The need for public gardens in the town in the late 19th century for both visitors and residents was keenly felt - twelve acres were laid out and named St George’s Gardens. Even with natural sand dunes, lawns, flower beds and green houses, the gardens were not considered to be adequate.
In the early 1900s, the future of the gardens was secured when they were purchased by Lord Ashton and gifted to the town, with his further gift of 2.5 acres of woodland to the east and money for a war memorial. The park underwent large-scale renovations including the re-landscaping of the lake area and gardens, with a Greek-style monument dedicated to Lord Ashton in the grounds.
The official opening on 1 July 1916 celebrated this generous gift with the renaming of the park as Ashton Gardens. The fourteen-acre park was described as ‘St Annes’ new beauty spot’, with sunken and rose gardens, a stunning lake and rockeries, as well as a space for bowling greens and tennis courts. A striking concert pavilion was commissioned to accommodate an audience of six-hundred and showcase the finest performances.
In 1924 Lord Ashton’s hope for a war memorial was realised as the 40ft dedication was unveiled. The allegory of peace stands proud with open arms at the top of the monument; resting at the foot is a uniformed soldier on one side and a mother and child on the other. The memorial bore the names of one-hundred-and-seventy local men who lost their lives in World War I - additional names have since been added to memorialise those lost in later combat.
The original pavilion suffered a number of fires over the years, with that of 1931 causing thousands of pounds of damage. A fire in 1977 saw the closure of the pavilion, and whilst there was demand and public support for the theatre to be rebuilt it never came to fruition. Following a restoration of the gardens the Ashton Institute, which had largely fallen into disrepair, was re-sited where the theatre once stood and now houses a popular café and social space.