1894-98 – The Parks in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

SM 39 – Aug 14

At about the same time that he was completing his commission at Belle Vue Park, in Newport, Monmouthshire – see Chapter 20 in Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy – Thomas Mawson was awarded contracts for the design of Hanley Park and Burslem Park in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, for which he again involved the Pulhams for the construction of some rockwork features.

1894 – Hanley Park

The creation of Hanley Park was first discussed when Hanley was incorporated as a Borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1857, but it was not until 1890 that the idea was finally approved at a public meeting.   The reason for this delay was because the land concerned was largely undeveloped, and consisted of old pit shafts, enormous spoil heaps, and tips of pottery refuse interspersed with the remnants of hedges identifying earlier field boundaries – a daunting prospect for any landscape architect!

Thomas Mawson was appointed by Hanley Borough Council to transform about 80 hectares of this land into a public park, and the rest of the land was to be laid out as building plots.   He tackled the project with his characteristic enthusiasm, and later wrote of all the land problems with which he had to contend, and the unhelpful views southwards towards the nearby industrial town of Stoke . . .

‘. . . lying in a pottery mist . . . such were the conditions with which I had to deal, and which I was determined to coax or bully into a beautiful pleasance.’

The first turf was cut on 16th May, 1892, and the final section was opened on Jubilee Day, in June 1897.   Like many public parks built during this period, its construction was performed by workers rendered unemployed during the industrial recession.   The final cost is estimated to have been in the region of £70,000.[i]

Following its opening, the park became the main social centre for the people of both Hanley and Stoke.   As well as being used as an area for weekly promenading, it also became the main venue for the annual shows – it hosted the Hanley Park Fête from 1897 until 1939, as well as the annual Horse Parade and Hanley Flower Show.

5-10-39-1 - Hanley PlanFig 1 – Thomas Mawson’s suggested plan for Hanley Park (Reproduced by permission of Stoke-on-Trent City Council)

 Thomas Mawson wrote a short booklet of notes, plans and illustrations about his proposals for Hanley Park, and some of his introductory remarks – including an outline of his ideas about the principles and sentiments that underlay his approach to park design in general – provide absorbing reading. [ii]   For example, there is one section in which he explains his thoughts about the quality of ‘craftsmanship’:

‘To my mind, if there is one place above another where the dignity of labour should be upheld, it is the “peoples’” park.   I therefore think every opportunity should be afforded the artisan of showing his craft, and that he should be tempted to excel himself – which he will be happy to attempt, especially if not working by contract.   It is still possible to work for the sake of Art, and, at the same time, to be possessed of a healthy spirit of emulation in respect to the quality of work produced.   In the Hanley Park, it is to be hoped that many and varied specimens of the craftsman’s art in metal, clay and stone and wood may be obtained.’

Mawson’s original plan for a section of Hanley Park is reproduced in Fig 1. This shows very clearly how he intended to blend the formal terrace – which is actually in the middle of the overall plan, and has Pavilion ‘A’ as its centrepiece – with steps down over the Main Carriage Drive to the formal gardens, with a bandstand at its centre.   There is then a bridge over the Cauldon Canal, with more steps leading down to the Bowling Green, around which is a path, with a southern arm that leads down to a secondary Carriage Drive.

This, in turn, has another arm that leads down to the Boat House on the shore of the lake, but, if one ignores this, and continues on down the drive – towards the bottom left corner of the map – one passes an area of rockwork on the left, just before arriving at a bridge over an arm of the lake.

Mawson was obviously a great believer in the use of rockwork in his gardens and parks, because he even included a sketch of his vision of the Hanley Park cascades – as viewed from the bridge – in his Report.   It is reproduced here in Fig 2.

5-10-39-2 - Hanley Cascades SketchFig 2 – Mawson’s sketch of a view of the cascades from the bridge in Hanley Park   (Reproduced by permission of the Dept of Environment and Transport, Stoke-on-Trent)

 His conclusions – which dealt with the various design features of the park – were as follows:

‘It will be seen from my plan and sketch (Fig 2) that I propose to make considerable use of rockwork, as it is most valuable in giving variety and colour to positions otherwise uninteresting.   The principal use I should propose to make of it would be in the arrangement of a dropping well, miniature waterfalls, and cascades.   I should also use it in breaking up margins of lake, and in the formation of boulders, and it might also be used with advantage in giving character to lawns.

‘In the formation of this rockwork, I propose to use anything which could be built into large masses; furnace slag covered with cement would answer the purpose below water-line, with natural stone above water-line, worked into stratifications and boulders.   In this work it would be necessary to employ a rock builder, who would, under my direction, imitate any natural stone.   Of course, I should prefer natural red sandstone throughout, worked into stratifications, if it could be procured at a reasonable price.

‘I may add that it is most difficult to use spar or white stone with good effect in rockwork, as it always retains an angular and newly-quarried appearance.’

5-10-39-3 - Hanley Ex-Cascades 2002Fig 3 – View of the ex-cascades from the bridge in Hanley Park, Stoke-on-Trent in 2002  (Photos by Julie Taylor)

 Mawson also had his own ideas about who should be given the task of its construction:

‘In connection with the Lake, it may be well to refer to the Rockwork, as originally intended.   This work is being carried out by Messrs Pulham, of Finsbury Pavement, London, who did the effective piece of rockwork at Sandringham, for H.R.H. the Prince of Wales (discussed in Chapter 8).   At the present time, 5th June, 1894, this piece of work seems to be coming out very successfully, and it will, I have no doubt, do the builders great credit.’

It would not be fair to close this section without showing what the view of the ‘ex’-cascades’ looks like today from the bridge in Hanley Park.   I have not yet had an opportunity to see this for myself, but the picture in Fig 3 speaks volumes.   Hanley Park is listed as a Grade II area of special historic interest, and was the subject of a Conservation Plan approved in 1997.[iii]

1898 – Burslem Park

The second park in Stoke-on-Trent with which Thomas Mawson and the Pulhams were associated was Burslem Park, and both this and Hanley Park must have been concurrent projects, since Burslem Park opened on 30th August, 1894.   The Staffordshire Gardens and Parks Trust describes it, in a survey written in 1993, as:

‘. . . Rockwork of Pulham stone with cascade topped by a small building in the style of a “Japanese tea house” – maintained to a good standard.’

5-10-39-4 - Burslem Cascade 2002 JTFig 4 – Cascade and ‘Tea House’ in Burslem Park, Stoke-on-Trent 2002   (Photo by Julie Taylor)

 A picture of this scene as it appears today is shown here in Fig 4.   The description of ‘Tea House’ is apparently somewhat ambitious, however, because this building has only ever been regarded as a ‘shelter’ – and quite a small one at that, as indicated by the picture in Fig 5.   It may look a little reminiscent of some other Pulham structures, but it is hardly large or significant enough to attempt to make claims as to its provenance here.

5-10-39-5 - Burslem ShelterFig 5 – The ‘Japanese Tea House’ Shelter in Burslem Park, Stoke-on-Trent   (Photo by Julie Taylor)


[i]   Hanley Park Conservation Area Document by Stoke-on-Trent Council, November 1997

[ii]   Hanley Park by Thomas Mawson

[iii]   The above historical details were largely provided by Julie Taylor, of the Dept of Environment and Transport for the City of Stoke-on-Trent


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