History Monthly: Westbridge Park
This month Philip Leason, the chairman of Stone Historical Society, takes a look at the history of Westbridge Park. The park is very much in the news at the moment after it was included in the Stafford Borough Local Plan as a site for mixed-use development.
Westbridge Park takes its name from Westbridge House which once stood where the park is today.
At a meeting held at the Crown Inn, Stone in April 1767 the Directors of the Trent and Mersey Canal Company decided to locate their Headquarters at Westbridge House. It is thought that this decision was made due to the fact that Stone is the nearest town to the centre of the canal (the halfway point is at Aston lock).
To reduce the risk of losing valuable files as a result of a fire all the shelves in the building were made from slate. The building was also the home of the company’s Chief Agent who was responsible for the smooth running and maintenance of the canal. The Headquarters remained here until the Canal Company was taken over by the North Staffordshire Railway Company and the office moved to Winton Square in Stoke-on-Trent.
The building was then used by the Stone Local Board (the forerunner of Stone Urban District Council) and later as the home of the Council’s Surveyor. It was then used by an Italian, Mr Comber who had a café in the High Street who used the building as a chocolate factory.
However by the 2nd World War the building was derelict but was used by the Home Guard for training exercises.
When the building was demolished the land was levelled and it was decided by the Urban District Council to turn it into a park. The park was opened in 1951 as part of the town’s Festival of Britain Celebrations and to commemorate the event pair of wrought iron gates were produced by a local blacksmith. These gates are still there today by the pedestrian entrance to the park. When first the park open there was an area with roses and flower beds but this has been replaced by the children’s play area.
Over the years the Park has been used for various activities including beating retreat when bands from H.M.S. St. Vincent and H.M.S. Collingwood have visited the town, drum head services to commemorate the 50th anniversary of V.E. and V. J. days etc. Apart from one occasion the park has been the venue of Stone Festival and many residents will remember that at the first festival a whole ox was roasted on an open fire in the park.
Today the park continues to be used for a variety of activities including the annual Food and Drink Festival. The popularity of the park is reflected in the number of people who have signed the online petition and the petition in the shops publicised on “A little Bit of Stone” and it is hoped that the park will continue to be an important feature in the history of leisure in Stone in the future.