09 March 2011

The Taj Mahal of the North

Williamson Park was laid out in the sometime quarries of Lancaster Moor from which was extracted the stone used in many of the city's buildings. It was landscaped in 1877 by John Mclean, and financed by James Williamson Snr, providing employment for locals put out of work by the cotton famine occasioned by the American Civil War.

James Williamson Jnr, later Lord Ashton, made his millions from the linoleum and oil-cloth for which Lancaster was famous. He raised the 150 feet tall Ashton Memorial to his second wife, Jessie. Commenced in 1906, it opened just three years later. Sir John Belcher's design made use of a steel structure, supporting Portland stone cladding. The grand steps are of Cornish granite, and the dome is clad with copper.

The folly was damaged by fire in 1962, but it was the steel armature that proved to be its undoing, having suffered from severe rusting. The memorial was closed in 1981, and restored 1986-87. The internal floor is of red, black and white marbles.

Also not accessible in the 1980s was the Edwardian Orangery, now renovated and reopened as the Butterfly House. Unfortunately it has had built beside it a rather tacky cafeteria and, behind, some even tackier small animal and insect enclosures. A red rose of Lancaster has been laid out in pebbles between the orangery and the memorial.

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