An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 64 (of 92 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 15

Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a series of recollections of Sutton's past that have been contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences - perhaps from your childhood - that you'd like to share, do please contact me. I'll be delighted to hear from you!  SRW
An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 64 (of 92 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 15
Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a series of recollections of Sutton's past that have been contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences - perhaps from your childhood - that you'd like to share, do please contact me. I'll be delighted to hear from you!  SRW
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Memories of Sutton 15
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII
Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a 25-part series of recollections of Sutton's past contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences that you'd like to share, do please get in touch.

'The Last To Live in Sherdley Park' by Susan Morrison-Jones (née Swift)


I will never forget visiting Sherdley Park during the 1970s. Both my husband and I were fitness fans and we often rode our bikes around the area for exercise. I had a love affair with the park itself. I loved the secret garden; the trees, the whole place breathed peace into me and we often meandered around enjoying a cup of tea in the cafe and feeding the ducks in the children's pets corner. On this particular day it was May and warm and sunny and we rode through the Sutton Heath Estate and via the road through the rear of the Park past Friths farm. We all knew this as The Score and it was the Thatto Heathers’ access point. The visit that Friday morning was lovely, the weather was gorgeous but it was soon time to go.

As we slowly pedalled back along the little road that came from Green End Lane, I stopped my bike and stared at the 'old hall', as we knew it. A man walked down from the cement steps at the far side of the building. Plucking up courage, I shouted over and asked him if he owned the building, thinking to get some local history from him. He laughed, his name was Shaun and he and his wife lived in part of the building. Shaun said the local council were the landlords and the main flat, in what I later found out was Sherdley Hall’s servants' quarters, was empty.

I have never pedalled home so fast in my life and wrote a request for information or application form. My eldest son had dreadful asthma, and living in a park was a solution to his very real problems. It was a Friday and at 11am I posted the letter hoping to hear something eventually. On the Monday a letter popped through the letter box inviting us to pick up the keys and view the property. We moved in that same week on my birthday, Thursday May 18th 1978, the best birthday present I ever had. The rent was in the region of £23 per week which was very different to the rent for our little old two up, two down. But oh the space, the sheer size of the place, a bedroom for each child and such light! We'd yet to experience winter and almost freeze to death, literally...but I am ahead of myself, let's start with the viewing.

Our flat had a downstairs entrance into a lobby room as big as our previous living room, with a glorious twisting staircase that took us to the first floor with an entrance directly into the kitchen. This room was spacious, light and all-electric, which took some getting used to. But it also had a little hatch into what was supposed to be the dining room as well as room for a kitchen table and chairs. After years of eating sat on the sofa, this would be wonderful!

The doors were solid oak, wider than the doors I was used to, with lovely brass handles. When I walked into the hallway it took my breath away. It was 46 foot long and over five feet wide with an archway a third of the way down with a higher aperture up to the roof and a beautiful window. The whole hallway flooded with sunlight. I opened the door on my right. This would be the girls’ room, spacious and decorated with huge, overblown roses in a delicate cream and with glorious, wooden floorboards, well over 20 foot square. The next door opened onto the bathroom, 18 foot long, 12 foot wide and decorated in wallpaper with a Chinese-style pattern, which I fell in love with immediately and never changed.

On my left the next door opened onto the dining room. Flooded with glorious sunshine, its lemon walls glowed; a happy room. It led onto our bedroom with very large glass sliding doors that led into the main living room. This was a revelation, 27 feet by 24 foot, its windows were the same as all the others, 9' 6" by 4' 6" wide and a foot deep...I was in heaven! Our previous house had small rooms, hence small furniture, and this flat was massive. So massive that even a double bed looked swamped by the space.


Sherdley Park in the 1970s
Sherdley Park pictured during the 1970s
When we moved in the very first thing we all noticed was the quiet. It was heavenly, no more noisy lorries speeding past the house. For that matter no more car fumes through the door every time we opened it. And the view! The first day I looked through the bedroom window and saw the park at 6 o’clock in the morning was amazing. I don't think I will ever forget it. The following two years would show me the same view with little changes here and there so that it appeared that Constable had come along and repainted the scene almost on a daily basis.

I never tired of that view, not when it rained and everything seemed slate grey. Not when fog descended and the trees became shrouded in mystery. Not when the snow fell in soft fluffy flakes that dressed everything in a white blanket that glowed pink in the moonlight. Never when the sun shone gleaming gold on autumn’s russet and bronzed trees...glorious! And then there was the moonlight when the park wore a different dress indeed. On a full moon the whole park seemed mystical and magical, as if some fairy had tipped buckets of liquid silver generously over all that wasn’t steeped in deepest black. It was a joyous time for us all. The children had the biggest playground, the best 'back garden' in the town, probably in the country if I think about it and oh how they did love it.

Sherdley Park pictured during the 1970s

The film Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind was shown on the BBC and the following day was an amazing and memorable encounter of an entirely different kind. Every morning the children going to Sutton High would meander through the park, but this day was very, very different. The children seemed to come 'all at once' and not in the usual dribs and drabs. I heard a noise, it sounded like singing and I lifted the living room window to look out to be met with the most amazing experience. The park was usually empty at this time of the morning, perhaps a few school children would walk through but today it was very different indeed.

Hundreds of children walking almost in a strung line across the park, all making the hand signal and the notes from the film. Dah dah dah dah daaaaaaaaaah they sang and it was so loud, sung with heart. The song slammed across the park and reached the new Sutton High school which had been built on the edge of the park itself. Then back from the school came dah dah dah dah daaaaaah and a circle of sound began as each faction sang the notes from the film. I closed the window with a huge silly grin on my face!
The park loved its visitors; it gave shelter, beauty and some wonderful moments of pleasure and joy for many people, from families to retired men looking for a little conversation. I would walk for miles around the whole park; the whole family did, but there were dangers too. The council had emptied the old lake and it was a quagmire of mud and my youngest daughter walked on what she thought was ground and sunk up to the tops of her legs. My children screamed for help, getting Dad’s attention and he grabbed her back out again. To this day she remembers getting told off for leaving her shoes behind in the mud!
Many good folk were horrified to hear of the incident that changed Pets Corner forever. I am referring to the shooting of one of the animals, but worse things happened. One day I was happily sitting in the bath enjoying a good old fashioned soak when I heard the sounds of squawking coming from the aviary. It wasn't the usual sounds and it didn't have a fox’s cough or the sound of death to it, but frantic never the less. So I leapt into some clothes and sneaked round to see what was going on, carrying a hefty walking stick in my hands. It was very dark, well after sundown, but I had good night vision and what I saw had my blood run cold. There was men and a car and they were inside the aviary.

Pets Corner in Sherdley Park, St.Helens pictured during the 1970s

Pets Corner in Sherdley Park, St.Helens pictured during the 1970s

Pets Corner, Sherdley Park in 1970s

I sneaked back to the flat and rang the police. They must have thought I was a crazy woman at first as I calmly explained yet again to someone in authority that I lived 'in' the park. Not alongside it or near it but in it. Finally they accepted what I was saying, that someone was stealing the birds from the aviary and I was on my own in the middle of a park with four children! The police arrived en masse; it was like something out of a film with cars appeared from all round the park and officers all over. But they caught them and saved the birds...unscrupulous lot!

The man who looked after the pets was a kind hearted soul, Duffy we called him, I think, though I stand to be corrected. He cared for the animals with a great deal of expertise. He spoke to me very upset that someone had crucified a duck. All the children had called it Donald and it was fed by hand and very friendly with the children.

Lots of people would bring their unwanted rabbits, budgies and so on to the park. Some would throw them over the fence. Others would leave them in a cage or a box to be found the next day. Others would hand them over with many tears. Sometimes people would bring stray animals to our door and I became a dab hand at using a fisherman’s disgorger to remove fishing hooks from little birds’ beaks and wings and sometimes from their throats. We also had a pet duck, not that I wanted one, but he lived in our bath during the day and wandered over to his fellow ducks occasionally. Someone set their dogs onto him and he died a tragic death. I will never get over seeing him swimming in my bath for the first time or finding his little body when he had been gruesomely murdered so heartlessly.
Occasionally the horse dung heap would burst into flames and the Fire Engine would arrive to put it out. The heap would smoulder away for days and sometimes reignite. The horses, especially the donkeys and the Shetlands, were especially loved by the children and my own children where encouraged by Duffy to get involved with them. Though one particular Shetland had a really bad temper and would nip fingers if you where not quick enough with the carrots.
I became acquainted with Norman Clarke the then manager of the park, a kind man with a fierce love of the park, very protective and full of old lore and some of the tales and myths and legends of the park. One of the legends was that during the war, a demand was made by the government for scrap metal to be melted down to make bullets and machinery for the war effort. The tale goes that all the metal available was duly given, except for suits of armour, swords with silver handles and all sorts of sundry treasures which were buried around the walk around the lake. We looked, of course, we even tried our hand at one of those fancy metal detectors but we never found any was fun looking though!
There are three ghosts that are said to haunt Sherdley Park. Norman Clarke explained two of them to me and I saw the third myself. Every night between 2am and 3am, we could hear the tip-tapping of what I originally thought were stilettos, as someone walked very quickly through the top end of the park, alongside pets corner, alongside the house and then apparently into the garden. However this was impossible as the garden was always locked at night.

One night, sitting having a drink with our neighbours, we heard the tip-tap of footsteps and I mentioned that it was a damned silly thing wandering through here on your own at night. I asked my husband and his friend to look out of the window and see if they could see the woman. The idea was that we could tell her that if she had to come through the park so late, she could always knock on our door if she needed help. Both my friend and I sat waiting to hear her voice, when both men withdrew their heads and turned looking a little white around the gills. They said: "There's two foot of snow out there, how the devil can we hear footsteps? We can't see anyone but the sounds went past us".

The beautiful gardens in Sherdley Park photographed during the 1970s


The beautiful gardens in Sherdley Park photographed during the 1970s


The beautiful gardens in Sherdley Park

Norman Clarke said it was a nun who was late for early mass running through from the old convent to Loyola Hall...true? false? I don't know and hearing the steps in the locked garden? Well apparently the garden wasn’t built at that time and the path originally meandered onto that part of the land. I went back not long ago and the footsteps are still happening.

Norman also told me of an old man who used to work for the parks and gardens, his name he said was Fred...why did I need to know? Because we used to hear someone walk across the floor but never saw anyone...weird or what? The third ghost is a lady, dressed in an 18th century, close-fitting jacket and a bustle-type skirt. She walked from the edge of the path to the corner and back, over and over, outside of the wall in the floral garden. I saw her myself and genuinely thought it was a lady in costume. That is until I got closer and she turned and walked right past me and I realised I could see though her...whew...home at a fast trot!
Fairies!!!!!!!!!! well according to my children they saw a real genuine fairy and to this day one of my sons, an ex-soldier no less, insists he saw tiny footmarks and something shimmer away as he approached...well it's a nice thought.
When the snow fell it was an amazing rebirth for the park itself. All through the late autumn and early part of winter the park would be quiet. Just a few brave souls, the odd collection of health fanatics and my stalwart old Park Benchers would be in the park, but when the snow was an entirely different story. My favourite memory is hearing the excited barking of a couple of dogs. I looked out of the living room window and was shocked to see huge fat flakes of snow drifting slowly down and soon the entire park was blanketed. The dogs were with someone, a woman, and the three of them were running madly around in the snow, playing an excited game together and it was well after midnight! The following morning the park was full of excited children with toboggans and the excited laughter of children and people with dogs who loved snow filled the air. Later in the day teenagers arrived making huge ice slides down the far side of the park down the hills, slipping and sliding like stunt men as they slid on their feet or belly down on black bin bags. Then the families with children in tow would come out to walk and make snowmen and throw snowballs at each other and a great time would be had by everyone. I loved the park when it snowed.
All I can say is that during the annual show, the park suffered the insults of paper and mess and rubbish and was used as one huge toilet by some uncaring people. The park always survived the infiltration of cars, lorries and thousands of people with dignity, needing only a little TLC to flourish again.

The St.Helens Show a.k.a. Sherdley Show in Sherdley Park pictured during the mid-1970s


The St.Helens Show in Sherdley Park pictured during the mid-1970s


St.Helens Show in mid-1970s

Sherdley has seen a fair old amount of warfare in its days with Thatto Heath and Sutton kids battling in the park. One night hundreds of teenagers came from all around and ran rampant, running over the tops of the golfers’ cars. Eventually a huge police presence was needed as gangs took over the park for a short while. We had to call the police as petrol bombs were thrown and I will never forget a row of teenagers standing at the bottom of our garden rattling the fence and chanting obscenities. Along with many people, living in the park made people believed that we must 'own' the park or were titled and moneyed, when in fact my husband was a refuse collector and I was a simple housewife.
My sons both stumbled on lovers more than once in flagrante delicto, as they say. Well they got a lesson in the realities of life, rather sooner than I would have liked, but then lovers’ love wherever and it’s a little more romantic in a park. My boys used this knowledge to their advantage and for a few coins could be persuaded to 'go somewhere else'. Naughty I suppose but it makes me smile when I think how much pocket money they earned in summer.

My husband had a mischievous sense of humour and the car park close to our home was an endless supply of ‘fun’. Waiting until the car park was full, late at night (usually on a weekend) my husband would stand at the corner of the car park, more or less hidden by the bushes and shout “I KNEW !!!!!! I’d find you here”. Half the cars would suddenly start up their engines and drive off in a panic. Occasionally my husband and his friend would knock on a particularly steamed up window to ask for the time. The cars began to dwindle in the end because quite frankly the occupants never knew what would happen next.
The top of the house had a little tiny building on its highest point which housed a ship’s bell, a massive phosphor bronze bell. We hadn’t been gone from the building a week when it was stolen. We heard rumours of it being in such and such a body’s possession but the last I heard it had been smelted and a nice aft profit for the people involved. It broke my heart because we had gone to a lot of trouble to clean the bell when we had gone up onto the roof one time and we loved that its history was so old. I can’t remember all the details of which ship it belonged to now, it was such a long time ago. But I do remember wishing I’d taken it with me and perhaps giving it to the museum at some point.
Towards the end of our tenancy it was discovered that dry rot had made its presence felt. I will never know all of the reasons why, but suddenly we were informed that we had to leave. Our neighbours had already left and now we were faced with a choice to make for a new home. So in 1980, we chose to return to Thatto Heath where a new phase of our life would begin. The old Sherdley Hall servants quarters’ demise was brought about by a bulldozer. A beautiful building, filled with children’s laughter and sunshine and happiness died alone and lonely in the dark night of fiscal juggling and cuts; discarded history that could have been saved. I will never regret living in the middle of Sherdley Park. I will remember it with joy and even now, when I revisit St Helens, I call in and have a little walk round but it isn't the same anymore.
Next:  Part 65)  Memories of Sutton Part 16  |  Top of Page
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
This website is written and researched by Stephen R. Wainwright ©MMXVII  Contact Me
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Facebook
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Google Plus
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Facebook
Visit Sutton Beauty & Heritage on Google Plus