LOCAL HISTORY: Shibden Hall Park

Shibden Hall has been in the news for the last month or so as the setting for “Gentleman Jack” the BBC’s dramatization of Anne Lister’s life.

But what is the background story of the wonderful parkland that surrounds the Hall? Calderdale Council have published a short history of the park and its management.

Link: Shibden Park Estate Website

  • Shibden Hall was built towards the end of the 15th century and has evolved to suit the needs of its owners. The Otes family were the first recorded inhabitants of the estate c.1420, followed by subsequent generations of gentleman clothiers who lived there during the 15th and 16th centuries.  The changes that have taken place within the house, and its collections, reflect this evolutionary process and the people that lived there and used them.

    Grade II* listed Shibden Hall was owned by the Lister family for over 300 years.  A major period of alteration to the building came in the 1830s under the direction of Anne Lister, transforming it into a 19th century ‘Tudor’ hall set in a picturesque landscape.  The 17th century aisled barn contains a collection of horse drawn vehicles.  The roof timbering is a fine example of construction typical of the 17th century.

    The park comprised 36 hectares, 90 acres, (now 31 h, 76 acres) of the estate in about 1836, when romantic elements were introduced into the landscape with the creation of the cascade and wilderness to the south of the Hall, and the new lake in the valley, by the landscape architect William Gray. The terrace was created by the architect John Harper to provide Shibden with an elevated platform.  The house looks due south and incorporates tunnels at the eastern end to provide access to the terrace and park for the gardening staff.

    Whilst many of the plans were completed prior to Anne Lister’s death in 1840, much of the sweeping, open parkland was put in place by her successor, Dr. John Lister.  A ‘Paisley Shawl’ garden, in the form of serpentine shaped beds, was created on the terrace in 1855, with the addition of a lean-to conservatory at the eastern end and a new pond, fed by the cascade, below the terrace.

    The park opened to the public in 1926 and has developed as recreational facility since then.  Changes to the landscape character since that time include:

  • 1926 formalising of the mere to a boating lake, new path network and entrance 
  • 1930s planting of an avenue of trees along the middle drive 
  • 1930s bandstand erected on lower grassed area (demolished) 
  • 1940s additional parcels of land incorporated into park, including clay workings which are now a pitch and putt course
  • 1953 creation of one of the country’s first folk museums within the outbuildings at the rear of the hall by Frank Atkinson (Beamish) 
  • 1970s toilets and other park facilities appear in the lower park (may  have replaced earlier buildings) 
  • 1980s closure of the Council nursery within the kitchen garden (Cunnery Wood)  Miniature Railway introduced to the lower park 
  • 1990s gradual decline of kitchen garden walls, native woodland tree species planted and native flora supported in Cunnery Wood. Formal bedding and modern shrub bed planting in lower park along with extension of woodland areas within the park

Upon the death of John Lister in 1933, the hall passed to the people of Halifax and opened to the public as a museum in 1934.  The folk museum, housed in the 17th century aisled barn and outbuildings, was developed by Frank Atkinson (creator of Beamish) and opened in 1953.

The Shibden Park Restoration Project 

Following approval by the Heritage Lottery Fund in December 2005, the restoration project was tendered and construction work commenced in March 2007. This construction project was completed in July 2008. The main elements of the restoration project were: 

  • Repair of terrace walls, the lodge, barn (gardeners depot)  
  • Opening of the Gardeners tunnel  
  • Wilderness Garden and cascades restored including rockwork, planting and footpaths 
  • Lily pond repaired and creation of new pond to re-form original shape, planting and estate railings 
  • Tunnel under Shibden Hall Road repaired and opened for public access 
  • Boundary walls repaired (part) 
  • Cunnery Wood footpath link to the tunnel 
  • Red Beck walls repaired (part) and bridges repaired 
  • The Mere walls repaired, marginal planting and footpath improvements 
  • Construction of a new boathouse 
  • New borehole supply to the Mere to improve water quality 
  • New gates to Lister’s Road entrance 
  • Repairs to Lister’s Road bridge and new footpath to main drive 
  • New gates to Main Park entrance  
  • Car parks and access and drainage improved 
  • Footpath improvements and repairs 
  • Tree planting and appropriate removal to restore historic vistas 
  • New inclusive play equipment 
  • Play area toilets refurbished  
  • Park furniture renewed, Interpretation and signage installed 
  • The refreshment kiosk, café and toilets were demolished and replaced by the new visitor’s centre, café and rangers office  
  • New toilets at the Museum car park
  • Other features within the estate include an exhibit of dry stone walling techniques constructed by the Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA), the Miniature Railway, the pitch & putt course, boating facility and paddling pool.
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