A park fit for Princes; MERSEYSIDE TALES.
Byline: Stephen Guy
HE was a giant of the Victorian age, creator of revolutionary designs and buildings, probably best remembered for the Crystal Palace built to house the Great Exhibition. Sir Joseph Paxton (1801-65) remodelled the gardens at Chatsworth House, building the conservatory and lily house.
This prolific master of open spaces and airy buildings left two great legacies on Merseyside: Princes Park and Birkenhead Park.
Princes Park, opened in 1842, was Liverpool's first major urban park. It was a private project launched by wealthy merchant Richard Vaughan Yates, aimed at boosting property development values around its edges. A local councillor, Yates was initially prompted by cramped conditions in the port where mushrooming developments excluded open space.
There was a small park called St James's Mount, part of which survives next to Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. By the 1830s the Mount was beset with smoke and fumes.
Yates bought 90 acres of land from the Earl of Sefton and proceeded with the scheme after Liverpool Corporation refused to get involved. He is commemorated by a stone column near the park entrance that once featured a drinking fountain.
For decades there was limited access for non-residents who were only allowed to visit the outer areas. The fenced garden by the lake was for park residents, who would saunter along its cool banks and over the Chinese Bridge or sail in craft housed in the Swiss Boathouse.
Access to the park was strictly enforced. My father had childhood memories of the tophatted tyrant who lived in Doric Lodge by the sunburst gates.
He was the gatekeeper who chased away scruffy children and anyone who might be deemed unworthy of the park.
These restrictions were lifted in 1918 when the whole park became open to the public. (Ironically Doric Lodge was destroyed by a stray bomb in WWII).
Princes Park once had a famous resident beloved by thousands of children - Judy the donkey.
She gave countless happy rides during 21 years of devoted service in Princes Park from 1905 until her death in 1926.
A simple stone marks Judy's final resting place in a shady glade she knew so well during her working years.
Princes Park remains a fine open space with new fitness facilities and wide panoramas.
The sunburst gates, designed by Sir James Pennethorne, are currently being conserved. The spectacular gilded ironwork reminds us of conspicuous wealth contrasting with grinding poverty.
Paxton's parks inspired many other public open spaces, including New York's Central Park based on Birkenhead Park.
Public open spaces continue to be created in Liverpool - a recent example is Bankfield Park in Stoneycroft.
Stephen Guy is |chairman of the historic Lowlands West Derby Community Centre. Details at www.lowlands.org.uk or 0151 226 5352.
The Yates obelisk and drinking fountain
The fine sunburst gates at Princes Park and, inset, the grave of Judy the donkey