Rhyddings Park originated as the grounds of a private house belonging to Robert Watson, a local textile manufacturer who established the nearby Stone Bridge Mill. It seems that Watson was responsible for the demolition of the Riddings building in 1853, and the erection of a villa in the heart of what is currently Rhyddings Park. Known as Rhyddings Hall, the villa was used as a domestic residence until 1909, when it was acquired by Oswaldtwistle Urban District Council along with its grounds, to provide a recreational facility for the people of Oswaldtwistle. The grounds were opened officially as a park in the same year. The hall was eventually converted to a museum and art gallery although, by 1932, the maintenance of the building was proving to be too expensive, and it was demolished in 1938.
The site of the Rhyddings Hall is clearly visible in the modern landscape as a raised, grass-covered, level platform. Other surviving remnants of the estate include the former coach house, which is currently used as a depot facility, and a folly that has been incorporated into the park as a feature, and may have been constructed using materials salvaged from the demolished Riddings building
The Riddings Estate was originally part of the Catlow Estate, owned by the de Catlow family. The estate was divided in the 1500s, and part of it was taken by the Ridding family, who owned it until 1631; it is possible that a property known as ‘Riddings’ was occupied by the Ridding family. The footprint of this building lies within the boundary of the modern Rhyddings Park, and it is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey of 1848
Robert Watson, in the early nineteenth century. Watson demolished the Riddings, and constructed a new house, Rhyddings Hall, in 1853. This large villa was inspired by Pugin, and was set in landscaped grounds The villa was advertised for sale in the late nineteenth century, when is was described as: ‘a mansion with vestibule, hall, large dining and drawing rooms, library, breakfast room, small sitting room, large nursery, nine bedrooms, two dressing rooms, servants rooms, kitchens, butler’s pantry and two bathrooms.’ There was also a range of other buildings including a conservatory, stable block, wash house, coachman and gardeners’ cottages, a laundry, vinery and greenhouses.
Watson gradually sold off portions of the western area of the estate, which wasoccupied subsequently by rows of terraced housing at a steam-powered weaving factory known as Rhyddings Mill. Robert Watson left the park in 1890, retired to Southport, died 1903 and the hall was passed on to other members of the family. The layout of the hall, outbuildings and landscaped gardens during this period are captured on the Ordnance Survey map of 1893 which was surveyed during the late 1880s. The hall and its grounds were leased to the Bullough family for a short period in the early twentieth century, before being leased to Oswaldtwistle Urban District Council in 1909. The grounds were officially opened as a park in the same year. A children’s playground was added to the northern corner of the park in 1914, and permanent tennis courts opened in 1925 in the former walled kitchen garden. The playground was later replaced by a bowling green, and paths installed in 1931.
The hall was eventually converted to a museum and art gallery and accommodation for the grounds keeper. A plan produced for Oswaldtwistle Urban District Council shows the proposed alterations on the ground floor of the hall that were required to convert the building to a museum However, by 1932, the maintenance of the building was proving to be too expensive, and the hall was demolished in 1938.
A project to restore Rhyddings Park in Oswaldtwistle has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG). Development funding of £102,400 has been secured by the local charity Newground Together to progress plans for a £1.4million bid by Newground, the Friends of Rhyddings Park, Hyndburn BC and Lancashire CC.
The project aims to restore the park, protect its heritage and encourage more local people to use the restored buildings and facilities and to access community activities in and around the park. The initial funding will be used to further develop the business plan and heritage opportunities for the park and ensure that the project delivers sustainable long-term benefit for the park and the community it serves. At the conclusion of the development phase, a further application will be submitted to the HLF for a further £1,359,500 to carry out the project over 3 years.
Rhyddings Park was originally the grounds of Rhyddings Hall, built as home for the mill owning family responsible for many of the local mills and for the surrounding housing, which was built to house their employees. The park has retained many of its original features and still bears a strong resemblance to the ordnance survey map of the area from 1851. The project aims to make a real and lasting difference to how the park is viewed and used by local people and will ensure that the changes can be maintained by creating new income sources for the Friends Group to reinvest in the heritage of the park.
The practical changes proposed include:
1. restore existing walls and refurbish the Coach House as a community venue;
2. improve derelict spaces and return the walled garden to its traditional use of food growing, including the construction of Victorian style greenhouses;
3. improve footpaths, access points and signage in and around the park;
4. develop a social enterprise based in the restored former Coach House, generating income for the park from meeting rooms, a cafe and a training kitchen;
5. establish a training and volunteering programme linked to park management, community engagement and healthy eating ensuring that social as well as heritage benefits are secured;
6. deliver intergenerational activities to bring together people from different backgrounds and generations;
7. develop programmes of guided walks and family fun activities.