A Brief History of Lisburn’s Wallace Park
Note: this post was written by Ethan, a year 12 student, who spent a week’s work placement in the museum in September 2016. Based on heritage panels the museum wrote and erected in Wallace Park, Ethan did a wonderful job summarising the history of the park.
The 26-acre park was gifted to the town of Lisburn by its landlord Sir Richard Wallace in 1884 as ‘a public park and recreation ground’.
Sir Richard Wallace was born on the 21 June 1918, the illegitimate son of Lisburn’s landlord Richard Seymour Conway, the fourth Marquess of Hertford. He was brought up by his grandmother in Paris and later worked there for his father managing his accounts and assisting with his art acquisitions. After the death of Lord Hertford in 1870,
Wallace inherited much of his great wealth along with the South Antrim estate and his art collections.
In 1870 Wallace was caught up in the Prussian siege of Paris and achieved widespread fame and respect for his philanthropic giving of large sums of money to assist those affected by the conflict. In 1871 after the conflict had been resolved Wallace received the Legion of Honour by the French Government and was created a baronet by Queen Victoria. In 1873 he returned to England.
Wallace made his first visit to Lisburn in 1873. People were touched by his rapturous welcome and his caring character. He did much to improve the many utilities and amenities of Lisburn.He also founded a school in 1880, now known as Wallace High School and the People’s Park, now Wallace Park. These benefactions led the people of Lisburn to erect a memorial to his memory in Castle Gardens, after his death in 1890. The inscription on the memorial reads ‘to perpetuate the memory of one whose delight was to do good’.
The park was originally named The People’s Park but was renamed Wallace Park in 1890 by the town commissioners after Sir Richard’s death.
Wallace Park is Bounded to the south by the Belfast to Lisburn Railway Line. The first stretch of the Ulster Railway Company’s Line to Armagh opened to great fanfare and wonder on the 12 August 1839. Although the new railway line was of great benefit to Lisburn, its route cut through an area of parkland meadow that previously connected to the gardens at the rear of the Hertford’s estate house in Castle Street. In 1880 Sir Richard Wallace rebuilt the eighteenth-century house as Castle House, he wished to retain ‘uninterrupted views’ from it to Prospect Hill and the hills beyond. His presentation of the park in 1884 ensured that this important area of open ground remained preserved.
Wallace Park has a long association with sport. The Lisburn Cricket Club, formed in 1836, is one of the oldest in Ireland. It moved to its current pitch in 1854, 30 years before Sir Richard Wallace gifted the park to the town. On opening the park four granite stones inscribed with R.W, ‘Reserved Within’, marked the fact that the cricket pitch was excluded from its bounds. A pavilion was first constructed in the 1880s.
image from northerncricketunion.org
The formation of three cycle clubs in Lisburn in the 1890s reflected the late Victorian craze for cycling.
The most prominent, the Lisburn Wheelers, met at the Temperance Institute, Railway Street, and held regular races on the park’s newly constructed cycle track. The track was later improved upon, with new tarmac laid on banked sides, and re-opened in 1953 by Reg Harris, a famous Olympic medallist and multiple time world sprint champion.
The park continues to play an important role in the recreational and sporting life in Lisburn, and regularly hosts amateur football and senior league cricket matches as well as family fun runs. A synthetic tennis dome, erected in 2012, has brought the opportunity of year round play to the park.
There are a number of heritage sites around the park, designed and erected by the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum