Entrance to Birkenhead Park. 1904
The Swiss Bridge, Birkenhead Park. (Date unknown)
Birkenhead Park is acknowledged to be the first publicly funded park in Britain.
It was the forerunner of the Park's Movement and its influence was far reaching
both in this country and abroad - most notably on Olmstead's design for Central
Park, New York.
Designed by Joseph Paxton (later Sir Joseph Paxton) in 1843 and officially
opened in 1847 it was an immediate economic and social success.
In 1841, alarmed by the exploding population figures, the idea of a public
park in Birkenhead was first raised by Mr Isaac Holmes, a Liverpool Councillor.
Two years later, empowered by another Improvement Act, the Birkenhead Commissioners
created history by purchasing land on which to construct the world's first
publicly funded park. The site chosen for the park was part of the Birkenhead
Estate, owned by Mr F R Price. The land was low lying, a mixture of fields,
marsh and commons, and contained a small farmhouse which was a known beer
den where illegal gambling and dog fighting took place.
The land was purchased cheaply because of its poor quality. 125 acres were
designated for public use, the remaining 60 acres were to be sold for private
residential development. The proceeds from the sale of the building plots
was sufficient to recoup all the costs incurred by the purchase of the land
and the construction of the park. An Improvement Committee chaired by William
Jackson was set up to supervise the development of the park. Joseph Paxton,
a Landscape Gardener whose work in Liverpool had brought him to the attention
of the Committee, was approached and in August 1843 he was engaged to design
and construct the park at a fee of £800.
By November 1843 the completed plan of the park and the preliminary sketches
for the lodges (drawn up by Paxton's assistant, John Robertson) had been approved.
Preparatory work began on the site under the supervision of Edward Kemp -
later the Park Superintendent. A young Liverpool architect, Lewis Hornblower,
was engaged to supervise the construction of the lodges, and to design and
oversee other artifacts and building work within the park. Major planting
of trees and shrubs was carried out during the planting season of Autumn 1844/Spring
1845. Attention was then directed to the establishment of grassland areas.
Sixty acres of peripheral land were divided into building plots and sold for
private development at two auctions and through estate agents. In order to
ensure a degree of uniformity and consistent high standard of development,
strict rules were laid down regarding the construction of the dwellings. Any
unsold plots of land were eventually absorbed into the public area of the
park. For example, the area now known as the Bowling Greens on Park Road North
was laid out for bowls and quoits in 1880. The Boothby Ground was purchased
from the Boothby Estate as late as 1903.
Work was virtually complete by Autumn 1846 but the official opening of the
park was delayed until 5th April 1847, in order to coincide with the opening
of the Birkenhead Dock Complex. The park was opened by Lord Morpeth and visited
on that day by an estimated 10,000 people. The strength and flexibility of
the original design were revealed over the years by the ease with which the
park evolved to satisfy the changing demands of its users.
Visit the Wirral website for more information:
History of Birkenhead Park
Park – Interesting facts