History of Avenham & Miller Park
Avenham and Miller Parks lie side by side on the north bank of the River Ribble, immediately south of Preston City Centre, and rank among the finest examples of traditional Victorian parkland in the north west of England. Linked through ornate railway arches both parks were designed and created by the renowned landscape architect Edward Milner during the 1860's and are Grade II listed on the English Heritage Register of Historic Gardens. At this time the American civil war was raging and cotton towns in the Northwest, including Preston, were experiencing a cotton famine. The parks were built as public works to keep cotton workers employed and prevent the social and economic problems associated with high unemployment.
Avenham Park is created from a natural amphitheatre and contains Avenham Walk (begun in 1697), the Belvedere and Swiss Chalet, which are listed buildings, and the Boer War Memorial. Later additions to the design of the park include the Rock Garden (also known as the Japanese Garden), which was constructed in the 1930's.
Miller Park is more formal in appearance and contains Derby Walk, an Italianate Terrace and a listed fountain together with the Derby Memorial Statue and is renowned for its summer bedding displays.
The development of the parks
STAGE 1: Avenham Walks
This was the first area to be developed and dates back to 1697, when Preston Council acquired the land and an avenue of trees was planted and a gravel walk with gates and seats created. The Walk consists of rustic stone retaining walls, steps and railings, which form promenades and viewing terraces. This area continues to provide a spectacular viewpoint and remains largely unaltered since its expansion in the 1840’s when the present south facing retaining wall was constructed.
STAGE 2: AvenhamPark
This park is situated below Avenham Walk. The park takes in land that formerly formed part of Jackson’s Gardens, which was a private garden open to the public. In around 1830 these gardens were transformed into formal gardens with concentric walks and an orchard. The gardens were purchased by Preston Corporation in 1843 and further land to the west was bought in 1844. In 1862 plans were first drawn up to create new parkland and Edward Milner produced the master plan. Work began on implementing the landscaping schemes between 1864 and 1867. The Park was opened in 1867 and had been designed as a Victorian ‘Romantic Style’’ garden. It included a natural looking landscape with winding paths, groups of trees and rock formations. The design of the Park took advantage of the steeply sloping river cliffs.
STAGE 3: MillerPark
It had been the intention of Preston Corporation to create one large park, but the East Lancashire Railway Line was built and visually severed the land. In 1863 Thomas Miller, a cotton mill owner in Preston bought land between the East Lancashire and North Union Railways and offered it to the Corporation. It was this generosity that gave impetus to the appointment of Edward Milner and the creation of the master plan, which included both Avenham and MillerParks. MillerPark was created in parallel to AvenhamPark and opened at the same time, but it was designed to be distinct and separate from AvenhamPark. MillerPark is of a formal ornamental style with a fountain, steps, urns and the Derby Memorial form strong visual composition to the axis of the Park. The Park also contains a sundial, grottos and planting beds.
STAGE 4: Additions to the Parks - 1900’s to 1950’s
In 1903 a bandstand was erected in the middle of AvenhamPark, but was removed in 1952 when a new stage was built to the edge of the Park. In 1925 the Boer War Memorial was placed on the Broad Walk to AvenhamPark, having moved from the Flag Market to make way for the new Cenotaph. The grass slope was embellished in a mid-Victorian style and the 1920’s also saw the introduction of tarmac to coat the Parks gravel walks where there had previously been white gravel. The current rose garden was introduced to MillerPark in the early 1930’s with a curved crazy paving path and central weeping willow tree. In 1936 the duck pond in AvenhamPark with its calm setting of a grass glade between clumps of woodland was drastically altered. Much of the existing woodland and shrubbery was removed and Westmorland Limestone was set around the slopes of the lake to form a rockery. A small bridge was erected over the central isthmus, alpine plants, dwarf shrubs and conifers were planted and narrow paths created to create the Japanese or Rock Garden.
STAGE 5: Further additions to the Parks - 1960’s to 2004
From the 1960’s a number of small changes occurred. Public conveniences had been introduced and one of the West Grotto small pools and a small grotto in AvenhamPark had been removed. In 1972 the East Lancashire Railway line, which ran along the embankment which dissected the parks, was closed. In 1989 Lancashire County Council donated a large white metal gazebo, which was erected in the Miller Park Rose Garden. In 1988 the Council commissioned a Master Plan for the revival of the three parks, although the plans were not in keeping with the Parks historic heritage. The Master plan led to the Avenham Walk restoration and enhancement works in 1989. Swing bar gates and bollards were also introduced to control vehicular entry to the Parks.
STAGE 6: PHASES I AND II OF THE AVENHAM & MILLER PARKS RESTORATION PROJECT
Avenham and Miller Parks are a fine example of landscape evolution, which are rich in architectural and landscape history, popular and much loved as a local resource, but whose full potential as a major regional and national cultural and heritage asset was only partially realised. I From the 1980’s to the mid 2000’s, Avenham and Miller Parks were at a point in its history where it required a clear strategy and long term management plan that could help it halt the inevitable deterioration and ageing process of the esteemed architecture and landscape fabric and ensure its long-term survival.
The restoration of the parks began, following a detailed planning and successful funding application process, in March 2006 with the demolition of the 1950’s bandstand. Heritage Lottery funding of around £5 million and additional funding from other sources such as the North West Development Agency, Lancashire County Council and Preston City Council allowed the implementation of the ambitious improvement project to get underway.
The restoration proposals were written to ensure the architectural and landscape heritage features of the parks can be maintained in a high quality condition, whilst incorporating new elements in the parks that meet the needs of current and future generations.
The objectives of the restoration scheme were:
To re-establish and strengthen the characters of individual landscape areas by creating a sensitive and varied set of landscape management treatments. To control vehicles and manage cycle and pedestrian circulation routes through the parks and to provide an enhanced and safe access across the parks.
Multi site functions
To balance the historic structure and form of the parks and their role of providing recreational facilities that meet the needs of the local community, as well as being a venue for regional events. This balance will be achieved by restoring the surviving historic elements, improving interpretation and education opportunities and by introducing appropriate recreational facilities such as the new visitors centre and café and the provision of events infrastructure.
At the planning stages, the site was divided up as per the following listings into the three parks. Each of these areas is distinct in character and for ease of description and division for management purposes.
A plan showing the three areas is shown in Appendices 4 and 13. The list below includes improvements that were carried out in Phase I of the restoration project (2006-2008) and Phase II (2009-2011).
Key Restoration Achievements
To enhance the historic landscape character and setting of the walk by:
§ Removing unsympathetic landscape treatment such as the block paving and modern street lighting to the gun square.
§ Restoration of the steps, rails and walls
§ The replacement of the two missing Russian Sebastopol cannons
§ The restoration and replacement of benches along the walk
§ Appropriate arboriculture management of aging trees and replacement of over mature shrub planting
§ heritage interpretation panels
§ fingerposts and notice boards
Character Area 2: AVENHAM PARK
Key Restoration Acheivements
To enhance the historic landscape character and setting of the Park and to provide new facilities that meet the recreational needs of a 21st century society by:
§ Restoring the original Edward Milner landscape design by implementing a long term arboriculture surgery cycle to riverside trees, as well as actively removing inappropriate shrub species recently planted around the parks;
§ Restoration of all the listed buildings and structures within the park
§ Restoring the parks infrastructure footpaths and lighting etc. and by securing the parks boundaries by introducing new vehicle controls.
§ Restoration and development of the JapaneseGarden.
§ Removal of unsympathetic buildings such as the bandstand
§ construction of The Pavilion, which has won awards for its superb design and houses a café, visitor centre, offices and conference/meeting space
§ Improvements to the signage and interpretation of the park.
§ Restoration of the steps, rails and walls.
§ Restoration of the Italianate Belvedere building
§ The replacement of the two missing Russian Sebastopol cannons.
§ Restoration of the JapaenseGarden waterfall and cascades
§ heritage interpretation panels
§ fingerposts and notice boards
§ restoration of planting schemes following, where practicable, the original plans of the 19th century or, in the case of the Japanese Garden, the 1930’s
§ Restoration of the ‘Dolphin’ drinking fountain fed by a natural sprint in a dressed stone alcove to the South East of Avenham Park (completed early 2012)
§ Creation of a new performance space on the AvenhamParkfield(a grassed area reinforced with heavy duty plastic meshing to enable the land to cope with a large scale stage and heavy plant and vehicles.
Key Restoration Acheivements
To enhance the historic landscape character and setting of the Park by:
§ Restoring the original Edward Milner landscape design by implementing a long term arboriculture surgery cycle to riverside trees, as well as actively removing inappropriate shrub species recently planted around the park,
§ Re-introduction of historical shrub planting,
§ Restoration of all the listed buildings and structures within the park,
§ Restoring the parks infrastructure footpaths and lighting etc. and by securing the parks boundaries by introducing new vehicle controls, as well as the construction of a new car park and cycle management scheme,
§ Replacement of railings and gates to the parks boundaries and to the IvyBridge,
§ Restoration of the listed heritage features in the parks including the Miller Park Fountain
· Heritage interpretation panels
· Fingerposts and notice boards
· Stable Yard (maintenance depot) improvements
· Replacement of overgrown, diseased and unwieldy horse chestnut trees lining the riverside path in Miller Park with disease-resistant elms
· Restoration of the Rose Garden in Miller Park
Subcontractors continue to regularly visit to provide support to the Council's team of gardeners to maintain the Parks’ horticultural features in accordance with the maintenance contract and to complete, maintain or repair some areas of work from Phases I and II of the restoration project.