Private gardens and pleasure grounds laid out by Edward Kemp in 1855 and, with an adjoining area of former parkland, in use as a public park since the early 1930s.
The manor of Frodsham was one of those granted to Hugh Lupus, the first Norman Earl of Chester in c 1070 and a manor house is recorded at Frodsham from the C13 (Holroyd 2002). In 1654 the manor house, then in the ownership of the Savage family, was burnt down (Ormerod 1882) and a 1727 engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck entitled Frodsham Castle shows the ruins of this building, then in the ownership of Edward Daniell, with the town beyond (ibid). In c 1750 the property passed to the Ashley family (Hawkin and Duncan 1989). By the late C18 the Ashleys had constructed a new house on the site (Aitken 1795), which Ormerod (1882) records was a mansion called Park Place with parts of the foundation walls of the castle forming the cellars.
In 1851 Park Place was purchased by Joseph Stubs, a manufacturer from Warrington, who proceeded to reconstruct and extend the house and outbuildings under the superintendence of Mr Penson (Sale particulars 1861), possibly architect Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1817-64) of Chester. Stubs employed Edward Kemp (1817-91) to lay out the grounds. Kemp was responsible for the laying out of Birkenhead Park (qv) to designs by Joseph Paxton and was appointed superintendent in 1845. In 1847 he also commenced a private practice producing designs for public parks, cemeteries, and private estates. Kemp had a decisive influence on gardening style in this period following the publication of his book 'How to Lay Out a Small Garden' in 1850 (Elliot 1986). His work at Park Place is included in the 2nd (1858) and 3rd (1864) editions where it is the first example in a section entitled 'Compact Combination of Parts'. It is described as 'a singularly interesting place which I arranged ... in 1855'. Stubs is described by Kemp as an energetic and successful collector and cultivator of rare plants. In his description of the grounds of Park Place, Kemp makes reference to a sheltering tree-clad railway embankment, views to Frodsham and Helsby hills, and the use of gushing water from land-springs. Also described, and illustrated with a part plan, are a formal flower garden with fountains, the arrangement of garden, stable, and farm buildings around three small courtyards, and a terraced kitchen garden, with a conclusion that the plan would 'exhibit the contiguity and connexion of all the different parts of the place' (Kemp 1858).
In 1856 Kemp published a series of seven articles in the Gardeners' Chronicle on Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire (qv), where the garden was substantially complete by the mid 1850s and open to the public from this time (Elliot 1986). Kemp commented particularly on the methods of sub-dividing the various areas, the formal treatment adjacent to the house, the irregular planting of trees and shrubs nearer to the house to form a foreground for the hills beyond (ibid), and on the planting of the American Garden (Gardeners' Chronicle 1856). It is possible that the much smaller-scale design of similar elements at Park Place was influenced by visits to Biddulph by Kemp and/or Stubs.
Stubs died in 1861 and Park Place was sold at auction to Edward Abbott Wright, a cotton manufacturer from Oldham, who renamed the property Castle Park. The Sale particulars refer to the pleasure and kitchen gardens being under the 'masterly superintendence of Mr Kemp'. The 1861 Sale plans show the layout of the grounds as largely in accordance with Kemp's earlier plan and description. A plan by Whitehead of c 1873 indicates some additional paths within the American Garden and the addition of glasshouses adjacent to the kitchen garden. In 1933 the house, outbuildings, and 12 acres (5ha) of the grounds were presented by the Wright family, under a Deed of Gift to be administered by a Trust, to Runcorn Rural District Council for use as a public park; the official opening ceremony took place on 24 May that year. Further adjoining land, also formerly part of the Wright estate, was purchased by the Council in 1934 and 1937 thus increasing the public park to c 16 acres (c 6.5ha).
In the C20 tennis courts have been constructed in the kitchen garden area, a bowling green on part of an adjacent orchard, and a children's play area to the south of the house. The house, with the addition of a C20 council chamber, remains (2002) in use as general and council offices. To the north-east of the house a former coach house is now (2002) converted for use as an Arts Centre, with some late C20 single-storey additions in the adjoining former stable yard. Buildings in the former adjacent farmyard were converted to a Fire Station c 1933 and later, in 1985, to local authority sheltered housing. Land drainage measures in the C20 on marshes to the north-west of Frodsham have reduced the water table in the area of Castle Park and two ornamental ponds are now (2002) filled in.
Castle Park remains (2002) in use as a public park. It is partly in the ownership of Vale Royal Borough Council and partly in the ownership of Vale Royal Borough Council acting as trustee to the Castle Park Trust.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The c 6.5ha irregular site lies to the west of Frodsham town centre, c 500m south-west of the railway station. To the north-north-west the park adjoins a railway line running at the head of a steep wooded embankment with the boundary, at the foot of the slope, marked by a timber post and rail fence. To the west the northern area of the park adjoins Chester Road with the boundary marked by a low red sandstone wall and a belt of mature trees within the park. To the west the southern area of the park adjoins the C20 Netherton Drive and the gardens of some of the houses. The road boundary is partly marked by hedging with late C20 fencing to the housing. This housing development occupies ground formerly within the C19 park. To the south-east and north-east the park adjoins generally early to mid C20 housing on Howey Lane and Park Lane respectively. These boundaries are generally marked by hedges and C20 fencing with, to the north-east boundary, some sections of C19 railings and iron fencing. In the east of the park a rectangular area (excluded from the area here registered) is laid to grass with some small late C20 buildings and is a local authority service area, bounded by tall evergreen hedging.
The park generally occupies ground rising gently to the south below the steep escarpment of Frodsham Hill c 500m to the south-south-east. In the north-east of the park the ground falls to the north-east with a steep-sided stream valley rising to the south-east. The immediately surrounding area is residential with farmland to the west and the commercial town centre to the north-east.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The principal entrance lies on Chester Road, c 60m south of the railway line, and is set back from the public road. It is marked by a vehicle entrance and adjoining pedestrian entrance each with metal gates between brick piers, the whole dating from the mid C20 but in the same location as the principal entrance indicated on the 1861 Sale plans.
Two further entrances give access from Fountain Lane to the north-east and from Howey Lane to the south-east. The former provides the most direct route from the town centre and is marked by C20 brick gate piers set back from the road. The entrance from Howey Lane now (2002) serves as an access for pedestrians and service vehicles and is marked by a vehicle and adjoining pedestrian entrance, each with timber gates. From this entrance a secondary drive leads north-west between housing for c 100m, closely flanked by hedges, late C20 fencing and with some sections of simple C19 iron fencing to the north-east, before leading into the park. The park is served by two further pedestrian entrances. One of these, approached by a footpath leading c 40m south-west from Park Lane, is marked by timber gate posts and a short flight of stone steps leading down into the eastern corner of the American Garden. The second from Netherton Drive is unmarked. All entrances into the park, except for this last, are as indicated on the 1861 Sale plans.
The house is situated c 80m north-east of the principal entrance and is a two-storey, Neoclassical-style building with a single-storey enclosed stone entrance porch to the main, symmetrical south-west elevation which faces onto a small forecourt. Elevations are generally in brick with stone detailing including quoins, plinth and string courses, dentilled eaves and surrounds to sash windows, with single-storey stone bays to the north-west and south-east elevations. The main shallow-pitched roof is in blue slate with stone chimneys. The house was reconstructed in c 1851 for Stubs by Penson. To the east the C19 house is adjoined by a mid C20 one and a half storey flat-roofed extension. Elevations of the extension are in brick with simple concrete detailing. This extension is largely sited on a former domestic court (Sale plans, 1861) and forms a link between the house and a C19 domestic office building at the north of the former court. The extension is a local authority council chamber.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The public park comprises four distinct areas: to the north-west the gardens and pleasure grounds around the house with many mature trees; to the north-east the sports areas, on land formerly occupied by the kitchen garden and orchard, together with remaining domestic offices and farm buildings converted to C20 uses; to the south-east the wooded American Garden; and to the south, an open area of former parkland.
From the principal entrance on the west boundary a main drive leads north-north-east to the house from where it continues, parallel to the north-north-west boundary, to the northern entrance from Fountain Lane. Some 300m south-west of this entrance are late C20 ornate iron gates between brick piers, which mark a division between the grounds adjacent to the house and the sheltered housing and Arts Centre. Both of these occupy converted C19 two-storey brick buildings with blue slate roofs, the sheltered housing with blue brick detailing and C20 brick infill panels and the Arts Centre with a clock tower with stone detailing. These face onto the former farm and stable courtyards respectively. To the south-east of the main drive there are routes off to these courtyards and into the north-east area of the grounds, all largely as indicated on the Sale plans of 1861. To the north-west of the entrance drive an embankment falls to the north-west boundary at the foot of the railway embankment. A perimeter path laid out along the valley formed by these two wooded embankments connects with the main drive adjacent to the principal and northern entrances. This path is as indicated on the OS map of 1873.
From the south-east entrance on Howey Lane the entrance drive leads c 230m north-westwards in a shallow curve, from where it curves to the north-east, forming the western boundary of the American Garden and giving views over lawns to the house on lower ground to the north-west. To the north of the American Garden this drive runs between tennis courts to the north-west and a bowling green to the south-east before turning north to meet the main drive adjacent to the northern entrance. The bowling green and, to the south-west, a single-storey brick pavilion with red-tiled roof, date from 1935. Adjoining the tennis courts to the north-west a small area is laid out as a garden for the disabled, with late C20 ramped paths and raised brick planting beds. To the north-west this area adjoins the high brick walls of the Arts Centre and, at a higher level to the south-west, a parking area within the walled former gardeners' court, with door openings leading into each. Within the gardeners' court there are two small brick buildings, one of which, adjoining the south-east wall, is in the location of garden sheds indicated on Kemp's plan of 1858. The tennis courts are sited on the former kitchen garden (Kemp plan, 1858) and the bowling green on a former orchard area (Sale plans, 1861). These areas are laid out in shallow terraces, rising to the south-east, with stone steps and rockwork to embankments. The former kitchen garden is divided from the pleasure grounds at a higher level to the south-west by shrubbery and an embankment with rockwork; the latter was described by Kemp in 1858.
Some 20m north-east of the principal entrance a path leads off the main drive for c 20m to the south-east before dividing, with one arm leading north-east through the pleasure grounds to meet the secondary drive. This path largely follows the route of a dotted line indicated on Kemp's 1858 plan. The second arm leads south-west around the perimeter of a car park area, which is largely enclosed by shrubbery, before curving eastwards to meet the secondary drive c 200m east-south-east of the principal entrance. This path marks a division between an area of the pleasure grounds densely planted with trees to the north, and the rising, generally open ground to the south. The car park is on the site of a former pond described by Kemp in 1858 as 'an ornamental pool', and with the stone surround, as depicted in a late C19 photograph, partially surviving. The pleasure grounds in the north-west of the public park, adjoining the house, are largely laid to lawn with small groups and individual specimen trees and shrubs. The trees are largely mature with some late C20 planting. A C20 children's play area is laid out immediately to the north-east of the car park.
Immediately to the north-east of the house is an area laid out as a formal flower garden, bounded to the north-west and north-east by high brick walls. The symmetrical plan comprises a perimeter path forming a c 25m square divided into four beds by an axial path leading south-east from an arched opening from the main drive, and a central cross-axial path. The intersection of these paths is marked by a circular bed with a C20 decorative urn and by clipped yews at the corners of the four planting beds. The latter are laid to lawn with a formal arrangement of seasonal planting beds to each. Immediately to the south-east of the flower garden is a timber conservatory with a semicircular central projection. To the south-west the cross-axial path leads along the south-east of the house to the entrance courtyard. To the south-east the axial path, here tree-lined, continues for c 25m to a circular bed with a former fountain basin. The whole of this formal arrangement is very largely in accordance with Kemp's design of 1855 but the fruit houses that he proposed to the north-west of the flower garden were not implemented. The conservatory is first indicated on the 1873 OS map.
In the east of the public park the American Garden, informally planted with trees and rhododendrons, is laid out with access via a series of narrow paths leading off the secondary drive and from the south of the bowling green. The irregular ground within this garden is laid out with winding, intersecting stone-edged paths with short flights of stone steps connecting the varying levels, half-round earthenware drainage channels to the side of the steeper paths, and with rockwork to embankments. In the west of the American Garden paths lead through a wooded dell, at the centre of which, c 130m south-east of the house, a sunken area is planted with yellow azaleas and is the site of a former pond or small reservoir (Sale plans, 1861). To the south-east of the dell the ground rises steeply with a path at the head of the embankment from which there are occasional views north-west to the house, in particular from where the path encircles a mature tree at the edge of the path. This tree is shown encircled by a seat below a conical roof in a late C19 photograph. Kemp describes a similar arrangement at Biddulph Grange in 1856 (Gardeners' Chronicle 1856).
In the south-east the American Garden divides into two narrow arms, one to the south-west returning to the secondary drive and one continuing south-east. Within both arms is a small stream running in a stone channel, the bottom with stepped stone paving. The two streams meet at the junction of the two arms to form a single stream running north-west through the central area of the Garden. In the east arm of the Garden, c 315m south-east of the house and separate from the stream, is a former stone-walled reservoir named Synagogue Well. Beyond this feature the narrow stream valley continues rising eastwards, the stream in a natural bed, to Howey Lane (land to the east of Synagogue Well outside the area here registered). In the central area of the American Garden the channelled stream, flanked by rockwork, winds northwards to run at the foot of a steep wooded embankment adjacent to the north-east boundary, with paths crossing the stream via simple stone slab bridges. Adjacent to the north-east boundary the stream runs in a wider natural bed divided into three sections by low stone dam walls flanking a central stepped stone channel. Kemp, in 1858, describes this area of the grounds planted with large-leafed ferns on the banks of springs and also choice rhododendrons to form an American Garden. The layout of the American Garden is largely as indicated on the OS map of 1873.
The southern area of the public park is largely laid to grass with occasional single trees and, at its north corner, a small area of woodland adjoining the secondary drive. In the south corner of this open area a low mound is planted with bushes and from the whole of this area there are open views to Frodsham Hill to the south-east. A late C19 photograph shows the mound within a field in use for grazing and in the early C20 these were known as Flagpole Mount and Flagpole Field respectively.
J Aitken, A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester (1795), pp 413-14
Gardeners' Chronicle 45, (22 November 1856), pp 775-6
E Kemp, How to Lay Out a Garden; intended as a General Guide in Choosing, Forming or Improving an Estate (2nd edn 1858, 3rd edn 1864), pp 359-62
G Ormerod, The History of the County Palatine and the City of Chester (2nd edn revised and enlarged by T Helsby 1882), p 53
B Elliot, Victorian Gardens (1986), pp 99-105
W R Hawkin and N Duncan, Discovering Castle Park, Frodsham (1989)
S Holroyd, Castle Park and Frodsham Castle, (notes for the Friends of Castle Park 2002)
E Kemp, Plan of Park Place (published in Kemp 1858)
B P Coxon, Plan, 10 chains to 11/4", to accompany Sale particulars, 1861 (Frodsham & District Local History Group Archive)
B P Coxon, Plan, 5 chains to 3 5/16", to accompany Sale particulars, 1861 (Frodsham & District Local History Group Archive)
Whitehead, Castle Park Estate belonging to Edward Abbott Wright Esq, 25" to 1 mile, 1873 (1st edn OS base), (Frodsham & District Local History Group Archive)
Deed plan of land transferred to Runcorn Rural District Council, 1:1250, 1934 (Vale Royal Borough Council)
Plan of Castle Park with details of C20 changes in ownership, 1:2500, 2001 (Friends of Castle Park)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1882
2nd edition published 1899
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1873
Park Place, Frodsham, Particulars of sale by auction, 20 June 1861 (Frodsham & District Local History Group Archive)
Wright family collection of late C19 photographs of Castle Park house, outbuildings and grounds (Frodsham & District Local History Group Archive).
Verbal information given May 2002 by members of The Friends of Castle Park and Frodsham & District Local History Group.
Description written: May 2002
Amended: July 2002
Register Inspector: HMT
Edited: October 2002