The 2011 Dig: The view from an old architect – by Ken Shone

I suppose I approached this with a lot of baggage! When we first started the Friends group, I had seen with Julian Tomlin, the early photos and the postcards from Bruce Anderson’s collection and I felt as though I knew a lot about what was built here in 1890 odd when it all changed from being two gardens and a field into a Park “for the gratification of the public”. Starting to dig into the – OK not so hallowed- turf changes all that. Now its all about engaging with what your mattock, then your spade, then your trowel turns up, and all of a sudden you are not thinking about the flouncy clothes and fine structures on the pictures but – “how come there are so many milk bottles”, and “what’s all this clinker about?”

I was working on trench one – the lake pavilion site going down to the lake edge – and in particular on the part where we dug a slit trench to explore the lake edge itself. This was very rewarding, the sloping edge of the pavilion’s paved area turned up on cue and then the actual edge detail of setts laid in sand, just as on the postcards, then the lake edge, which seems to have been made of a coloured cement probably over bricks, then the lake bottom also of cement falling away nicely for a couple of metres before changing colour and texture and gradient – the new pool bottom laid when the lake became a paddling pool I suppose. And above that lots of mixed up fill material with an extraordinary number of bottles – milk bottles, beer bottles etc but occasionally in tight piles as though they had originally been in a bag. It all seems to have been done without any kind of consideration for safety which is odd considering that this is a Park where children play, but above that was a layer of clinker and then the topsoil, so I suppose they reckoned that anything goes so long as it’s cheap! I was interested though by the bottom. There doesn’t appear to have been any attempt to break this up before backfill so that if the rest of the lake area is like this it would account for the problem that is very evident in this part of the Park in winter – it gets waterlogged.

The shallower end of trench one is where the pavilion was. From the postcards it appears to me that this was a timber structure, basically tee-shaped with the down-stroke pointing at the lake and the cross-stroke parallel with the path. The down-stroke part is higher than the two arms and ends in a semi-circular veranda facing the lake. The steep roof of this part is higher than that of the two arms which have hipped ends which become gables half way up. The increased height of the roof of the centre portion (the “up-stroke”) means that its span was greater than that of the two arms, and it also appears from some of the pictures that on the path side the slope of the roof of the side arms is carried through with a half gable end to the main roof above it. This makes for quite an imposing building with a very complicated roof. The debris found in the dig suggests that it had red clay tiles. This is all carried on timber posts with a corbel detail at the top of the six posts of the veranda. The walls were glazed panels above an integral bench seat which, on the ends and sides facing the lake, was on both inside and outside of the bottom part of the wall. There does not appear to have been any brickwork in this structure. This would account for the fact that the excavation found no strip footings but I was surprised that there was no clear evidence of padstones or bases on which to sit the timber posts which were carrying such a big and heavy roof. What we did find was a thick layer of clinker/ash beneath the rolled stone (sort of tarmac) floor. This seems to have extended outside to form the paved area shown in the photograph. Perhaps the posts in the walls were carried on a timber wall-plate sitting on top of the prepared and rolled base, but this does not account for the freestanding posts of the veranda. Maybe our excavation did not coincide with these positions.

The floor of the pavilion had been broken up, presumably when the remains of the building was cleared and prepared for top-soiling and seeding as part of the Park “re-design” work in 1954. I assume they wanted to provide drainage for the grass. But when the broken floor and clinker/ash base was excavated drain trenches appeared. At first it seemed that these might be connected to fittings inside the pavilion but it soon became clear to me that this was the remains of the field drainage that had been put in at the very beginning of the making of the Park. I remembered that the two gardens were separated by boggy ground associated with Rusholme Brook, and that Julian and I had been interested to see the first works described as “laying out and draining the Park”. Interestingly the drain trenches under the pavilion were filled with clay, which is inconsistent with this theory because that would impede the drainage function, but when we excavated under the paving close to the edge of the lake we found a continuation of this trench filled with clinker and loose material which would have provided the drainage down to the open jointed pipes that we subsequently found. So it seems that the builders of the pavilion dug out the clinker and replaced it with clay topped with clinker/ash and consolidated the lot to provide a firm platform for the timber pavilion.

The drain pipes are in good condition and apparently functional if not functioning. The drain pictured here is too shallow to extend very far but if others further up the Park are in similar condition perhaps they could be restored to help drainage of this area. I did not work on the bandstand area or on the path through the woods beyond it. The work on the bandstand must have been very trying! The bandstand enclosure was planted with a circle of trees whose roots were spread like the groins of a fan vault, interlocking and providing a great dis-incentive to going lower! It reminds us that when these structures were built most of the trees were small– young trees 2.5 metres tall I suppose. They are now 130+ years old in many cases and what, on the photograph seems to be a pleasantly tree lined enclosure is now thoroughly enclosed. But the substructure eventually turned up in another trench. The photographs show that the design was consistent with other structures in the Park. It seems to have been timber, with the same corbel detail as on the Pavilion veranda and with a similar sort of clay tiled roof.

 But unlike the Pavilion, the floor had to be raised to make the band visible above the audience. Hence this bandstand had a substructure, made of brick sufficiently thick to resist the load from the increased height on the inside of the structure. The above ground part of the bandstand looks to me from the photograph to have timber panelled facing. This would be consistent with the Observatory and I guess the path side of the pavilion.


The path turned up in a trench that was placed to examine the make up of the mound. We believe this to have been made out of the material excavated from the lake. The path is not very far down, having apparently been covered with topsoil when it was still in pretty good condition and again probably, part of the works done in 1954 when the “redesign” of the Park was done by the council. The path was topped with red shale and edged with hard blue bricks in perfect condition, with a gulley and drainpipes. The broken pipe on the photograph was broken to check whether the pipes were still viable and they are clear and apparently capable of working.

This may seem a boring preoccupation of mine, but poor drainage is one of the issues that arises in the Park whenever we have wet weather and to find an apparently sound drainage system raises hopes of there being a way to address this problem. I really enjoyed the work on this dig – the supervisors were incredibly patient with the large numbers of volunteers and schoolchildren that they had to organise – and my previous knowledge about the history of the Park made the findings even more interesting for me because things are never quite what you expect them to be. The lack of a substructure to the pavilion was a surprise which prompted me to look harder at the photographs and work out what the designer had done, and then to relate that to the other structures. And the finding of the land drainage, which clearly predated all of the lake work, raised all sorts of ideas about solving the drainage problems of the Park – reawakening ideas about finding out more about the culverted Rusholme Brook for instance. The way that the paddling pool was backfilled without making provision for drainage and the covering over of an, apparently good path, complete with a functional drainage system are other things that baffle me. I look forward to the next dig but before that to getting involved in the archive research that might start to give clues as to how, and why, these things happened in the way they did.


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