Corporation Park

Blackburn - (The Battery)

Summary - Lord Panmure, the secretary of state for war presented two Russian cannon captured at the battle of Sebastopol to the town on 22nd June 1857. They were fired on the opening of the Corporation Park in June 1857 to remind the people of the British victories. A carriage drive was constructed to the battery by unemployed operatives during the cotton famine in 1863-4. Two German guns from the Great War were later added. The corporation sold them in 1937 for scrap, in the salvage drive for World War 11, after their wooden carriages had rotted away, along with a tank in Queen's Park.

Looking back, the day to remember in Blackburn was the opening of the park, which drew a capacity crowd of 50,000 all that time ago; although at the time, despite its population booming with its growth as a cotton town, Blackburn had barely that many residents.

The occasion was the official opening of the park itself in October, 1857. And though its open spaces were a huge attraction in themselves, the particular lure was enough to also entice 15,000 visitors from out of town. The highlight was the cannons firing, not dissimilar from the explosions that will mark the night's extravaganza at the finale of the three-day 'Arts in the Park' millennium celebration. Yes, on the day, there was music, with a band heading the civic procession from the Town Hall to the platform erected in the park for the opening ceremony, which also celebrated something of a bargain land deal on the part of Blackburn Corporation whose inception six years before the new park marked.

For the park's site of some 50 acres had been bought for 3,257 pounds from Lord of the Manor Joseph Feilden with the stake money of 4,700 pounds that the town had got from the sale in 1845 of land at the Town's Moor, off Bolton Road, for the erection of the Bolton and East Lancashire Railway's new station.

So the night-time firework display that followed the park's opening was obviously an affordable extravagance. But the bangs that the crowd wanted to hear most of all were those from the firing of the two 24-pounder Russian guns that had been presented the previous June to Blackburn by war minister Lord Panmure following their capture at Sebastopol in the Crimean War which had ended 12 months earlier.

They were sited high up at the top of the park, at a spot still known as The Cannons, though the guns were scrapped some 60 years ago as part of the Second World War salvage drive. "Thousands of people entered the borough from the neighbouring towns to witness the ceremony, for the expected firing of the recently-acquired Russian guns had caught the public imagination," reported the Northern Daily Telegraph in a feature on the park's 70th-anniversary in 1927.

And the Illustrated Times' eye-witness on the actual day wrote: "Not only were the Sebastopol guns, presented by Lord Panmure to the borough, fired in rapid succession, but some miniature pieces of ordnance contributed to do honour to the occasion, and to alarm most of the ladies present."

The next time the guns roared, they drowned an alderman's speech of thanks to the Mayor, William Pilkington, for the four fountains he had donated to the park. More speeches, more trumpet blares and more cannon blasts followed before the VIPs returned to the Town Hall for a feast while the day closed with the fireworks display at which, the Illustrated's report added, "almost everyone belonging to Blackburn was present."

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