A History of Pleasure Grounds

[Blog post by Lauren Ash]

This Saturday 22nd September, history will be repeated as audience members witness scenes of a bygone era when a popular leisure industry of the past is brought to life.

The leisure business expanded rapidly throughout the Victorian period as a variety of pleasure pursuits became accessible and available to the wider public. This change occurred partly due to the growing middle classes who could afford the time and money to partake in leisure activities, and partly due to the introduction of the ‘Saturday half-holiday’, which provided the working classes with more leisure time. In addition to this extra leisure time, the arrival of cheap travel via electric tram and the expanding railways from the 1840s allowed more places to become accessible to the masses during this period.

To meet this increasing demand, the well-established pleasure gardens that had developed and flourished throughout the eighteenth century began to expand and peak in their popularity. These new-style pleasure grounds, often located on the edge of large industrial cities, boasted innovative attractions combining traditional gardens with new activities and features such as boating lakes, mechanical rides, music competitions, zoos, circuses and firework displays.

Belle Vue was one such notorious pleasure ground, located on the outskirts of Manchester. However, further east, nestled in the valley on the other side of the Peak District there once stood an equally grand but lesser-known attraction. Hope Bank, situated outside Honley, was once regarded as one of the grandest days out in Yorkshire and drew in tens of thousands of leisure seekers.

Although long gone, this historical place has not been forgotten as the memories of visitors from years gone by have been collated and will now be celebrated in a one-off production at Honley Feast on Saturday 22nd September. Sticklebacks and Swingboats is based on real-life stories collected by Holme Valley Sharing Memories in collaboration with Chol Theatre, Jenny Goodman and The Children’s Art School.

The Sticklebacks and Swingboats show will take place at Honley Cricket Club on Saturday 22nd September, with performances starting at 1.30pm.

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