The History of Centre Vale Park

    From home to hospital grounds to community park


    Information courtesy of the Roger Birch photographic collection, and local papers.

    Tracing how our landscape changes

    We first need to imagine how this part of the Calder Valley would have looked in the middle ages, when Todmorden was only a tiny hamlet. The river regularly flooded what is now Centre Vale, and the swampy valley bottom would have been thick with willow and alder trees. The very steep hillsides to the south were also densely forested with oak, holly and beech trees.

    There was no river crossing here, as far as we know. Perhaps there was a muddy lane on the north side, following the valley at a safe distance from the river, but the main pack-horse trails avoided this marshy place. No one lived here except a few itinerant families felling trees to make a meagre living from burning wood to produce charcoal. Some of the old charcoal making platforms can still be found on the steep valley sides. All the more prosperous farms were on the south-facing slopes across the river.

    This is when the forest covered valley began to give way finally to human activities, leaving the hillsides almost bare for many years. It is interesting to think that there are more trees in Centre Vale now than for two centuries, or more.

    By the middle of the 17th Century the first stone building we know of was built on the slopes above the valley bottom. The slopes and valley were cleared for grazing, and fields were divided with stone walls. It is here that we can start our time line that will give the briefest look at how Centre Vale changed in over three hundred years.


    Platts House (TRAIL MARKER No.13) The burial of a James Stansfield of Platts House is recorded in parish records. This would have been a substantial stone dwelling much like the farm houses on the hill sides, many of which still exist today.


    Carr Farm (TRAIL MARKER No.4) was tenanted by Anthony Dixon. (We have no date for when it was built.)


    Carr Farm, commonly called Carr Laithe, and Platts were bought by Samuel Fielden of Bottomley.


    The river was straightened to run immediately below the new turnpike road, now the A646. Centre Vale fields were drained.


    The development of the Centre Vale Estate


    Thomas Ramsbotham (a manufacturer from Manchester) was running the water powered Ewood Mill, and living in the adjacent mill house. This mill stood roughly where the Fielden Centre (now called Fielden Hall) is today, at the north-west end of the park.


    Messrs. James and Thomas Ramsbotham acquired a lease on Carr Laithe estate. 


    Carr Laithe and Platts properties both sold to Thomas Ramsbotham. He had plans to build a larger house for his growing family.

    1821 - 22   

    The original Centre Vale House was built. It appeared first on an 1823 map of Todmorden, showing gardens, stableblock, coach house, and outhouses (TRAIL MARKER No.1)


    Thomas Ramsbotham dies


    During these years there was a serious trade depression that included cotton manufacturing. The Ramsbotham businesses got into financial difficulties.


    Abraham Stansfield lived at Platts with his wife and six children. He was the gardener on the estate, and later established himself as a nationally renowned expert on ferns.


    Centre Vale House, with the Carr Laithe and Platts properties sold by Thomas Ramsbotham’s executors to John Fielden MP.

    1842 – 47  

    John Fielden lived at Centre Vale, and held many of his important political discussions there when the Factories Acts and the Ten Hours Act were being presented to Parliament.


    John Fielden died


    John Fielden’s eldest son Samuel moved in to Centre Vale. He bought the cricket field and the Ridge hillside behind it (now called Chimney Field TRAIL MARKER Nos.8 and 9)


    Sam Fielden put a lot of investment into the estate, and carried out improvements including the farms. Platts house was divided into two, and then three dwellings.


    The Census shows that Joseph Barker (coachman) along with his wife and seven children, plus Jonathan Hedley (gardener), his wife and five children were all living at Platts, and working on the estate.  


    Ruth Stansfield, the beautiful second daughter of John and Elizabeth who lived at Carr Laithe, married John, the son of J. Fielden MP when she was thirty, after a long courtship. Sadly she did not live happily, and died 20 years later.


    Sam Fielden acquired Ewood Mill, demolished it, and arranged for the building of Centre Vale School (now called Fielden Hall), which was run by his wife Sarah from 1872 - 1896  


    Centre Vale House was substantially extended. Sam Fielden employed John Gibson, the London based architect used by the Fielden family for other buildings in the town including the Town Hall, Unitarian Church, Dobroyd Castle, and Centre Vale School.

    1872 – 76  

    The two gate houses and the driveways were constructed. Flood works were undertaken and hot-houses built. Ewood hall estate was purchased increasing the Centre Vale estate to 75 acres.


    Sam Fielden died; one of the richest men in the country.


    His son John Ashton Fielden gave Centre Vale School to Todmorden Borough Council, to be used for "the purposes of education".          


    Sarah Fielden continued to live at Centre Vale with one companion until she died in 1910.


    John Ashton sold Centre Vale mansion, the parkland, cricket field, Ewood Hall, Carr Laithe and Platts, for £10,000 to the mayor of Todmorden, Edward Lord. After much argument and an inquiry, the estate became the property of the Borough Council ,to be made into the town’s public park.

    March 1911

    In an auction lasting five days, the complete contents of the house, including books, pictures, and other "household appointments" were sold off.


    The Public Park

    These are time snippets, from the opening of the public park to the demolition of Centre Vale mansion in 1953.


    On 30th March this year Centre Vale Estate opened as a public park. The park gates were locked every evening, the time varying throughout the year. This practice continued until the 1950s.

    March 1913          

    The Council made a suggestion to the effect that the Fielden Statue (then referred to as the Fielden Monument) “might with advantage be removed to Centre Vale Park now that that extensive property has passed into the hands of the Corporation.” This suggestion acted on until 1939 (see below).

    January 1914

    The Borough Council invited carpenters and joiners to erect and complete a Bandstand, three shelters, and a bowling pavilion.


    Centre Vale mansion, now owned by the Council, was thought to be the most suitable place for a temporary hospital for wounded and convalescent soldiers. During the first year 224 patients were treated.


    The first bowling greens: two of the Bowling Greens were opened, but much work to create a good public park would have been delayed because of the war.


    Following the end of the First World War, it was decided that the rose garden of Centre Vale Mansion should be the site for the War Memorial. The terrace at the back was re-built and heightened, sets of steps and the pond and fountain created. The statues were commissioned from the London based sculptor, Gilbert Bayes.

    Between the two World Wars part of Centre Vale mansion became a museum, or the “Todmorden Historical Rooms” as they were known.


    Mrs Fielden’s gardener stayed on as head gardener and supervised the transformation of the rose garden. His photograph in Roger Birch’s collection shows him proudly standing in the Garden of Remembrance in 1921.


    The first tennis counts. The Parks Committee resolved to take land from Carr Laithe Farm to construct a tennis court. The farm rent was reduced, but a year later the Committee was informed that Carr Laithe Farm was in a bad state of repair.


    The Rose Queen festival was an annual event that became the Todmorden Carnival which still continues. In this year Geoff Love, later to become a well known band leader and musician, had a role aged 12, as the Crown Bearer to the Rose Queen.


    The first children’s play ground was created.


    The Council’s committee resolved to demolish Carr Laithe, just the barn (TRAIL MARKER No.3); the farm house remained in occupation and the land continued to be rented out for grazing.


    The Parks Committee resolve to demolish Platts House, and also Carr Laithe farm house two years later.


    The boating pool was built. (No longer there)


    The Fielden statue was moved from Fielden Square to its current position in the Park.

    The last remains of the Ridgefoot Mill chimney, on what is now called Chimney Field, were finally demolished.

    1939 – 45

    World War Two: several annual fund raising events took place in Centre Vale Park. In 1943 there was a “Wings for Victory” Empire Pageant held and this raised over £265,000 for the war effort. A “Salute the Soldier” week was also a very successful annual fund raising event.


    Lady Louis Mountbatten CBE visited Centre Vale Park to inspect the St John’s Ambulance Nursing Cadets.


    The Victory in Europe national holiday on May 8th. There were impromptu celebrations all over Todmorden which must have included celebrations in Centre Vale Park.


    The Todmorden Historical Rooms at Centre Vale Mansion were closed due to extensive dry rot in the building.


    Centre Vale Mansion was demolished, apart from the back wall adjacent to the coach yard.

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