Winckley Square was essentially a residential area until the beginning of the 20th Century. Gradually the residents moved to the suburbs and homes were turned into offices for lawyers, estate agents, insurance agencies and the chambers of companies of many varieties. A small number remained the residence of professionals. There were also clubs, schools and one or two hotels but no shops. The owners of the offices cared less about the upkeep of the Gardens which were allowed to deteriorate. On the 9th March 1933, the Lancashire Evening Post commented:
‘The gardens are still as quiet and secluded a bird sanctuary as ever, though no longer as carefully attended. There are so many busy folk among the tenants who have no time for garden tending, no leisure for garden lounging’.
During the Second World War a water tank for Civil Defence purposes as well as air raid shelters were erected in the Gardens and many of the railings were removed to support the war effort.
Whether, nationally, the railings and other metal destined for use in munitions was ever used as such has been questioned. John Farr in 2010 claimed only 26% of the iron work collected was used for munitions and by 1944 much of it was rusting in council depots or railway sidings, with some filtering through to the post-war metal industry. The public were never told. ‘Who Stole our Gates? Picture Post Card Monthly, No 371 March 2010.
In 1950 J. H. Spencer, historian wrote:
From the present condition of this square one might think that we are so much concerned with the grandiose town planning schemes of the future that we have forgotten this beauty spot on our own doorstep, inherited from a previous generation. Its appearance today is one of pitiful neglect; it dumbly appeals to you and will do so more insistently as time passes.
In these summer days, untrimmed bushes, and a miniature forest of towering trees with here and there a few rhododendron blooms bravely asserting themselves’.
Preston Herald 21st July 1950
Winckley Square leased to the Council
The Gardens were still privately owned by the owners of some of the buildings. The removal of the railings led to the public taking short cuts through them. In 1951 a number of lease agreements were signed between the landowners of the garden plots and Preston Borough Council. This placed the responsibility for the maintenance of the Gardens in the hands of the local authority.
Eventually Winckley Square was declared a public open space and the Parks Department turned it from a tangle of undergrowth and decaying trees into a very pleasant old corner; a reminder of the town’s antiquity for everyone to enjoy.
In 1956, however, Preston’s growing traffic caused eyes to turn to the Square as a convenient means of taking vehicles from the main streets. It was packed solidly, every day, with cars. Mayor Hewitt proposed that the contour of the grassed area would lend itself to a two-floor car park at the upper end and gardens at the lower end.
The Lancashire Evening Post was inundated with letters – one suggesting that Alderman Hewitt should consider the Town Hall pigeon loft. (Dec. 11th 1956) So much feeling was generated by these proposals that they came to nothing.
In 1985 Preston Borough Council took action to restore the Square, including new paving around the Square, renewal and repair of boundary railings, tree planting and the provision of seats. Many shrubs were planted, dead trees removed and replaced with young ones. Others were drastically pruned to improve the vistas. The railings were at last replaced and the setting of the Peel Statue improved.
Winckley Square was designated a Conservation Area. Many buildings surrounding the Gardens were ‘listed’ as being of special architectural or historic interest. Listed Building Consent needs to be obtained from the Local Authority by owners to alter, extend or demolish a listed building in a way that affects its character or appearance. You can read more about the Winckley Square Conservation Area on the Townscape Heritage area of this website.
In 1989, the Council replaced concrete street lights on the west side of the Square with traditional style lights.
The Transformation of Winckley Square Gardens in 2016 supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, ensures that it will ‘lie forever open and unbuilt upon’ and the Partners of Winckley Square Community Interest Company are taking as much trouble as William Cross and his wife Ellen took to preserve the special quality of Winckley Square, for which we are truly thankful!
by Patricia Harrison