Vauxhall Gardens

If you drive out of the city centre along the A664, Rochdale Road, you will see off to your left, in Collyhurst, three refurbished / reclad tower blocks.  These towers have been named after the famous Manchester suffragettes Sylvia, Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst and their christian names are emblazoned on the roofs.

Just beyond the last of the towers, Dalton Street leads off to your left and at the end of the road is an area of open, landscaped ground bound on the northwest side by Collyhurst Road and the River Irk.  This is part of the Irk Valley that is the focus of redevelopment.  It is hoped that it will one day provide a green corridor into the city centre with the river as a focus.  However, the area has a chequered history and at one time the river was lined with dye works and other chemical factories and a colliery was located nearby.  As the Irk Valley Action Plan makes clear, this land next to Sand Street, "remains heavily contaminated below the surface-level landscaping."

Ironically, in the 1700s this land was regarded as, "a wild, uncared-for dell" until a local man, called Robert Tinker, decided to clear and convert it into what became known locally as, "Tinker's Gardens".  Tinker was the owner of the Grape & Compass Coffee House and Tea Garden and he cleared the ground to create the kind of "Pleasure Garden" that was very popular around the country at this time.  Sarah Jane Downing in her book, The English Pleasure Garden 1660 - 1860, says of it, "Mr Tinker named his idyll Elysian Gardens, after the place in Greek mythology where the souls of the heroic and the virtuous were laid to rest, and later Vauxhall Gardens, as in London's renowned place of recreation.

  His gardens were adorned by 3,000 coloured lights and those who paid 1s 6d (7.5p) to enter in the early 1800s were treated to a night which was 'at once intelligent, rural and delightful'".

Apparently there was dancing on the lawns and refreshments were served at tables set among the trees and shrubbery.  Downing says that, "On Sundays and holidays people would come on horseback from Moston and Ancoats and one advertisement states that `excellent grass for horses is available at moderate terms' "-  -  "It is claimed that there were 50,000 people at the gardens to see the Royal Coronation Balloon ascent in August 1827."

Tinker died in 1836 but the gardens continued to operate for another 16 years.  The map above, dated 1849, shows the gardens but also helps us to understand why they eventually closed.  Beside the Irk we see the Dye Works, just one of the factories pouring effluence into the river.  The Irk became a heavily polluted neighbour of the gardens and the area was becoming far from Elysian.  At the end of the park you can see a sand quarry and according to Downing, "The final demise came because the sandy soil known as Vauxhall Sand - so good for growing cucumbers - was prized by `iron moulders' and sold off by the barrow-load."  Below you can see the setting in 1857.

Today, the only thing that provides a clue to the fact that this piece of open ground was once  home to this important tourist attraction is the street which forms its southern boundary, Vauxhall Street.  And Sand Street, which marks its eastern boundary, commemorates its demise.