Present, past and future....
Named after Princess Alexandra, a real 19th century celebrity, the park was opened by Manchester’s City Mayor on August 6th 1870. Paid for by public subscription, he declared Alexandra Park ‘the people’s property’.
A Park of National Importance
Alexandra Park sits on the border between two very different communities, Whalley Range and Moss Side. This Park covers a total area of 60 acres and has been serving these two densely populated communities for 148 years. It is one of the earliest and most complete of Manchester’s Victorian Parks and is regarded as being of national importance based on its heritage; it is Grade 2-listed on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens.
The Long Awaited Restoration
The Park has long suffered from decades of neglect and an undeserved reputation of being unsafe. After ten years in the planning, in December 2011, Manchester City Council (MCC) was awarded funding to restore Alexandra Park through the national Parks for People programme run by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG). Additional funds came from MCC and various sporting bodies. The restoration started in December 2012 and brought a range of community and sports facilities. After some delayed work, the Park officially re-opened in August 2014.
A Hidden Heritage
The Park was designed by Alexander Gordon Hennell, a landscape architect from London who won a well-contested public competition in 1868. In contrast to the more rigid geometry seen previously in Victorian landscapes, Hennell’s design used sweeping curved footpaths to frame a series of oval activity areas. This innovative approach allowed the creation and enjoyment of adjacent gardens and sporting facilities. Influenced by the eastern fashions of the day and the park’s flat topography, Hennell used the landscape to create the illusion of vast open vistas.
Alexandra Park’s design incorporated significant buildings, including Chorlton Lodge, designed by Alfred Darbyhire in 1868/9. In addition to the Serpentine lake, Alexandra Park originally contained separate male and female gymnasia, a cricket ground and a Lime Walk and Terrace designed for promenading. In 1871, Manchester's first sunken bowling green was constructed in the park.
Following its opening other features were introduced; propagating houses were constructed between the female gymnasium and the eastern entrance; rows of trees were planted to define the ovals; a bandstand was built on the southern oval, and a flagstaff on the northern oval. Refreshment rooms and hexagonal shelters were also constructed.
By 1894, Alexandra Park was considered the showpiece of Manchester’s Victorian parks.
Not many people, local or further afield, know that Alexandra Park is connected with Manchester’s Suffragette heritage. Emmeline Pankhurst, the iconic Suffragettes leader (born 15.07.1858 – 14.06.1928), who campaigned for the women’s right to vote was born only yards from the Park in the neighbouring Alexandra Park estate.
The Park was the venue of the ‘Great Demonstration’ on 24th October 1908, which saw thousands of Suffragists march to the Park for a political rally.
The park used to be home to a large glass house was built in 1905-6 to house the majestic cactus collection of Charles Darrah, which was bequeathed to the park upon his death. These bizarre and wonderful plants, including Mexican Giants and prickly pears, were an amazing sight and a real novelty for visitors, and at that time comprised one of the finest collections of cacti and succulents in the country.
Famous Suffragette Kitty Marion is thought to be behind the bombing of the Park's cactus house on November 11th 1913.
Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester from the Suffragette Movement Group (Evelyn & Lillian from Whalley Range) attacked pictures in Manchester Art Gallery in April 1913.
In the 1930s, the male gymnasium contained an open-air swimming pool. The southern oval was lined with tennis courts and a putting green. Princess Road had been extended along the eastern boundary of the park, and contained a central tram line.
See also- https://alexandraparkmanchester.org/