With 54 acres of stunning parkland in the centre of Lancaster, Williamson Park features enchanting walks and play areas, with breathtaking views of the Fylde Coast and the Lake District. On a clear day, from the top of the Ashton Memorial, people are able to see for miles around the local area.
There is a renovated Victorian-era tropical butterfly house, along with a mini-zoo containing insects, birds and small mammals such as the beloved meerkats. More than just a park, the facilities at Williamson Park add a touch of the exotic to one of Lancaster’s leading tourist attractions.
The centrepiece of the park is the Ashton Memorial, an Edwardian tower overlooking Lancaster that was gifted to the City from Lord Ashton, son of James Williamson, who established the parkland itself. The structure was created to be a memorial to Lord Ashton’s second wife.
Williamson Park was constructed by millionaire James Williamson and now covers an area of 54 acres, having been extended in 1999 following a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The heavily landscaped nature of the park is due to the nature in which it was created out of the quarries which gave the city most of the stone for most its buildings. The site also made good use of an area of open moorland which was not suitable for development as Lancaster grew. An 1854 painting by W J Linton depicts people sitting among the dramatic quarry scenery, looking out over Lancaster. This shows the area being used as a recreational space before the park was created, showing that the fine views over Lancaster and to the Lune Estuary beyond were already proving to be a draw for people.
The park is used as a venue for many exciting events and festivals throughout the year such as concerts, guided walks, art exhibitions, and the incredibly popular outdoor performances of the Duke Theatre.
In 2018 Williamson Park hosted the first Highest Point music festival which featured several stages spread around the grounds. Highest Point featured bands such as northern heroes Embrace and the Hacienda Classical, as well as Ocean Colour Scene, Rae Morris, and The Two Bears. The festival was held again in May 2019.
Ashton Memorial is a Grade I listed building, which was commissioned in 1904 and erected between 1907 and 1909 to the designs of Sir John Belcher at a cost of more than £80,000. The monument is about 50m in height, with panoramic views of the local landscape provided from the top. It is a prominent landmark that can also be seen for many miles around. Crafted from Portland stone in a Baroque style, the Ashton Memorial and was described by Sir Niklaus Pevsner in 1969 as “the grandest monument in England”.
The area on which the Memorial was built is known as the Sixpence, with the land sharply falling away on all sides except towards the east, where the butterfly house is situated. Between the Memorial and butterfly house is a formal garden with lawns surrounding a much newer stone mosaic from the end of the 20th century.