The history of place fascinates me. Especially when that place is a park.
On a recent trip to Williamson Park in Lancaster, England, I picked up another fascinating park foundation story. It’s a surprising one as it spans both centuries and miles. It connects an ornate memorial that I have passed countless times driving up the M6, to the American Civil War, and to that classic kitchen flooring – linoleum.
Northern England in the nineteenth century was home to a thriving cotton industry. The fortune of whole towns was based upon the fortune of the mill. When the American Civil War broke out the flow of cotton from the southern States stopped and many local residents lost their jobs as the mills closed.
In Lancaster, the cotton famine stopped the mills owned by James Williamson Sr. and his son James Williamson Jr. They specialized in coated cotton products — James Williamson Jr. would go on to be known as the “lino king” and eventually became 1st Baron Ashton. In what is an early example of a public works project (albeit privately run), the displaced mill workers were employed to convert a disused quarry on Lancaster Moor into Williamson Park.
The park is well worth a visit. If you’re a collector of geographic oddities, it’s worth noting that it’s very close to the geographic center of the United Kingdom. And from the outdoor balconies of the ornate memorial he built to his wife, you get glorious views across the sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland hills — that is, if it’s not raining!