Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics

Manchester Museum’s new exhibition Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics will examine how Manchester’s Whitworth Park has changed over time.

By Lee Isherwood | May 7th '14

Manchester Museum’s new exhibition Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics will examine how Manchester’s Whitworth Park has changed over time. The displays are the result of a community archaeology project and the range of objects reflect the important role that the park has played for the community over the years. Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics will appeal to those with an interest in social and local history and reveal some surprising secrets about this popular city park.

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Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play and Politics has been supported by a grant of £39,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other supporters include: Cities@Manchester, The Robert Kiln Charitable Trust, the Council for British Archaeology and the Council for British Archaeology North West.

The exhibition presents the fascinating discoveries that came to light during the dig: glass bottles, broken ceramics, coins, keys and buttons. The project involved a wide range of local people: the Friends of Whitworth Park, students and staff from The University of Manchester, local schools and community volunteers. The finds reveal the story of a very popular Victorian and Edwardian park that was an integral feature of Whitworth Art Gallery when it opened in 1890. Of particular interest are the children’s toys dropped in the boating lake and recovered by archaeologists over one hundred years later.

Other finds shed light on the relationship between the behaviour expected of visitors to the park and what happened in reality. The exhibition reveals the full range of attractions offered by the park including bandstand, boating lake, statues, drinking fountains and formal planting schemes. Although many of these features have now disappeared, the park is still a rich centre of biodiversity in the city. The community archaeology project supports the campaign led by The Friends of Whitworth Park and the redevelopment of Whitworth Art Gallery in stimulating excitement about the park and its future.

Sian, Professor of Archaeology at The University of Manchester and Co-Director of the Whitworth Park Project said:
Parks are an important part of the urban social environment informing people’s sense of identity, belonging and place. Historical sources provide information on the development of public parks and the ideas behind them – but there’s little record of what ordinary people got up to in parks and this is why this project is so unique One person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure: something dropped by the edge of the lake over a hundred years ago gives archaeologists a huge amount of important, and often forgotten, detail about what life was like in those times. By investigating the archaeology of Whitworth Park, we aim to increase everyone’s awareness of the value of these wonderful green spaces in the heart of the city, and encourage people to become more involved in their future.

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This exhibition is a product of a collaborative endeavour involving local residents and school children, working alongside the University of Manchester Archaeology Department and The Friends of Whitworth Park. Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre were also key partners. Our main objective is to enhance different local communities’ appreciation and use of this vital and vibrant urban green space, while being involved in archaeological discovery and research.

Dr Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum said:
Archaeology has the power to play an important role in the way we view the world. Through this project we’ve engaged with local community groups, students and academics to explore the history of the park. The exhibition provides an insight into some of the ways the park has been used and valued, many of them only revealed by fieldwork.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cities@Manchester, The Robert Kiln Charitable Trust, the Council for British Archaeology and the Council for British Archaeology North West. Whitworth Park (#WhitworthPark) will run from 24 May 2014 – 5 October 2014 in the Museum’s temporary exhibitions gallery on the third floor.