Skip to content

Stamford Park and Boating Lake

These texts below are in no particular order, I`ve dropped found text, well.. As I found them…
There will also likely be duplicate sections of text, but this page of the website  is more for my research storage currently.
You are welcome to drop us links on facebook if you find anything which is of use to the research. Or email

The Park was opened in July 1873. At first the Park was managed by trustees but was handed over to the two town councils of Stalybridge and Ashton in 1891. Stamford Park was greatly enlarged in 1892 and the boating lake was formed.

Research avenues

    Lock, A.     History of Stamford Park. Typescript. 1997

Stamford Park was designed by Gregory Hill of Stalybridge and opened as a public park in 1873. The park was extended in 1891 and in 1898 an area of rockwork and cascades was improved by George Briggs.
The site was owned by the Earl of Stamford and is said to have been part of a deer park in 1668 when it was leased by Robert Lees of Hazelhurst (Cassidy 1973). In the early C19 Highfield House was built and this and its grounds, together with additional adjoining fields, formed the original public park which was designed by Gregory Hill of Stalybridge and opened in 1873. The purchase of the house and land was made using a bequest of £7000 left by Samuel Oldham of Audenshaw and public subscriptions which had been raised in a campaign which began in 1855. The park was initially run by a board of trustees and control passed to a joint committee of members of both Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge Corporations in 1891 as the park straddles the boundary between the two townships.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Stamford Park is situated between the townships of Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge in a built-up area of generally residential character. It is situated on sloping land which rises to the north and there is a steep valley on the west side of the southern part of the site through which runs the Cock Brook. The northern part of the park is situated in a less densely developed area and there is open land linking with farmland on part of the north-eastern boundary. The c 26ha site is bisected by Darnton Road which runs approximately from east to west through the site. The park to the south of Darnton Road is bounded by Stamford Street to the south, Mellor Road to the west, and Astley Road to the east. There is a stone retaining wall along Stamford Street and the remainder of the boundary is marked by simple cast-iron railings. The northern part of the site, sometimes known as Upper Park, has a boundary formed by Tameside Hospital and Mellor Lane on the west side, with a late C20 wooden fence along that part of Mellor Lane to the north of the hospital. The north and north-east side merges with a public open space known as Silver Spring which is being developed (1997) as an ecological park. The east side is defined by private gardens backing onto the park and by a hedge and path where the park abuts with playing fields.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrances are on Stamford Street, one on the corner of Stamford Street and Mellor Road and another on the corner of Stamford Street and Astley Road. These have ornamental stone piers and wrought-iron gates dated 1953 which commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Some 75m to the west of the Astley Road entrance is a third entrance from Stamford Street which was formerly the main entrance to Highfield House. A lodge was situated on the west side of the entrance until its demolition in the 1980s. The Stamford Street/Mellor Road entrance is overlooked by a former superintendent's house, probably of early C20 date, which is situated within the park just beyond the gates. There are two entrances to the southern park from Darnton Road; these are simple iron gates. There are three entrances from Darnton Road to the Upper Park, all formed by simple iron gates. Entrances to Upper Park on the north-western and north-eastern sides are informal.
The approach to Highfield House from Stamford Street shown on the large-scale OS map surveyed 1861 was a drive which divided, with one branch leading to the house and the other curving to the west leading to service buildings. These survive as part of the network of paths through the site.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING In the southern part of the park, c 150m north-east of the Stamford Street/Astley Road entrance, in an area which is now occupied by lawns and beds, is the site of Highfield House. Built in the early C19, this was the residence of Abel Harrison. After the public park was formed it became a museum and a centre for local botanists who introduced native plant species to selected parts of the park. It fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1955.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The park falls into two distinct areas on either side of Darnton Road. The ornamental gardens are in the southern part of the park and include the steep-sided valley of the Cock Brook on the western edge of this part of the site. The entrances on Stamford Street lead to a succession of areas linked by curving paths; the perimeter of the park is generally wooded and paths through this branch off to open areas in the centre and to areas once used for ornamental bedding. There is a rose garden in the south-east corner. Items of local interest have been placed at some of the path intersections at various times. These include large granolithic boulders, monuments to local notables, stocks dated 1730 (listed grade II), and a former market cross (late C18, listed grade II). A large conservatory is situated in the central area of the southern park overlooking lawns to the west of the site of Highfield House. This was the gift of John Nield in 1907 and was rebuilt in 1985. It is possible to trace certain features of the grounds of Highfield House as shown on the 1861 OS map. The shape of a former bowling green is discernible where an aviary is now sited c 150m east of the conservatory, while some belts of planting are in positions which suggest that existing planting was incorporated into the 1873 design, particularly on the south-eastern boundary and to the north-east of the site of Highfield House.
North of the conservatory and the site of Highfield House is a series of recreational areas. Close to the centre of the park is a bowling green with a viewing pavilion and 'Old Veterans' pavilion. To the north are two more bowling greens, a putting green on the site of a bandstand shown on the 1911 (2nd edition) and 1932-3 OS maps, a children's play area and, close to the Darnton Road end, tennis courts.
The western valley forms a discrete area within the park and is known as The Valley or The Dingle. The Cock Brook runs through the valley and was formerly exploited by three mills which are shown on the OS map of 1861. The Dingle is approached through a separate entrance to the north from Darnton Road and can be reached from linking paths with the main park, some of which descend down flights of stone steps. The Cock Brook emerges from a sluice close to the entrance from Darnton Road and is channelled down a steep chute and thereafter into a series of water courses and pools, disappearing and reappearing in a system of tunnels. The valley is wooded with rhododendron and laurel underplanting, and there is extensive ornamental rockwork along the entire route. A path leads down the slope beside the brook and along its course certain areas have been modelled to form viewing places, some with bridges across the brook formed from artificial stone moulded to appear to be rustic logs, others with balustrading in the same style. A flight of stone steps with rustic-work balustrades and piers supporting large rustic urns leads down the slope c 100m south of the Darnton Road entrance. The path emerges at the southern end of the park, close to the Stamford Street/Mellor Road entrance.
The Upper Park north of Darnton Road is dominated by a large boating lake to which access is gained from a central entrance on Darnton Road leading to a kiosk of late C19/early C20 date. On the west side of the lake is a large boathouse of similar style; the refreshment rooms of 1897 which stood on the east side opposite the boathouse were demolished in 1995. The steep sides of the lake are wooded, there is a large central island and the whole is surrounded by cast-iron fencing. The land on either side and beyond the lake is treated informally; it is open grassland with paths and appears to have been so since this part of the park was formed. There is a fishing lake to the north of the boating lake and the land continues to rise on the north and west sides of this, giving views out to the Pennines to the south-east. Both the lakes were formed after 1892 from Chadwicks Reservoir following the acquisition of the land by the Stamford Park Joint Committee. The reservoir is shown on the 1861 OS map as two stretches of water divided by what appears to be a dam.
REFERENCES S Hill, Bygone Stalybridge (1907), pp 187-95 H Holland in J W March (ed), Stalybridge Centenary Handbook (1957), pp 112-14 J Cassidy in S A Harrop and E A Rose (eds), Victorian Ashton (1973), pp 50-7 Lancashire Life, (August 1982), p 41 H Conway, People?s Parks (1991), p 138


MYSTERY still surrounds the story of a Stalybridge boat and whether it took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. For the last 64 years, rumours have been circulating about The Sunflower's role in rescuing the British and commonwealth troops from Dunkirk.  And following the BBC's recent documentary on the incident, Tamesiders are once again asking whether the Stamford Park pleasure steamer joined the dramatic rescue of June 1940. Stalybridge councillor Charlie Meredith - who was serving in the Royal Navy at the time - told the Advertiser that the current Stamford Park steamer is called The Stamford Belle, however, the first boat on the lake was The Sunflower, and it is this one which is supposed to have travelled to Dunkirk. "Although it wasn't really built for crossing the channel, I believe it did go over and help rescue the soldiers," he said. He added that although he doesn't know what happened to The Sunflower, it is thought to have sunk on the way back and was replaced by The Stamford Belle in the mid 1970s. Former army sergeant, Eric Parkin - who joined the forces in July 1940 - also reckons The Sunflower played a valuable role in bringing the soldiers home. "I think it did go and my daughter and wife both say they've heard the story. My daughter said she was told about it at school," he said. But some Tamesiders aren't too certain that The Sunflower tale is true. Thomas Hall, from Lodge Close, Dukinfield, said: "The story we were told at the time was that it was too small to cross the channel, so it went to Heaton Park, and their boat went to join the convoy." His scepticism is echoed by local studies archivist Alice Locke who, to date, has found no evidence to link the Sunflower to Dunkirk. "This is a story that has floated around for some time although no one has been able to find any evidence to suggest that it did actually go to Dunkirk." She added that while records do show the boat went out of commission during the war no one could determine where it actually went or why.

Tameside Council The Parks History The history of Stamford Park is a long and varied one; it’s part of the history of Tameside and importantly part of local peoples’ history. The park is situated on the historic boundary between Ashton under Lyne and Stalybridge, that also being the historic boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire. Below is a very brief history of the park, covering the demand for a park, its opening and early years, the changes of the 20th century and the future of the park. The need for a park One of the first references to Stamford Park is in JR Coulthart’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of Ashton under Lyne which was published in 1844. At this time the industrial revolution was in full swing and social commentators across the North West recognised the poor health of mill workers and the desperate conditions people were living in. Across the region people began to demand, among other improvements, parks for people to enjoy on their day off. Coulthart stated that that the area lacked ‘convenient space for exercise…all classes of the town, particularly the operative classes would derive much physical and moral improvement from an enclosure of the kind, it is exceedingly desirable that Lord Stamford should grant land sufficient for such purpose’. The need for a park was raised again in 1856 when a letter was sent to the Ashton Reporter suggesting that the cotton workers themselves should raise the money for a park and not depend on the generosity of the mill owners. Campaigning for the park began, funds were raised and a Committee established. The campaigned was boosted when a local mill owner, Samuel Oldham, died leaving £7,000 for the maintenance of a park as well as funds for the maintenance of an infirmary. By 1872 the Committee were able to instruct local solicitor Henry Darnton to negotiate the purchase of Highfield House and grounds. The house had been built and grounds laid out in 1830; it was the former home of Abel Harrison, a local cotton manufacturer until his death in 1865 when the site was put up for sale. A purchase price of £15,000 was agreed and the conveyance records the transfer of the land from the Earl of Stamford to the ‘Trustees of the Public Park for Ashton under Lyne and Neighbourhood’. The task then was to turn what had been a private estate into a public park. The History of Stamford as a Public Park Local supporters had wanted to employ Joseph Paxton (Birkenhead Park, Chatsworth, People’s Park Halifax) to produce a design but it went out to competition and a Mr Lindley won. However the contract eventually went to Gregory Gill of Stalybridge, who came second, because his designs were more ‘practicable, especially on the grounds of expense’. Stamford Park was opened officially on the 12th July 1873 to great celebration. The previous day the Lord and Lady Stamford arrived and the towns of Ashton, Stalybridge and Dukinfield were decked out in bunting and flags. A crowd of 60-80,000 arrived on the day to watch the procession and opening ceremony. Following his speech Lord Stamford declared the park open; there was cheering, a fanfare of trumpets and the firing of cannon. The park was smaller than it is today but featured a range of attractions including a bowling green, flower garden (including the star shapes we still see today), Highfield House (which opened as a museum in 1875) and various curving paths around shrubberies. The cock brook valley (now known as the Dingle) was also within the park although the mills on the other side of the valley were still operating. Over the following two decades the park developed at pace, first incorporating more land into the park, and then developing the lake to ensure it was safe for boating and skating. Much of the work this period was carried out by Eaton and Sons, local architects who were responsible for the development of the boathouse, ticket office and tool house in the centre of the park. The development of the boating lake and ticket kiosk had other consequences – blue knitted jerseys and cloth caps were ordered for the gardeners to wear when they were operating the boating lake so they would be in keeping with the nautical theme! The late 1890s saw the improvement of the Dingle, and the introduction of the rock work into this area by a Mr George Briggs of Ashton under Lyne. His father, Francis Briggs, had been landscape gardener to Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth and had trained his son in the design and building of rock work. Swings and a ladies gymnasium were also added to the park at around this time. Monuments and memorials have been added to the park all through its history to commemorate and remember both people and events. Among these the Joseph Raynor Stephens memorial was unveiled in 1888. The memorial was commissioned by local factory workers to commemorate the work Stephens had done promoting fair wages and working conditions. Other memorials included the Hannon Fountain; William Isaac Hannon was an important local botanist who had introduced wild flowers into the Cock Brook valley. Into the 20th Century The park progressed further in the early part of the 20th century, the Ordnance Survey Map of 1906 shows the layout of two additional bowling greens, model boating pool and a bandstand. The conservatory opened in 1907 and was donated by John Nield; it housed palms, bananas, orange, cotton and other subtropical plants. By the start of World War Two the railings and bandstand were removed from the park and ‘Holidays at Home’ were promoted. Stamford Park had always been the place for a ‘grand day out’ and this became even more important both during and after the War. The 1950s saw the Coronation gates installed at Ashton and Stalybridge entrances, the demolition of Highfield House and the opening of the aviary, miniature garden and garden for the blind.
Call us