Over the years Winckley Square Gardens have gone through a number of changes. The Gardens fell into decline when many of the properties changed from residential to commercial usage. During World War II the gardens were used for storage and air raid shelters. The 19th Century wrought iron railings were removed from all but the north side of the Square. Following the war years the Gardens continued to decline and were no longer the ‘pleasure garden’ that they were created to be.
In the 1940s, 50s and 60s the Council proposed building a multi-storey car park. On all occasions this was opposed by public opinion. On 4th January 1957 the Lancashire Evening Post supported the objection.
Basic maintenance was carried out by Preston City Council however, there were fundamental issues that needed addressing before the gardens could be transformed into a more inviting and usable space.
Neglect resulted in an unmanaged tree population. Some young trees were found to be growing within the crowns of more mature species, preventing access to light and ultimately affecting their long term growth.
Beneath dense tree canopies were banks of dense overgrown shrub areas, resulting in a screen of vegetation that impeded views across the site and contributed towards an air of neglect.
Deterioration of Footpaths
The biggest problem on site was the drainage. The landform is in effect a valley where the Syke runs underground through a Culvert.
The soil had become compacted over the years with heavy clay. The Gardens are surrounded on all sides by highways forming a hard urban area. The combination of these factors resulted in large ponds forming in areas of the site, leaving some lengths of footpath completely impassable.
The Perimeter Stone Walls and Railings
The surrounding walls were in various states of decay; in some places they were at risk of collapse. Vegetation had grown into the mortar causing deterioration and damage to the brickwork. Moisture had seeped into the brickwork due to the vegetation growth; this then expanded and contracted thereby accelerating the deterioration of the brick. This was most problematic during Winter and freezing temperatures.
The iron railings which border the gardens had been broken in places and were unsightly. Years of decay meant in places they had rusted badly and had separated at the joints. This in turn made the surrounding areas of gardens look unsightly for residents and passers-by.
Unfortunately, rats had also become an issue in the Gardens, making their home in soil burrows beneath the overgrown beds. Many of the shrubs and bushes in the gardens were unhealthy, overgrown and past the point of producing flowers. These were also a hot spot for litter as, when the winds picked up; it became trapped in the bushes, making them even less attractive.
Sir Robert Peel
Unfortunately the ravages of 162 years of standing in all weathers had taken its toll on poor Robert, he certainly needed a makeover including a new nose. Thomas Duckett who had painstakingly chiselled his features in 1852 would have been delighted that the HLF Project was to give Bobby a new lease of life.
By Charlene Bessell