You can see the Ashton Memorial, which is in Williamson Park, from the M6 motorway and from miles around. This is the story I was told about it, which is probably a tissue of untruths. Feel free to get in touch and put us right!
So, Mr Williamson, Lord Ashton, was the top capitalist (very big in linoleum) in these parts back in the days when they wore top hats and had carriages. Some say he was the richest man in the world.
Lord Ashton had a fancy to build a monument to his wife, along the lines of the Taj Mahal. And so he planned for this graceful dome to be erected, with fountains, for her.
It was designed by John Belcher and completed in 1909. Externally, the dome is of copper. The main stone used in the building is Portland stone although the steps are of granite from Cornwall. Externally around the dome are sculptures representing "Commerce", "Science", "Industry" and "Art" by Herbert Hampton. The interior of the dome has allegorical paintings of "Commerce", "Art" and "History" by George Murray. It's most definitely monumental.
After his wife died, Lord Ashton may have realised that of all his achievements, this monument was the one that would catch the eye for centuries to come. So he rededicated it to himself. And then he died. And that’s why it’s the Ashton Memorial. So we’ll remember his name and great works. One tries.
Anyway, from the balconies the view is really fantastic, right across the Bay and over the Lake District. You can visit it and hire it too! It’s a wonderfully romantic place to plight a troth, if you’re so minded, with its gracefully arched and white-marbled hall and verandahs.
What else is there — oh, beautiful landscaped gardens so well designed that at every turn you are confronted with lovely living compositions, walks, lawns to play on, quiet arbours to sunbathe, picnic and canoodle in, the Dell, which makes a natural auditorium for gigs, plays and concerts, an adventure playground, an ornamental lake, fountains, a waterfall, a large wooded area full of wildflowers and all this outside area is free to enjoy.
There’s an excellent café in a glassed pavilion. It has a popular outside patio with a view across the Bay and a gift shop.
There’s also a Butterfly House — a great Victorian-arched glass building containing a humid tropical jungle alive with colourful butterflies and pleasantly free from all those inconvenient tropical creatures that bite and sting.
There’s a small animals zoo and an aviary. Martin Wain, Senior entomologist, told me:
‘We try to provide an appropriate “enclosure” for our animals, in which the animals are able to express themselves properly. Some exhibits, for example the Garter Snake, are very old, much older than they would be in the wild.
‘None of our exhibits were taken from the wild, we only take captive bred animals. This is something that we can express to our visitors, including school parties. We discuss issues about the cruelty found in taking animals from the wild for sale through the animal trade. Our chameleon is a prime example, as someone had brought it in a pub, could not look after it properly, so they handed it over to us.
‘Several animals are rescue animals. Zebedee our rabbit was found in the park. She again is quite old now and has regular inspections from the vet. We work with Animal Care and help if we can to take animals from them.
‘The role of Zoos in society is an ongoing debate.
‘We have nearly 200 school and college groups coming around. We can use our animals as examples to discuss habitats, life cycles, adaptations, simple taxonomy and animal needs. and we get many schools returning again and again. so I think we are doing that bit right.
‘We have groups and individuals coming to do research on some of the exhibits which we use to feed back into improving our animals’ care, health or life.
‘We use our expertise here to help manage the area for wildlife, e.g. the grassland in Fenham Carr (part of the park) is managed as a butterfly meadow, and we have opened up areas of the woodland to increase biodiversity. And we promote conservation issues and animal care issues with all of our school groups.’
See the Williamson Park website for the opening times and more info.
The site has information on all the park attractions. It also has information on arranging weddings and other events in the Ashton Memorial.
Park Information, café & shop, tel: 01524 33318
27/12/01 We asked if anyone knew the origin of this strange marine ceramic tiled sculpture in the park. Allan Conway has mailed us with an update: ‘The “strange statue” as you put it, was donated by the patients of the Royal Albert Hospital. I’m not sure of the date I’m afraid but I remember as my father was a ward manager there for many years.’ Thank you for your help, Allan. The statue group’s freshness and energy makes it well worth a stroll round, in the less familiar reaches at the north end of the park.
Across the road from Williamson Park, in the school playing fields you can find the memorial stone to those martyred for their faith in Lancaster.
As it was the county seat and hub of civilisation for all of Lancashire, at one time people were brought from the surrounding hamlets, such as Liverpool and Manchester, to experience the judicial process.
In this place, at different times were executed Quakers, Catholics, and those convicted of witchcraft or heresy. They were thought to have been buried a short distance away outside the old town boundary, as they were not considered fit to lie within it.