Historical Places in Platt Fields

Platt Fields Park has a long and colourful history. The first mention of the Platt Estate is in 1150, when a certain ‘Matthew, Son of William’ conveyed the lands of Platt to the Knights of St. John. Reference is made in the deed to Gore Brook, which runs through the estate.

In 1225, the estate became the property of the Platt family and who then occupied the lands for the following 400 years.

The most ancient feature of the estate is a portion of the ‘Mickle Ditch,’ or sometimes called Nico ditch, which in its entirety measured over 5 miles and started at Ashton Moss and enters Platt Fields on the eastern side near to Platt Hall. First reference is made to the ditch in 1200. Today the purpose of this ditch is unconfirmed.

The estate came into the possession of the Worsley family in 1625. The most famous member was Lieutenant Colonel Worsley, who was born in 1622 and became the first member of parliament for Manchester and one of Oliver Cromwell’s major generals. His remains lie in Westminster Abbey. At this point in time, the Platt Hall Estate was a country park on the borders of the Cheshire Plain.

In 1907, William Royle heard that Platt Fields Estate was up for sale. He asked the Lord Mayor to call a town meeting. The meeting was packed with residents of Rusholme and a resolution was passed recommending the Corporation buy Platt Fields site for public use. They did so by purchasing the land from Mrs. Carill Worsley, the last owner of the estate, at a cost of £59,975 in 1908.

At this time, Platt Fields was an old fashioned country park attached to a mansion and surrounded by the ever increasing homes of the city workers. The once open country had become a mass of houses, becoming thicker every year.

During the winter of 1908-09, when there was high unemployment, over 700 men were given work on laying out the park, inverting the Gore Brook and planting banks with trees and shrubs.

The main feature of the park was the construction of a lake and island that covers a little over 6 acres. Platt Fields Park was formally opened by the lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Behrens, on 7 May 1910.

Over the years the park has been modified and shaped into the park we know today. The 1915 City Parks Report cites the park to be home to ‘lively, crowded and exciting times on Saturday afternoons and summer evenings.’ Tennis, bowling, football and cricket were enthusiastically taken up by Manchester’s masses, including children and young people. Hundreds of ‘little ones engaged in the delightful pursuits of splashing and wading’ in their own half acre paddling pool.

Significantly, between 1919 and 1925 when unemployment was again high, the parks committee provided work for local people, levelling the park and playing fields, forming the bowling greens, tennis courts and bathing pool. The part of the playing fields overlooked by Trinity Church was at one time a speakers corner. Crowds came to the park on Sunday mornings to listen.

Platt Fields Park was also home of the annual Manchester Flower Show, a tradition until 2003 when the park began to hold all manor of events and Festivals in keeping with the wishes of the local community.

Summary by Manchester City Council, retrieved from the Internet Archive – link

A large selection of historical images can be found on the Manchester City Council Local Image Collection – link

Nico Ditch
This runs across Platt Fields, on the fenceline between Manchester High School for Girls and the Park. At its end it is culverted underground and exits into the lake.

“Part of the Very Ancient Mickle or Great Ditch sometimes called Nico Ditch Well-known A.D.1200. Extending over Five Miles from here to Ashton Moss and Bounding Several Townships Described fully in Vol. xxiii. of Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society”.

The above quote has been lifted from the inscribed stone placard situated beside Nico ditch, which runs through the park. The ditch is said to have formed a defensive line against Danish or Viking raiders attacking up the Mersey. The story is that it was dug in the space of one night – quite a feat in the ninth century-as it measures at five miles, 183 yards.

Platt Family Estate
In 1225, the lands around the park became the property of the Platt family, who retained ownership until 1625, when it was bought by wealthy textile merchant Ralph Worsley. The existing manor house: Platt Hall, was built in 1764 to a classic Georgian design, is now a listed building and houses Manchester’s Costume Museum. The grounds currently occupied by most of the park were originally the agricultural fields owned and cultivated by employees of the Platt family.

The south end of the park, known today as Ashfield, was the grounds of a further stately home, built around 1835. It was owned by a Mr Robinson ‘a well-known Manchester merchant’. He had ‘extensive pleasure grounds contain(ing) plantations, fishponds and every kind of garden’ which include the Shakespearean Garden and the cathedral Arch which are now in Platt Fields Park.

The Cathedral Arch was originally a window from Manchester Cathedral, acquired as a folly by Mr Robinson, when the cathedral windows were replaced.

The Ashfields Estate was bought by Manchester Corporation in 1913, the house and stables demolished and the land added to the park.

This was a large family mansion built in 1882, on the site that is now Manchester High School for Girls. It was sold to the Red Cross in 1916 and turned into a war hospital for the thousands of injured servicemen returning from the carnage of the Western front (the Somme, and Flanders). In 1936 it was sold to Manchester High School for Girls, who demolished it and built a new school, which opened in 1940, just three months before it was almost entirely destroyed in the Manchester blitz. The new school overlooks Platt Fields Park. The original bandstand lay in this area of the park, off the Grangethorpe Road entrance and formed a central part of the park in the 1950’s.

Lord Worsley of Platt
In 1901 and again in 1906, Lord Worsley put his house and lands up for sale by auction. On neither occasion was the reserve price reached. The estate was then offered up in individual housing plots, with the house being offered for its bricks! Some plots were bought, but a fierce local campaign was led by local burgher William Royle, who managed to persuade the owner of these to sell them back and then pressed Manchester Corporation to buy the whole estate for public use. This was done in 1907, at a cost of £59,975. In 1908/9, when there was high unemployment, over 700 men were given work to lay out the park and construct the lake with its island. A paddling pool was also constructed, along with walkways and flowerbeds, trees and shrubs. Tennis courts, pitch and putt and a model railway completed its original features.

Platt Fields park was officially opened by the Lord Mayor on May 7th 1910. Since then it has remained in public ownership.

1907Platt Fields bought by Manchester Corporation from the Platt Hall estate, after a fierce campaign by local people led by William Royle.
1908/9700 unemployed men laid out the park – trees, shrubs, construction of the lake and the island.
1910 May 7thOpening of Platt Fields by the Lord Mayor Cllr Behrens.
1913 – JulyVisit to Platt Fields By King George V.
1913Ashfield House and grounds added – making the park 90 acres. This included the cathedral arch ‘folly’ and the sunken Shakespearean Garden.
1914-18First World War. Grangethorpe House used as military hospital for patients who had lost limbs at the Front.
1919-25Construction of the bowling greens, tennis courts and tennis pavilion, yachting pond, miniature railway built, bandstand. Statue of Abraham Lincoln erected near Platt Hall.
1930sConstruction of outdoor swimming pool and Lakeside Cafe (to replace Platt hall, which became an art gallery). The boathouse was extended.
1939-45Second World War. Platt Fields was bombed first in 1940. Subsequently, an underground air raid shelter was built along the Lime Walk entrance from Platt Lane, and housed several barrage balloons.

“Shakespeare in the Park” plays performed during wartime, for school children.
1947Platt Hall re-opened as the Gallery of English Costume.
1952-53Swimming Pool closed and transformed into Pets Corner, which used the remains of the pool as its duckpond, and the changing cubicles as its stores.
1960sThe yachting lake sprang a leak and was too costly to repair.
The paddling pool was closed as a result of fears of polio and the start of vandalism (broken glass – a scourge that began when bottles were no longer returnable).
The hill at the back of the park was made, using spoil from the Mancunion Way.
Australia House was erected next to the Lakeside Centre to show people who might want to emigrate what the houses were like.
1980sMany features closed or disbanded – flower borders, the bandstand, pitch and putt, some tennis courts. Park no longer locked at night; visitors allowed to ‘walk on the grass’; the Abraham Lincoln statue was removed to Brasenose Street (now Lincoln Square) opposite the Town Hall in town.
1993Announcement of the impending closure of the Pets Corner (along with similar ones in two other parks) prompted an energetic campaign and the formation of the Pets Corner Action Group, to try and save the project. Following a very trying summer, in which the Council fed dishonest stories to the press about animals being harmed (in order to reduce popular support for the Pets Corner – to no avail!), one night in September they closed it and removed all the animals. The outcry resulting from this led to…
1994…the formation of : The Friends of Platt Fields
1999The Friends first major project completed – a teenage village constructed (along with a roller-hockey space and children’s playground).
2000The community orchard was planted.
2001/2The Coronation Fountain from Piccadilly Gardens rescued and placed in Platt Fields, with a rose garden planted around it, for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
2003Final edition of Manchester Flower Show. Start of Garden of Delights Festival, which heralded a huge new influx of visitors to the park and Lakeside area.
2004Surestart Children’s Playground created; the Roller Hockey pitch changed to a skatepark; the start of the Eco-Garden.
2005Creation of Eric’s Glade, a landscaped woodland and planted area, in memory of the Friends longest-serving Chair Eric Cooper.
2006Destruction of the Edwardian Tennis Pavilion by arson.
2008Creation of Olympic Standard BMX track.
2009Comprehensive Refurbishment of the Boathouse. Development of greenhouse and food growing facility at the Lakeside centre. Installation of “Edible Space”, a soft-fruit growing area. Re-installation of the Sri Chinmoy peace Mile (a mile-long run/walk round the park). Major refurbishment of Platt Hall.
2010Centenary of Platt Fields – a year-long celebration, involving 18 special events and over 12 projects. A new clock was installed on the Boathouse.