Two large horseshoe arches carry the Sandy Holme aqueduct over the River Brun as it flows into Thompson Park. Designed by engineer Robert Whitworth, it was constructed to carry the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over the river between 1790-6, long before the park was thought of. It takes its name from Sandy Holme farm, through whose land it passed. The blocks around the arches are made to look old or ‘rusticated’, with rough faces and holes punched into them. It’s an impressive piece of construction, but on passing under the footpath arch the visitor can see a whole range of intriguing designs, carved onto the blocks. These are mason marks- each mason being paid for the number of stone blocks they produced. They would put their own design on every stone they shaped. There are stars, zigzags, arrows, hourglasses, ones that look like eyes…we have never seen so many in one place. There are reports that nearby Gannow tunnel also has them, and that will be the subject of a future blog post. The aqueduct is Grade II listed and sits at the north-east end of the park.
The idea for a park in the area came from James Witham Thompson. He is said to have spied the spot from an open top tram and thought it would be a good place for a public park. On his death in 1920 he left £50,000 to the council to construct one. Formerly unemployed labourers did much of the work. They began in 1928 and two years later the land had been converted from Sand Holme farm fields, allotments and a plantation into the brand new Thompson Park.
The River Brun runs through the park, passing under the aqueduct. Some of its water was diverted to make the boating lake, which is over three acres big. Boat hire was a popular pastime and has been revived in recent years. Many original features of the Edwardian park are still present and in good condition: The sunken Italian Garden, rose garden, the two art deco style buildings of the pavilion and boathouse, children’s paddling pool and two ornamental bridges. In 1998 Burnley and Pendle Minature Railway Society first began their train trips here, and are going strong two decades later. See their website here. A year later tree planting was carried out as part of the Forest of Burnley project, where over a million trees have been planted within the Burnley area.
To visit the aqueduct and park: Park at Queen Victoria Road car park (free parking). Head down the slope towards the River Brun. On reaching the river, turn left and follow the path towards the Aqueduct. When you go under the arch that goes over the path, look up to see the many mason marks. To get a view of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, take the steps up to the top of the aqueduct. Return down the steps and carry on the riverside path and this will lead you in to Thompson Park by the boating lake.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2017
Park at Queen Victoria Road car park and follow the directions above
Nearby, just a short drive away