The park was originally laid out by William Emes in the style of Capability Brown.[ It has long been used for public events such as Heaton Park races which were established by the second Earl in 1827. The races were run on a course on the site of the present day boating lake until 1839 when they moved to Aintree near Liverpool, now the venue for the Grand National. During the 19th century when the railway to Bury was being laid, it stopped short of Heaton Park, as Lord Wilton was not prepared to see his estate disfigured by a railway. As a compromise the line was run under the estate in a tunnel and a railway station opened adjacent to the Whittaker Lane/Bury Old Road entrance in 1879 (now Heaton Park Metrolink station). Consequently, the decision by Lord Wilton to put the hall and park up for sale was greeted with dismay, especially when it became known that the site was being eyed by a property developer. A pressure group was formed to persuade Manchester City Council to purchase it as a museum and municipal park. Alderman Fletcher Moss, a prominent antiquarian was a notable influence in this movement. The park was purchased and opened to the public in 1902. Unfortunately, the council was not prepared to purchase the contents of the hall and so the furniture and paintings were sold by auction. The hall was considered by the council to be of little architectural or historical significance, and the saloon was initially used as a tea-room. The city council used the hall as a branch art gallery for many years, but eventually the architectural and historical importance of the building was realised.
The Manchester Pals used the park as a training depot during the First World War, and several hutted camps were built. The park was also used as the site of a Royal Air Force depot in the Second World War
Manchester Council later used part of the north side of the park for the construction of a large gravity feed reservoir, employing a contractor's railway from Whitefield railway station. This work was interrupted by the First World War, and only completed in the 1920s. A municipal golf course was also laid out, and a large boating lake excavated. The former facade of the first Manchester Town Hall on King Street was re-erected as a backdrop to the lake.
Mainly in Manchester it is inlcuded in Bury List because Buxton and his Victoriam naturalists studied the area and the Wiltons owned Ainsworth and most of Radcliffe. Despite thois extensivde use wildlife abounds. Plants include Arrowhead, Branched Bur Reed and Skullcap. The Reservoir is restricted but is a county important Gull Roosts. Woods givdeTreecreeper, Nuthach and Great Spotted Woodspecker. Insects include Violet Ground Beetle with amphobisns like Common Toad and Common Newt. Mamals include Common Shrew wood Mouse and Rabbit. Over 300 seperate species were recorded in 2013.