FOR a town of its size, Keighley is unusually blessed by the number and quality of its parks. Why?

The history of the parks movement in this country is complex and interesting.

In the middle of the 19th century, when towns and cities had expanded to an unprecedented degree, and so rapidly, so that huge numbers of people were concentrated in quite small areas, why then encourage the creation of open spaces where such people might gather together and air their sense of disenfranchisement in matters of politics or religion?

I think it is a credit to our nation and our culture that the proliferation of parks was justified usually on the grounds of providing mill and factory workers with somewhere to walk and breathe, somewhere to retain some contact with nature.

The parks were often referred to as “the lungs of the city” – away from all those acres of garden-less houses and belching chimneys.

But Keighley wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like Manchester or Birmingham. It wasn’t big enough.

It would have taken the average six-day-a-week mill worker in Keighley about 20 minutes to be on a hillside, breathing his own lungs full of air – not because of a park. So, why so many parks in Keighley?


An Englishman’s home is said to be his castle, but we don’t all get to live in one.

I read somewhere that William Butterfield liked that particular location for Cliffe Castle because he could enjoy that expanse of the Aire Valley without looking at the mill chimneys of Keighley. Splendid isolation.

Queen Victoria was not always popular during her long reign, but a lot of parks were named after her.

Ours is a bit of a disaster.

It has what some architectural historians have described as one of the very best examples of early 19th-century neo-classical building of its kind.

Now it has been converted into a ‘leisure centre’ with a swimming pool.

Devonshire Park was donated to us by one of those aristocrats who neither lived in Devonshire, nor in Yorkshire. But thank you all the same.

Knowle Park is close to a chapel of rest where many of us say goodbye to our dear departed; also a mill, formerly important to Timothy Hird’s, where my father worked, man and boy. The park was given to us by John Greenwood. Thank you.

Nearby is Lund Park, donated by James Lund, who owned Malsis Hall, near Glusburn. My guess is that would have been a preferable place to live in.

Other parks in the area are named after their locations.

Oakworth Park is a gem of a place – a survivor of something once grand.

Cross Roads Park is what it says, at a crossroads, and exquisite in its way.

Haworth Park I wonder about. I think that in some of those endless Haworth Civic Society meetings they may have considered renaming it – Bronte Park might bring in more ‘footfall’, as in Bronteland, as the estate agents used to call it.

Silsden and Sutton parks just get on with it. It is rare, even in winter, to see no one in either of them.

The number of Keighley parks must be something of a headache for Bradford Council. They must ask themselves the same question I do: why so many? For the council, it is the cost of them.

I don’t really have to worry about how they are maintained, although I do; I was a park-keeper at Oakworth in the 1970s.

I may be wrong, but I think a few years ago – during the ‘Bradford riots’ – cars and buildings were set on fire in Oak Lane, but no damage was done in Lister Park across the road. Presumably this was because the people who caused that damage valued the park.

By contrast, in Keighley we seem to have a crop of teenagers with brains the size of a peanut who find it funny to occupy parks after dark, to vandalise and drop syringes, to plant broken beer bottles upside down in play areas and, recently, to attack the expensive efforts to make Cliffe Castle Park a nice place to go.

This seems to me to be a very odd form of cultural self-harming. Is it unique to Keighley? I think not.

I have lived in other countries, where they lock up their parks after dark, much as we now have to do with churches so they don’t get robbed. Is that what you want? Or are you content to rely on jolly volunteers to come and clean up the mess?

Oscar Wilde said a lot of silly things but he was no fool. He said something about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Is that how you want to regard your parks inheritance?

CHRISTOPHER ACKROYD Bethel Street East Morton