1792 – Work begins on the Manchester to Ashton canal, one of the earliest canals in the North West. It would be used to carry raw materials, finished goods and coal for the cotton mills in the area. Today it serves the leisure industry, being used by holiday boats and supporting a cycle route. It runs through the Sportcity area.
1800 – Mark Philips is born on the 4th November 1800. He would later play an important role in the opening of Philips Park, which would bear his name.
1833 – The House of Commons begins to consider legislation for establishing public parks to help improve the conditions of the working classes in the growing cities of the industrial revolution, many of whom were living in poor quality housing: an estimated 20,000 people are living in cellars in the centre of Manchester, with regular outbreaks of contagious diseases such as cholera, typhus and smallpox.
1844 – In January, over a hundred local firms and leading citizens request that the Lord Mayor forms a Committee for Public Walks, Gardens and Playgrounds in Manchester. The Committee is formed in August the same year, at a public meeting which also raises over £7,000 in donations – Mark Philips MP is elected to the committee, and donates £1,000 of his own money. In September another public meeting is held at the Town Hall to begin the process of buying the land for public parks in Manchester: it is attended by 5,000 people. By Christmas 1845 over £30,000 had been raised, including a £3,000 government grant and £1,000 personally given by the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel.
(Image: left – Sir Robert Peel; right – The old Manchester Town Hall).
1845 – The land for Philips Park, approximately 12.5 hectares, is purchased from the estate of Lady Hoghton for the sum of £6,100. Joshua Major and Son of Knowsthorpe, near Leeds, win a competition to design the park. The construction work is carried out by Pim and Richardson of Ardwick.
1846 – Philips Park opens on the 22nd August. Jeremiah Harrison is appointed as the first Principal Keeper and Gardener of Philips Park.
1847 – Games and play equipment are moved from the Amphitheatre to the main body of the park. Ornamental beds are installed in their place – these are still there today.
1849 – Work begins on creating ponds out of a natural stream that crosses the park from the south east to the north west, flowing into the River Medlock. Weirs are constructed and three ponds formed, though this would later increase to six. The ponds are used for boating, paddling and one was stocked with wild fowl. All except the latter would be eventually filled in and levelled.
1855 – The Victoria Brass Band gives the first Saturday concert in Philips Park. Sunday concerts were prohibited.
1856 – The lodge by the entrance to the cemetery is opened, becoming the Park’s eastern entrance. It would eventually be demolished in 1963.
Sunday concerts begin in July, and are well attended – at this time most people worked on a Saturday, so Sunday was the only time many families could all attend an outdoor entertainment. However, opposition from religious groups, particularly Sunday Schools, would lead to the concerts being prohibited again.
1857 – Two horse-drawn grass mowers are purchased for £11 each, plus a pony to pull them. Prior to this the grass was cut by hand and sold to local farmers.
4 Russian guns from the Crimean War are presented by the War Office and placed by the South West Lodge. These would be removed in 1940, along with the park railings, as scrap metal to aid the war effort.
1859 – The new science of geology is a popular subject, and a large boulder stone, originally from Ulverston in the lake district but carried to Ancoats by glacial action in the ice age, is donated to the park. It is placed next to the head gardener’s lodge (near the site of the current Visitors Centre), where it remains to this day.
1863 – Manchester Corporation holds an open competition for the design of a cemetery to be laid out on grounds to the north of the park, on the other side of the River Medlock. From forty entries, submitted, Manchester architects Paull and Ayliffe’s designs for the buildings and William Gay of Bradford’s designs for the grounds are chosen.
1867 – Philips Park Cemetery opens on 75 acres of land to the north of the park, on the other side of the Medlock, to ease pressure on the cities churchyards. It is the first municipal public cemetery in Manchester.
1868 – The original park buildings are run down, and an architect, Alfred Derbyshire, is commissioned to design a new lodge and gates at the Mill Street entrance. This building would be completed in 1870, at the cost of £529. Today it is the only remaining lodge in the park, and it serves as a Visitors Centre. Alfred Derbyshire would later design Manchester’s Palace Theatre.
1872 – A report from the Head Gardener noted that trees and shrubs had to be replaced every three years due to heavy pollution. The same year, a chemist in Manchester called Robert Smith coined the term ‘acid rain’ and described the damage it caused to plants and materials.
On the 13th July and after 2 days of torrential rain, the river Medlock floods causing tremendous damage along its banks. At Philips Park Cemetery it washes away tombstones and large number of bodies from their graves. In December the Borough Surveyor is asked to prepare plans for a wall along the banks of the river, to prevent damage from future floods.
In August, Manchester’s first bowling green is opened by the Mayor in Philips Park. The site is now a quiet garden area, next to the present bowling green.
1889 – The Parks Committee decide to construct the city’s first open air swimming bath at Philips Park. The bath will be made using the upper lake in the south east corner of the park, at the cost of £3,000.
1891 – The open air swimming pool opens on 10th June, for men and boys only. At the opening ceremony, boys without trunks dive for coins thrown by the mayor. Shortly after, a sign is installed that reads ‘All persons of 12 years and upwards to wear Bathing Drawers’. The pool would last for over 50 years, being closed in 1953.
Jeremiah Harrison dies. Although he had retired from the position of Head Keeper in 1886, he had continued to work at the park up to his death.
1896 – Tulips are now an established feature of the park. In May, the Manchester Guardian makes the first reference to what would become known as Tulip Sunday.
In August, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the park is celebrated with a procession of local Sunday schools, trade unions and friendly societies. An ornate commemorative drinking fountain in sandstone and red granite is also installed, near the main entrance – it is still there today.
1901 – A new railway viaduct across the east end of the park is proposed. This will link the main line with a new power station and chemical works in Clayton and Openshaw. Some of the viaduct arches in the park would be used as play shelters.
1909 – The Council borrow £15,000 to pave the bed of the River Medlock between the Park and the Cemetery. The river would now flow safely in an open culvert of terra-cotta brick.
1914 – First World War begins. It would last until 1918. During this time, the transport of dutch tulip bulbs necessary for the annual displays in Tulip Meadow would be interrupted.
(Image: Rochdale Tram with a notice exhorting men to enlist for The Great War
1920 – Around this time nurseries begin to supply a tree that is resistant to industrial pollution. Clones from a single male example of the English native Black Poplar are used extensively throughout Manchester, so much that the tree becomes known as the Manchester Poplar. The large matures specimens in Philips Park are the only remaining poplars from this period.
1921 – Tennis grows dramatically in popularity after the first world war. Eight hard tennis courts are created in addition to the three existing grass courts in Philips Park.
1922 – The annual displays of Dutch tulips in ‘Tulip Valley’, which had been interrupted by the First World War, are reinstated in the spring of 1922. The park would be renowned for its annual tulip displays until the mid twentieth century.
1954 – The swimming pool and all but one of the other ponds formed in 1849 are filled in to provide more play space.
1968 – Bradford pit finally closes.
1980 – By the 1980s, most of the traditional industries in the area had closed and the surrounding area was largely derelict with many social problems.
1994 – The nearby power station is replaced by the National Cycling Centre.
1996 – A festival is held in the park to commemorate its 150th anniversary. ‘Tulip Sunday’, held on a Sunday when the bulbs in ‘Tulip Valley’ are in full bloom, is revived.
2000 – A Community Orchard is added alongside the allotments to the east of the park. The site has many apple trees and is designed to bring a warm welcome to visitors.
2001 – English Heritage place Philips Park on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest, with the site being given grade II status.
2002 – The Commonwealth games are held in Manchester, with the official Commonwealth Stadium and many other facilities being sited in the vicinity of Philips Park, in the area now known as Sportcity.
The Lodge at Philips Park is refurbished and officially opened as a Visitor Centre.
Philips Park Cemetery joins Philips Park as a grade II site on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
2003 – the Peace Mosaic was installed and located next to bowling green.
The Friends of Philips Park community group is established.
2005 – Philips Park was awarded a Green Flag by the Civic Trust. The Green Flag award scheme was set up by the Civic Trust in 1996 as a means of recognising and rewarding the best green spaces in the country.
2006 – Philips Park is awarded £350,000 of funding from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, European Regional Development Fund and East Manchester New Deal for Communities. The Funding will allow the park to be dramatically revitalized, through new planting in Tulip Valley and the wildflower meadow, new adventure play facilities, and repairs to the walls and entrances.