Thursday, 6 June 2013

Grow Write Guild Prompt #6: Landscapes

Describing where I grew up to people who haven't been there is hard.

I grew up in a small town, yes, but a small town that was part of a sprawling conurbation. As people from Heywood we have our own identity (oh how we have our own identity) but we're never more than 45 minutes away from the centre of Manchester (by bus).

Miller Street, it's called that for a reason...
The house I grew up in was an end terrace. The yard outside contained a coal shed and an outdoor toilet (no longer used, I might add) Although it was built to be stuffed with a family on each floor we had the whole place for a small family of three, two, three, four, then five before we moved on. Most of the time it was just enough space.
The view from my childhood bedroom window (or rather the view from the street, camera angled up. Close enough) 

From my bedroom window you could see a cotton mill, closed down now, and it wasn't a rare site in my town. Clearly this was a place born in the industrial revolution. But for all of it's industrial ghosts we didn't want for green.  Even without taking into account into account how little time it took to walk into countryside proper and feed a horse with your palms flat. There was always some green. A road side verge filled with daisies, vast school playing fields, overgrown orphan patches and parks.

Parks. The biggest, the most beautiful and the crown jewel of the park is Queen's Park. I adored it as a child, it was my sanctuary when I was home from uni in the summers, I still stroll around it whenever I have the chance and remember it fondly from the other side of the country. You can sum up how the town and how I grew up like this: I may have lived on Miller Street but Queen's Park was at the end of it.

Once a boating lake in summer and ice rink in winter, now a home to some wonderful water loving birds
Queen's Park is a park in the most stunning Victorian tradition. When the family that originally owned it died out the ownership went to the crown. Queen Victoria who presumably heard the news and said 'I own land where now?' gave the land to the people of Heywood.

This park separates the park from the 'woods'. The wilderness of my childhood.

Let's leave behind Victorian England and go to the early nineties of last century when I was young. By this time the park had decayed to it's worst. Recently the park has been lucky enough to have been the recipient of a major regeneration. This is a good thing in that the park is stunning and a great place for the local people however it does mean I have no pictures of my park.

One of the only features without improvement: A pool left to fill in and full of  'weeds'

Let me describe it. My park is a park of decay. The gorgeous fountain, turned back on when I turned 19, had no water in it. It was covered in 'weeds' like a giant, stunning planter. I seem to remember roses growing over it but my plant identification wasn't as good back then. There where plinths without statues, the old turnstiles of the boat shed (but not much else of it) and every so often something would turn up missing or burnt out.
A jolly nice office
But my park is also a park of dignity. As a kid the biggest crime was stepping onto the flower beds. They where heroically kept perfect. In that working class way of finding someone commoner than you and looking down on them, absolute scorn was reserved for people who let their children ruin our flowers. The grass was always nicely clipped, the bowling green thriving, the band stand was full of graffiti and bands, and once a year the park was host to a fare.

Restored: the stunning fountain though I think it worked equally well as a planter

Those twin lessons shaped the gardener I am today. Watching nature overrun it's intricate Victorian confines gave me a respect for it's power and a taste for the aesthetics of decay. Watching a community take ownership of a space taught me that growing is not an individual pursuit but something that effects our community at it's core.

[This post was written as a response to the 6th prompt of Gayla Trail's Grow Write Guild. Check it out.]


  1. That was a lovely description, and I enjoyed the pictures as well. You seem to be the only one of the guild brave enough to tackle this project so far! On another note, I love your web page - particularly the silhouette of greenery at the bottom. :)

  2. I loved your post Clare! So vivid.

  3. Thank you both. this was actually a really easy post to write. I had to restrain myself from writing every aspect of my childhood down.

    I recommend giving it a try.

    Most of the design is just basic stuff from blogger (we always say we'll customize it...) but the grassy bottom border is all Stepehn's work. You can find more of his codey awesomeness at

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  5. I love the name, Queen's Park, and your photos showing a renovated park are impressive. I like that you were attached to the not-so-perfect aspects of your childhood park. My post on landscapes is here:


  6. That was a double post if anyone is wondering what I removed...

    Decaying Victoriana has shaped a large part of my aesthetic. A very large part. At the same time I think it's important to remember that people like me back then would have been up a certain creek.

    Whole family to a floor, adulterated food, not enough to eat, awful air and water quality. And the cotton industry wouldn't have been that big of a thing without colonialism and slavery and all those truly terrible things.

    But out of that came greater education for the working classes, the labour movement, the suffrage movement.

    I think it's important to remember all of our history. I mean there wouldn't be a public park if each person had enough space to live you know.

  7. Your comparison of nature's power and the community's power is such an interesting one.

    I grew up near similar parks in the coal region of Pennsylvania, and I never really thought about the 'heroic' work it took for the aging citizens of our decaying towns to maintain even the grass. Yet my great uncle took care of Scratch Park across from his house, and it's where the family and the neighbors would gather.

    I'm afraid that community must have given out by now, though. Even then nature was winning, and that town was only 6 streets wide. I'm glad yours has a happier ending!