The parkland that surrounds Astley Hall was once a private estate, but is now a large public park owned by Chorley Council. The Townley-Parker family may well have sought advice from the noted landscape gardener John Webb, well known for his work on Cheshire houses such as Tatton Park, on how best to lay out their estate. The landscape we see currently probably dates from the 1700s to early 1800s.
The estate is a mixture of open grassland and woodland. A wealth of historical features exist within the park, and these are described below roughly in the chronology that they were put in place. At the end of this page is a route guide that will take you around all the sites.
In front of Astley Hall is a ha-ha. These were constructed to keep livestock that grazed in the surrounding parkland from venturing into the formal gardens. Shown on a map dating from 1822, it consists of a wall and a ditch and runs for 130 metres. The ornamental gate piers have the same decoration as that of the main staircase in the Great Hall of the house. Today it gives us an indication of the extent of the now disappeared formal gardens, and where the parkland began beyond them.
There are four woodlands surrounding the open parkland. To the north is Damnhead Wood and Dog Trap Wood, and to the south Great Wood and Ackhurst Wood. The River Chor runs through Great Wood and Ackhurst Wood, and paths laid out in the 1800s lead down through the woodlands to one of the entrances to the estate, Ackhurst Lodge.
The Ice House
Great Wood contains a pond with two associated features – an ice house and a fountain. Above the pond, hidden in an earthen mound, are the remains of the ice house. A path led up from the pond to the ice house, where ice from it would be stored for months under the ground. No features of the ice house can now be seen apart from the mound, but the Friends of Astley Park have placed a marker post on its position (post 3 on the Astley Park Trail) and from this vantage point the pond can be viewed below.
The Lost Fountain
On the other side of the pond the friends have discovered a fountain (which they have dubbed ‘The Lost Fountain’). It probably dates from the 1700s. While clearing away Himalayan Balsam they discovered a flat circular stone structure. Investigation revealed it to be the base of a fountain, and further digging uncovered a pedestal, bowl, and a cast iron pipe with lead spigot leading to the pond. The friends have fully restored the fountain to working order and it runs on special occasions, drawing water from the pond. The water then drains into the River Chor.
A carding mill dating from around 1780 is marked on an 1844 map. This building has long since vanished, but the Friends have erected a post (number 4 on the Astley Park Trail) to mark where it stood, close to the River Chor, which would have been used to turn its water wheel.
The lodge house dates from 1842 and is at the secondary entrance to the Astley Hall estate. This is no simple ‘mock Tudor’ effect though, as the construction is of a wooden frame pegged together, with panels of wattle and daub. The large elaborate chimney stack is very similar in design to that on the west side of Astley Hall. It was last inhabited in the 1990s but was permanently abandoned after a flood, with the water almost reaching up to the downstairs ceiling. The residents were not home at the time, and their Alsatian dog was trapped inside. A member of the public daringly swam into the lodge to rescue it.
Two serious floods have occurred again to the building in recent times. These happened in August 2020 and January 2021. On the first occasion, the ground floor was submerged, and on the second time the flood waters covered both storeys, leaving just the roof and chimney visible. The council state that they have money set aside to renovate this grade II listed building, but clearly that money would be wasted if it continues to be flooded. The deceptively small River Chor runs goes into a culvert under Southport Road just a few metres away from the lodge. On the last two occasions, the culvert had become blocked with debris from the woodland trees. Now grills have been put in place to prevent this from happening in the future.
While we take clean drinking water as a given nowadays, this was not always so. On the outside of the park on Park Road, close to the main entrance inset into the wall is the remains of a drinking fountain. Inscribed on it is the name of the donor and the dates of its installation: ‘Ann Pollard 1861′.
Within the park itself is another drinking fountain of quite a different design. It is a free standing iron structure, listed as type No. 8 in Walter Macfarlane & Co catalogue. The fountain was cast at Saracen Foundry in Possilpark in Glasgow. It features cranes at the top, painted gold, and four small salamanders at its base. Drinking cups would have hung on chains from it. This is clearly a relic from the time when the parkland had been opened to the public.
The Main Entrance War Memorials
The main entrance to the park houses a number of war memorials. The original one was put in position in 1919, following the First World War. It is a simple Celtic Cross on a stone column, and is still in its original position. In 1922, then owner Reginald Tatton donated the park and hall to Chorley Council. The council opened the park and hall up to the public and the whole parkland site was dedicated as a war memorial.
The large entrance way arch was put in place in 1923 and comes from the nearby estate of Gillibrand Hall. It was moved from there and re-erected by Leonard Fairclough Ltd of Adlington, and bears the inscription ‘Pro Patria‘ meaning ‘For One’s Country’.
More recently, a life-size wooden First World War soldier carved from wood by Simon O’Rourke has been erected. He stands in a weary slumped posture, showing a face that has seen the horrors of war. Thirteen Portland limestone panels have been added around the original memorial cross, and they bear the names of 732 men from Chorley who gave their lives in both world wars and in post-1945 conflicts.
War Memorials near the Hall
Chorley born John Everiss has designed two commemorative memorials for the park. His most recent one is the Garden of Reflection, which uses elements that would have been familiar to the Chorley Pals in the First World War. These evoke the structural designs of the trenches: a steel roof, timber uprights and duckboard flooring. Facing the installation, Lancashire sculpture Thompson Dagnall has created the figure of The Messenger, which depicts a bugler at repose. Artillery shells from Serre in France, the point at which the pals would have gone over the top into battle, are embedded into the walls.
Everiss’s second installation is The Evaders Garden. This is a small show garden that was entered in the Chelsea Flower show in 2015. It is a dedicated to the British escapees, shot down over France in the Second World War, and to the civilian French women and men that helped them in their bids for freedom. It is a poignant piece of work, and for the full story see our companion website Lancashire at War here.
The Sensory Garden
Originally, this area was called a ‘Blind Garden’ and it was set up in 1953 as an area for blind ex-service men to use. Although replanted in the 1990s, it had fallen into disrepair since. In 2014, the Friends did a full renovation. Dry stone waller Jack Ashurst rebuilt the walls and Thompson Dagnall created the fantastic mole sculpture. Galloway Society for the Blind, members of the Friends group, and council employees dug in the plants that would appeal to a range of senses.
Route to see the sites
Follow the guide below. It can be used in conjunction with the Astley Park Friends map (available at the Astley Hall visitor centre). The Friends map does not have all the above features on, but will help you navigate around the site.
Start in front of the hall. The cast-iron drinking fountain is by a small formal planted area. From here, head down to the ha-ha, which you can walk through on the path between the low gate piers. Continue down the path into Great Wood. This leads you to the Lost Fountain on your left (post number 2 on the Friends leaflet). Continue down this path to reach Ackhurst Lodge. After viewing the lodge, retrace your steps and look for a path on your right going up into the woods. This will lead you to the mound of the ice house (post 3) and you can look down onto the pond below. Continue along the path to reach the site of the carding mill (post 4). Follow the path out of the woods, head across the grassland area on your right and this will bring you to the Sensory Garden.
From the Sensory Garden it is a short walk to the original memorial cross, wooden soldier sculpture and the recently added stone plaques that list all of the fallen in both world wars and subsequent conflicts. Head out through the large memorial gates and turn right to view the drinking fountain in the wall.
Retrace your steps back through the arch and follow the main pathway back towards the hall. On reaching the hall, head to the walled garden area to see the Garden of Reflection. The Evaders Garden lies on the outside of the walled garden area.
You may also wish to see the Astley Farm Bronze Age Burial site, which just a few moments away on foot. See our page about it here.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2022
Astley Park is open access in daylight hours. There is free parking at Astley village car park.
On this site
The Astley Park Trail. Leaflet available from Astley Hall visitor centre.
On site interpretation within Astley Park