In another time, not so very long ago, I might have been directly commissioned by the philanthropist and much revered Mancunian entrepreneur of the industrial age, John Rylands and his discerning wife, Enriqueta, to produce a work of art for their home, Longford Hall, or the extensive gardens, known today as Longford Park. They remodelled their Stretford residence, complete with conservatories and formal gardens, taking Chatsworth as their inspiration.
Longford Hall in the 1920s, courtesy of Friends of Longford Park
Enriqueta was uncompromising in her dedication for commissioning the finest artisans and personally checking each and every bespoke detail of the exquisite John Rylands library (a tribute to her late husband following his death in 1888) After her own death in 1908, however, there was nobody willing or wealthy enough to buy the family estate and its future looked uncertain.
Longford Hall, 1977
Thankfully, a determined group of community leaders persuaded the council to purchase it (at a cost of £14,500.00) and create a “People’s Park”, which officially opened in 1912. This was an appropriate solution and would doubtless have met with the Rylands’ approval. Their personal wealth had already provided the people of Stretford with a town hall, a public baths, a church, homes for elderly women and a coffee house. (see more here)
All that remains of Longford Hall today is the portico and behind it gardens that map out the former floor plan
One hundred years on and still the community – led by the Friends of Longford Park – is working hard to maintain the People’s Park. Despite unfathomable setbacks, not least the hall being closed for repairs in 1983, subsequently neglected and eventually demolished in 1995, the park is as popular as ever and this was evident as the centenary celebrations unfolded throughout 2012.
As a permanent commemoration of the park’s first 100 years, the Friends are putting funds raised during the centenary events into the commissioning of two mosaic features that will celebrate the People’s Park. I am honoured to have received this prestigious commission and I hope that the resulting work will assume a place in the hearts of future park users as well as being worthy of their precedents.
Design Workshops, St. Hilda’s, Stretford, Manchester
Year 5 pupils from nearby St. Hilda’s Church of England Primary School have worked hard with me to explore the park’s history and its current use and suggest suitable images for inclusion in the design of the mosaic features. Their enthusiasm, ideas and creative input have formed an invaluable contribution to the design process and I look forward to sharing the approved final design with them very soon.
Once approved, the sections of the first mosaic will be created at my Manchester studio and installed at the park later this spring beneath one of the supporting colonnades of the refurbished shelters at the back of the formal gardens.