Challenges to the Private Park
Victoria Park was created during a period in Manchester's history when the migration from the city core had begun. As residential buildings in the center were replaced by warehouses, working people were moving into the terraced cottages in places like Longsight. The wealthier merchant class were looking for more prestigious accommodation on the edges of the city. As the city advanced ever outward incorporating surrounding townships, it was inevitable that the wealthiest residents of the park would eventually move again, but over the years the relentless encroachment on the park and the challenges to its "privacy" probably accelerated that process. Over the years a number of events gradually "opened up" the park and changed it forever.
The Introduction of Street Lights
On the 7th of November 1855 the Rusholme Board of Health (which supervised such matters as lighting, drainage and sewage disposal) received a request from all the inhabitants and rate payers residing in the part of Rusholme that was in Victoria Park asking "the Board to light the roads in the Park with gas."
The request was of course rather unusual because the Victoria Park residents were requesting that public funds be used to light streets from which the general public was excluded.
The Board resolved that:
since the Board had authority to light these thoroughfares along which the public passed freely.
Some months later it was resolved, "that the attention in the notice at the entrance to the Victoria Park having taken place by the Victoria Park Committee, eleven lamps in addition to the seven belonging to private persons ... be placed in Daisy Bank Road ... at the expense of this Board."
So a crack had opened in the door. Pedestrians passed freely in and out of the park in return for Rusholme picking up the bill for lighting.
As the City of Manchester moved its borders relentlessly outwards, pressure was put on the residents of Rusholme to consider incorporation with Manchester. Obviously, since much of the Park fell within Rusholme, there was the potential that this could result in a further erosion to its private status.
At first Rusholme considered that incorporation was not in the best interests of its residents, but in the end it was the growing problem of sewage disposal that forced them to accept it. The Victoria Park Trust committee was extremely active in the ensuing negotiations and managed to have included in the Incorporation Bill the following clause:
The residents were very afraid that the roads in the park would be resurfaced with paving stones which they said, "would destroy the privilege and repose of the residents and lessen values terribly."
The deal that the park got during Incorporation included an assurance from the Corporation that "it would not suit their interests to alter the character of the place" and that residents of the Park "have no fear of having paving being forced on (them)." Over the years the less affluent residents grew to regret the fact that the Park committee had in effect absolved the Council of the responsibility of improving the roads.
The Breaking of the Building Tie
From the beginning, development in the park was controlled by a building tie that "prohibited the building of house property in Victoria Park of a less annual rent than £50". This was done to prevent the construction of the sort of homes that would attract the wrong sort of people and erode the value of property in the park.
As time went by and the park was increasingly surrounded by a gridlock pattern of terraced cottages, the pressure increased to break the tie and develop some of the land within the park boundary. One such challenge occurred in 1898 and involved Sir William Anson, who had inherited the Birch Estate which lay to the south of the park. Anson also owned land within the park.
The park residents had two concerns: that terraced cottages would be built and that builders would be traipsing back and forth through park gates. In fact, the fight to prevent the breaking of the building tie began with an attempt to ban builders entering through the gates and thereby preventing any construction.
Anson began to lose patience with the park residents and at one point he declared that, "Victoria Park with its gates is a serious detriment to his property which lies outside the Park area,...and that he intends, one of these days, if occasion should require, to have the gates removed by force."
Protracted legal wrangling came to an end, on this occasion, when Anson, in return for uncontested access through the Victoria Park gates for "those who live in the Birch Estate ... and persons dealing with them." The agreement provided that a toll gate should be erected and maintained at the expense of the Trust and that building materials could enter the Park by the gate free of charge.
However, it became clear during all of the legal arguments that the building tie would not hold up and with the tie broken, and other important societal changes on the horizon, the Park's days were numbered.
- Credits -
The source for the information on this page is Victoria Park, Manchester : A nineteenth-century suburb in its social and administrative context by Maurice Spiers. Published by Manchester University Press for the Chetham Society, 1976. [ISBN: 071901333X]