Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival

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Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival
The Stoke-on-Trent National Garden Festival was the second of Britain's National Garden Festivals. It was held in the city from 1 May to 26 October 1986, and was opened by the Queen. Preparation of the site involved the reclamation of land formerly occupied by the Shelton Bar steelworks (1830-1978), about two miles north-west of the city centre, between Hanley and Burslem. British Steel's Shelton Bar steel rolling mill remained in use, finally closing in 2000.

Reclaiming the site
The reclamation cost £5 million, and the Festival cost £18 million. The reclaimers of the Festival site had to contend with highly contaminated and mine shafted land, and there is still debate among environmental professionals about how such a high-quality clean-up was accomplished in such a short time. A community employment scheme ran alongside the work. Around 300,000 trees were planted, and it is said these were mostly planted by a small team of old men, ex-steelworkers. Not knowing how trees should be planted, the men planted them in what seemed at the time like disarray. It later transpired that this ad hoc method of planting resulted in a planted woodland that very closely matched natural-growth woodland, with trees of different types and ages growing alongside each other.

Commemorative memorabilia
A set of commemorative stamps were issued nationally by the Post Office. An incredibly rare Dungeons and Dragons module, Up the Garden Path, was based on the Festival site; only about thirty copies are known to have survived. RPG adventurers travelled to the Garden on a salamander-driven steam train run by gnomes.

Festival Park: the site today
The main site was completed in 1995, and is now known as Festival Park. It was, for the most part, sympathetically treated by St. Modwen Properties who had taken on its management and development. Much of the parkland, pools and trails have been retained as public open space, and are maturing very well. Some of the gardens, such as the Moorlands Heather Rock Garden and The Rocky Valley, survive with their planting scheme relatively intact. Although most wooden structures have been left to return to nature, Festival Park is actively maintained by groundsmen. Some sculpture and a large Welsh slate water feature still remains, as does the full-size stone circle. The huge wooden suspension bridge across a wooded ravine remains and can still be used. The complex network of paths is maze-like, there is no signage, and it is very easy to get lost. There is now a large 'out-of-town' retail park on one side of the site - on what was the Festival's car-park and public market area - that now merges into the lower reaches of the city-centre. Elsewhere, numerous low-rise offices nestle in the parkland and around the pools of Festival Park. There is a large marina for narrowboats. Along the main road on the western edge of the site is the large Waterworld indoor swimming complex, a ski-slope, a ten-screen Odeon cinema, a ten-pin bowling alley, and a toboggan run. The Sentinel newspaper's offices are also on the site, and their large printing plant serves most newspapers in northern England. Festival Park's large four-star Moat House hotel incorporates Etruria Hall, former home of Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Wedgwood. Groundwork UK created a £1-million cycle-path along the bordering Trent and Mersey Canal in 1998, which is now part of the National Cycle Network. At the northern tip of the site, the large complex of Festival greenhouses has been retained and these now operate as the City Council's plant nursery for the entire city. So-called 'boy racers' have in recent years started to gather in large numbers on the site's car parks, and some race on its roads, despite traffic calming measures introduced in 2003. An innovative court injunction was served in 2009, which has reduced the problem.