History of West Park in Macclesfield
Before the enclosure of the commons in 1804, Macclesfield people only had to cross the Bollin to reach open countryside. A thousand acres of unfenced upland was there for (As one Minister put it) “Walking, recreation and the refreshment of the spirit”. People could get away from the town within ten minutes, although getting away was not that easy. Working 70 hours per week left little time for recreation, other than the relief to be found at the bottom of a mug of ale. It was no coincidence that 1850 Macclesfield had 162 Inns and Beer Houses.
The only opportunity for the working population to get away from their work places would be if they were on short time or on Sundays. The result of these rare visits was that people would cram as much into these days as possible. Cock fighting, poaching, robbing hen houses, hooliganism and fights where all proving a major headache for the Magistrates.
With the enclosure of the commons in 1804, this opportunity for recreation became severely restricted and as crime levels rose, more and more the need for public open spaces was becoming obvious to the Town Burgess. Birkenhead, Preston and Derby had all secured public parks in the 1840s and Manchester opening its first park in 1846, from these came reports of the civilizing effects they where having on the working population and the heath benefits to be gained from the open air (Especially for children). So it was perhaps surprising that the original idea for a Public Park in Macclesfield came from a meeting of working men.
Sir Robert Peel had been a popular Prime minister with the ordinary people, not for the introduction of the Police Force, more for his involvement with the repeal of the Corn Laws and the introduction of factory standards. So on his death in 1850 it was decided by the workingmen’s clubs of Macclesfield to erect some sort of memorial (By public subscription) to commemorate him.
One of the most successful fundraisers in the town at that time was a Councillor by the name of John May, who had been instrumental in the promotion of Blackpool as a holiday resort and had organised the first workers outings to the resort from Macclesfield, so it was to him the men went with their ideas. John May agreed to help on the condition that the money collected should not be used to erect a statue, as was the fashion at the time, and should be put to useful purpose.
After further discussion in 1850 after the opening of the public baths in the town, John May announced the proposal that a Public Park be created in Macclesfield. This proposal caught the imagination of the working people as no other public undertaking had done before and within three weeks of its introduction £300 had been collected in small amounts from 17000 working people in the town, which became known as “The Pennies of the Poor”.
The Park was on its way.