THE WORLDS FIRST PUBLIC PARK.
Opened on 5th April 1847 Birkenhead Park was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, who was later to design Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
His concept was to design a Park based on natural features such as open meadows and natural woodlands. The lakes were formed to resemble serpentine rivers with views across them to structures such as the Boathouse and Swiss Bridge.
Photo: Courtesy Bluelonesome ©
Click the photo above to take you to the Friends of Birkenhead Park website:
Paxton's first challenge was to reclaim the marshland. To do this, he radically changed the shape of the land by excavating tons of earth and stone to create an area of well drained grounds, lakes, hills and rockeries. In a letter to his wife he wrote, "It is not a very good situation as the land is generally poor but, of course, it will abound more (to my) credit and honour to make something handsome out of bad materials." Proper drainage pipes were laid alongside the road around the park to ensure the land did not revert to it former marshland state.
To implement his vision he and his team also designed original buildings, structures and lodges in various differing styles: Gothic Lodge, Castellated Lodge, Italian Lodge, Norman Lodge, the Boathouse and the Swiss Bridge. The most impressive structure of all is the Grand Entrance, similar to a classical triumphal arch, built to denote the pride of Birkenhead people in their wonderful park.
In 1850, as part of his European Tour, F. L. Olmstead, an American, visited the park. He later became famous as the designer of Central Park, New York, incorporating a 'natural' landscape into a city much larger than Birkenhead. Many details are remarkably similar, with the English country landscape being transposed across the Atlantic and thereafter to the the rest of the world.
The Birkenhead Cricket Club was founded right at the outset, with a clubhouse dating back to 1849, and on the edge of the park, the Rugby Club was started in 1871. Both clubs were of national importance in the 19th Cenury, hosting international events and matches. The lakes were used for fishing, and from 1861, football games took place in the park.
Photo: Father and Daughter, Birkenhead Park Bluelonesome ©
Over the years, with the good, there is invariably the bad: it has hosted the 1917 Welsh National Eisteddfod, attended by Prime Minister Lloyd George, while during World War 2 the park was bombed, presumably by bombers missing their intended targets of the nearby dock. A Spitfire crashed into the Tower Park and its engine is still embedded in the soil to this day.
Substantial restoration work has been carried out on the park recently, with £11.25 million being spent on the renovation of the Roman Boathouse, Swiss Bridge, roof level of the Grand Lodge Entrance, and major work on the trees, shrubs, lakes, bridges, drainage, plus the constuction of authentic railings.