Joseph Locke was a railway pioneer. Sheffield born, he achieved great wealth, but business and a career in politics took him away from his native Yorkshire. He remained hugely popular in Barnsley and never forgot the town where he moved as a small boy, which benefitted ‘to a large extent in his liberality’. There was great sadness when his death was announced in September 1860, aged only 55.
The following year Locke’s widow, Phoebe, announced that she intended to create a ‘recreation ground’ for the people of Barnsley as a ‘mark of regard and affection for her late husband’, and 17 acres of land were bought from the estate of the Duke of Leeds. The Chairman of the Board of Health declared himself ‘exceedingly well pleased with the plans for laying out the ground’, and the local newspaper reported that it was a ‘most munificent gift, and would prove … a pleasure to the inhabitants.’
Mrs Locke asked a Mr Edwards, an engineer from her late husband’s railway company Locke & Errington, to travel to Barnsley and prepare plans for laying out the ground. The opening of the park was marked with processions and a general holiday, and commemorated by a medal with a profile of Joseph Locke. On the reverse was a wreath of laurels and the legend ‘The Locke Park, given to the inhabitants of Barnsley by Phoebe, widow of the late Joseph Locke, June 10, 1862.’
Phoebe Locke died in 1866 and left the bulk of her fortune to her sister, Sarah McCreery. In 1871 McCreery travelled to Barnsley with an architect, Richard Phené Spiers, to discuss a substantial enlargement to the park in memory of her sister. The purchase of an extra 20 acres took some time to complete, and it wasn’t until October 1874 that the deeds were presented to the town. William Barron, famed for his work at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire, was appointed to ‘lay out the whole of the park in the form of an ornamental garden’. The Board of Health ensured everything met with the ‘cordial approval’ of Miss McCreery and Spiers.
Spiers meanwhile had been drawing up plans for a monument to Mrs Locke which would sit on the highest point of the park. In July 1875 the papers announced that an ‘elegant tower of observation’ was to be constructed, and in 1876 the design was exhibited at the Royal Academy with the caption ‘Memorial Tower to Mrs Locke; now being erected in the Locke Park, Barnsley, from the design and under the supervision of R.P. Spiers.’ Spiers had studied architecture in Paris, which was considered very unusual at that date, and the tower was believed to be ‘somewhat of the nature of one in the park at St Cloud, near Paris, destroyed three years ago’; this was the Lanterne de Démosthène, which was desecrated during the Franco-Prussian war. Spiers knew the building well, having captured it in a watercolour sketch in 1858. One can see the influence of the central shaft, but it is far from a slavish copy and Locke Tower is a wonderfully quirky and individual structure. “Did they use an architect?”, asked The Folly Flâneuses’s uncouth companion.
The park extension and tower were formally opened in August 1877 on a day of great festivities marred only by torrential rain. Another medal was produced bearing an image of the tower with, on the reverse, the words ‘In recognition of the generosity of Miss McCreery who on the 7th August 1877 added 20 acres of land to the park of Barnsley previously presented by her sister Phoebe Locke.’
The park was greatly appreciated by the ‘working classes’ who organised a subscription to erect an ornamental fountain to thank Miss McCreery. The fountain was also designed by Spiers. Joseph Locke himself had been commemorated with a larger than life bronze statue by the sculptor Baron Marochetti in 1866. However it is the monuments to the sisters Phoebe and Sarah which are of greatest historic significance, being rare dedications to non-royal women in a public park.
The Friends of Locke Park continue to campaign for investment in the grade II* listed tower and the park. In 2013 the public were readmitted to the interior after £80,000 was spent on the structure but further funding, estimated at around £250,000, is needed to restore the exterior. A tall hedge and gates are now in the place which rather spoil the proportions, but keep out the vandals. The weather vane with Sarah McCreery’s monogram was blown off in a gale early this century and the Friends hope funds can be found to return it to the tower. Sadly philanthropists like the Lockes and Sarah McCreery are in short supply in the 21st century.
The Locke Park Tower is open to the public on the afternoon of the first Sunday of each month courtesy of the Friends of Locke Park http://www.friendsoflockepark.org.uk
For more on St Cloud http://www.saintcloud.fr/articles/dathenes-saint-cloud-lhistoire-dune-lanterne
The design for the memorial fountain is in the RIBA collection and can be seen here https://www.architecture.com/image-library/ribapix/image-information/poster/design-for-a-memorial-fountain-in-locke-park-barnsley-south-yorkshire-plan-and-elevation/posterid/RIBA99117.html