for his planting of a variety of trees and shrubs.   These parks are generally regarded as being among the finest examples of Victorian parkland in the north west of England, and probably the best surviving examples of Milner’s work today.

  5-10-31-03 - Avenham - Harris c1900

Fig 3  –  A commanding view of the River Ribble from the terrace of Avenham Park, Preston c1900, showing two of Pulham’s Westonbirt Vases on the plinths.   (Reproduced by kind permission of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

Avenham Park is bordered by the River Ribble, which can clearly be seen from the terrace in Fig 3, which was taken around 1900, like the one of Moor Park in Fig 1.   The Pulhams worked there in 1866, and again in 1874-75.   The vases that stand on their plinths at the top of the steps are examples of their ‘Westonbirt Vase,’ which were initially produced for another project at Westonbirt – near Tetbury, in Gloucestershire – so they probably date from their second visit.   The Council records shows that the firm was paid £111 – 3s – 4d in 1865 for the first stage of their work.[ii]

Avenham Park was created from a natural amphitheatre, where many large-scale musical and sporting events are staged throughout the year.   Sadly, James 2’s descriptive comment in his booklet is very cryptic – he simply mentions a ‘Waterfall, cave etc’.   These are located in the famous Japanese rock garden, which would also have been constructed during their second visit in 1874-75.   The garden contains a wide variety of unusual ornamental plants, and is shown here in Fig 4.   The bridge is obviously a modern replacement.

 5-10-31-04 - Avenham Park - Japanese Garden

Fig 4  –  The Japanese garden in Avenham Park, Preston

A short passage from Hewitson’s ‘History of Preston,’[iii] provides a fascinating glimpse of the innocent enjoyment of this park by Victorian children:

‘. . . The walk on the southern side, near the river, is planted with lime trees, to form an avenue.   Some of the largest are, at the pesent time, from 24 inches to 80 inches in girth at one foot from the ground.   Those nearest the East Lancashire Railway bridge have just begun to meet overhead, and they form a beautiful, leafy canopy.   The trees constituting this avenue were planted in 1864.   There are seats in different parts along the edges of the principal walks etc.   To the park there are various entrances, the principal being to the eastern and western ends of Ribbledale Place, and, through the railway bridge, below East-cliff, Avenham Park is much frequented by children.   Its northern slope and fine central area make an excellent playground for them; and, in summertime, they may be seen ‘roly-polying’ down its banks, and running in its hollow, in most active, happy glee.   Every Easter Monday, many thousands of children assemble in this park to roll their eggs, oranges etc.’

No Play Stations and Children’s television in those days . . .

1864  –  Miller Park

Miller Park is situated adjacent to, and on the western side of Avenham Park, and also borders the River Ribble.   The land on which it was built was donated to the town by Alderman Thomas Miller, father of Thomas Horrocks Miller, whose family owned the world-famous cotton firm of Horrocks of Preston.   This park is reputed to boast the best floral displays to be found in Preston – together with some excellent Pulham rockwork and vases.

Pulhams also tendered for the production of 6 terracotta vases to Milner’s design, and their quote of £70 was accepted.   These were produced as the ‘Preston Vase,’ which can be seen at the top of the steps in Miller Park in Figs 5 and 6.   Fig 5 is another picture taken c1900, and shows two Preston Vases on the plinths at the top of the steps.   The large vase on the right is known as the ‘Paris Vase’ – perhaps because Pulhams exhibited it at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867.   Most of the original vases have long since been lost or damaged, and the ones that now stand in their place are recent copies of the original designs.   Quite a few of these are shown in the background of Fig 6, which is taken from the official Preston City brochure published in 2003 – about 100 years later than Fig 5 – and Fig 7 shows the illustration of the ‘Preston Vase’, ‘Paris Vase’ and the ‘Westonbirt Vase’ from the Pulham Catalogue.[iv]

 5-10-31-05 - Miller Park - HC Steps and Vases  c1900

 Fig 5  –  Miller Park c1900   (Photo reproduced by kind permission of Hazel Conway)

 5-10-31-06 - Miller Park - 2003 Pamphlet Fountain

 Fig 6  –  The fountain, steps, balustrading and vases in Miller Park, Preston in 2003.   (Photo reproduced by kind permission of Preston City Council)

Having established the provenance of the vases, and knowing that Pulhams constructed the rock features in these parks, it seemed only logical to conclude that they probably also supplied the balustrading and the fountain in Miller Park, but this does not appear to have been the case.   There is no mention of the balustrading in the Council Records, although a quotation for the building of the Terrace Walk, and for the erection of two sets of steps was accepted from a James Fitchie.   Assuming that these are the main steps leading up to the Terrace in Fig 6, then he will presumably have also supplied the balustrading, although it is possible that he may have sub-contracted their manufacture to James Pulham.   Unfortunately, this is something that cannot be substantiated one way or the other.

 5-10-31-07 - Vase Catalogue

 Fig 7  –  Illustrations of the Preston Vase, Paris Vase and Westonbirt Vase in the Pulham Catalogue

The magnificent Miller Park fountain is shown in the foreground of Fig 6, and I initially assumed that this could also be accredited to the Pulham Manufactory, but I was wrong, because the Records reveal that it was designed by Milner, and constructed by C R Smith in Longridge stone at a cost of £217 – 3s – 7d.   The stonework around its base was artificially ‘weathered’ during production, and the figures around the base are emblematic of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.   The angles are occupied by rush and trident designs, and a large, shell-like basin permits a most impressive display of jetted water.

The leading Preston firm of Architects and Building Contractors, Cooper and Tullis, constructed the basin, and the jets were supplied by Easton Amis and Co.   The publicity leaflets published by the City Council tell us that the fountain was restored to its original splendour during 1993, and they obviously made an excellent job of it, although it is difficult to understand why they decided to paint all the vases and balustrading white in the process.

The large statue at the top of the steps in Fig 6 is of Edward Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby.   It was sculpted by M Noble, of London, at a cost of £2,500, of which more than £340 was raised by one-penny contributions from local workers.

 5-10-31-08 - Miller Park - Pulhamite Cliffs - NC Rock at Path Junction

 Fig 8  –  The junction between the Upper and Lower Path by the Miller Park rock feature    (Photograph by Norma Clark)

According to James 2’s booklet, he also built a ‘Waterfall, cliffs, rocky pond, drinking fountain, naturalistic’ in Miller Park.   This is in the northeast corner of the park, adjacent to the railway embankment, and his skeletal description hardly does justice to the grandeur of the area.    This is how Hewitson describes it in his ‘History of Preston:’

‘Beyond the fountain, on the eastern side, there are shrubs etc, with a grotto at the northern corner.   On the western side, there are exquisite flower beds, at the rear of which is fantastic rockwork, traversed in one part by a cascade, the water of which accumulates in a rock-formed trough, and afterwards assumes the shape of a lakelet below . .’

 5-10-31-09 - Miller Park Archway - SS Dscf1772

 Fig 9  –  The Rocky Archway in Miller Park   (Photograph by Sharon Saunders)

 5-10-31-10 - Miller Park - Top of Bridge - NC

 Fig 10  –  On top of the arch above the Upper Path

A pathway runs west to east below the embankment – Fig 8 – and then splits in two to circumvent the rock feature – the right-hand path goes around its base, and the left-hand path goes over the top of an archway, similar to the one in Moor Park.   This is shown in Fig 9, whilst Figs 10 and 11 are taken from the top.   The two paths are called the Lower and Upper Paths, and they join up again on the other side of the archway.

5-10-31-11 - Preston Miller - Top of Arch - NC Gap from Top

Fig 11  –  The ‘Gap’ in the rocks through which the water flows to the waterfall   (Photographs by Norma Clark)

 5-10-31-12 - Miller Park Lower Pool - NC

Fig 12  –  The Pool between the embankment and the Upper Path   (Photographs by Norma Clark)

There is a small, rocky pool between the upper path and the embankment, and the water is channelled under this path to the waterfall to fall over the ‘cliffs’ to the pool by the lower path.   The water currently only flows during the wet weather, and it is not known whether or not there used to be a pump to circulate it on a more permanent basis in the early days.

 5-10-31-13 - Miller Park - Lower Pool - NC

Fig 13  –  The Lower Pool, with the ‘Gap’ visible in the top right corner.   (Photographs by Norma Clark)

  5-10-31-14 - Miller Park - Fountain and Plaque

Fig 14  –  The ‘Naturalistic Drinking Fountain, and Orienteering Plaque

Figs 12 and 13 show the small pool between the embankment and the Upper Path, and the gap in the Archway can be seen in the right background.   Finally, James 2’s notes also refer to a ‘naturalistic drinking fountain’, and this is shown in Fig 14 alongside the picture of a plaque that appears to designate the Pulhamite rock feature as the ‘Miller and Avenham Park Orienteering Course’ – probably not quite the sort of thing that James 2 had in mind when he constructed it . . .

A major restoration project was undertaken in Avenham and Miller Parks in 2008, although that did not include any work on the Pulham features.   However, plans are afoot for another scheme costing c£8.0 mil to be undertaken soon, subject to the granting of an Appplication for another Heritage Lottery Grant.   This can only be good news, and has to be celebrated, thanks to the efforts of the Council’s Planning and Design Dept.


[i]    ‘Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery’ by James Pulham 2, published c1877.

[ii]    Chronological Review of the Avenham and Miller Park developments compiled by the Preston Park Rangers – (Thanks to Sharon Saunders for providing this information).

[iii]    ‘History of Preston,’ by Anthony Hewitson, Preston Chronicle, 1883

[iv]    Garden Ornament Catalogue, the Catalogue published by James Pulham and Son c1925.

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