Prince¹s Park and Sefton Park

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Prince's Park
Prince's Park, Toxteth
Prince's Park was the creation of iron merchant and philanthropist Richard Vaughan Yates, who bought the 97 acres (39 ha) of land from the Earl of Sefton for £50,000. It was named in honour of the newborn Edward Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and was designed by Joseph Paxton (his first) and James Pennethorne in 1842, thus slightly predating Paxton's Birkenhead Park of 1844. It was not initially a public park, but later became Liverpool's first such. Like Birkenhead Park, it was influenced by London's Regent's Park, intended to be integrated with exclusive housing around the perimeter.
Joseph Paxton's original plan of 1842
The Main Entrance
Dickenson's Dingle
The Mansions
Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England (1848) supplies period detail:
  The Prince's Park, in Toxteth [...] is a great ornament to the district, for which the inhabitants are indebted to the philanthropy of Richard Vaughan Yates, Esq. That gentleman, desirous of forming a park that should be adapted both as a site for mansions for the wealthier inhabitants, and as a place of recreation for the public, purchased a tract of land for the purpose from the Earl of Sefton. About one-half of the hundred acres so obtained was set apart for ornament, and the remainder, around it, was laid out in building lots for villas and terraces, in such a way as that one house should not intercept the view of another; the sites commanding beautiful prospects of the Mersey, with the Cheshire shore and the hills beyond, and having the park with its rising plantations as a foreground. The terraces and villas, also, according to the plan, are to have gardens, adding to the beauty of the whole. A large piece of water has been formed in the centre, with two ornamental islands in it. On one side of this is a spacious garden, reserved, for the most part, for the inhabitants of the houses in the park, who have thus the advantage of retired walks. It is elegantly arranged, containing a choice collection of shrubs, pines, and scarce plants, each labelled with its name, so as to assist visiters in the study of botany; and the garden is on a sufficiently large scale to allow of considerable beds being occupied with the same flower. Privileged persons may also sail upon the lake, boats being provided on the spot. The ground on the other side of the water, which, with the drives, is open to the public, commands a view of the garden, and is disposed with equal taste. The Park [...] was completed in about three years, and the total cost was about £73,000.
The attractive main entrance was probably desined by Pennethorne, although the current gates are replicas dating from about 1960. The path from the main entrance leads to a red granite obelisk of 1858 commemorating the benefator Richard Vaughan Yates.
The lake was formed by the damming of a brook that once flowed through Dickenson's Dingle, a valley leading down to the River Mersey at St Michael's. The course of the valley is still clear where it leaves the lake.
40 acres (16 ha) of the site were devoted to parkland, the remainder being intended for villas and terraces, the sale of which would provide for the park and its upkeep. The park established a model for the future of urban park design, separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic and providing water, landscaped meadow, wide views and winding paths.
A national competition was held in 1843 for the design of the first houses but only one block was built as a result. The take-up was subsequently slow. Some sites were not developed until the 1860s and most of the proposed terraces were never built. Windermere Terrace provides a good example of the imposing terraced mansions that were intended. The Mansions are the only result of the national competition. Wyatt Papworth designed a stuccoed terrace of eight houses, converted into flats from 1912. Devonshire Road has most of the other building, dating from the 1850s and 1860s.
The Yates Memorial
Windermere Terrace
A villa on the north side of the park
Sefton Park
Sefton Park, Toxteth
Liverpool City Council bought the 269 acre (109 ha) plot of featureless agricultural land that became Sefton Park from the Earl of Sefton in 1867, reputedly for £250,000. That year a competiton for the design of the park was won by Lewis Hornblower and Edouard André. Inspiration had come from Joseph Paxton, though paths in long sweeping curves intersecting tangentially were André's concept.
At the time it was by far the largest public park in the country since Regent's Park in London. The finance model used for Prince's Park was adopted, whereby costs were to be recouped from the sale of plots around the perimeter for prestigious housing.
Hornblower and André's original plan of 1867
Avenue to the Obelisk
The northern end of the lake
The Grotto
The Upper Brook
The Fairy Glen
The Peter Pan statue
The northern gateway
The southern gateway
This time we let the purple prose of Dixon Scott in his book Liverpool (1907) supply some period detail from the turn of the century:
  Sefton Park, although it may not serve so deeply human a purpose as, say, Stanley Park in the north, is certainly quite the most perfectly fashioned of Liverpool's open spaces; and although it is the largest, it never commits the mistake that large parks sometimes make of endeavouring to appear like a piece of virginal country. It is always mannered, self-conscious, full of effects that are in the right sense picturesque; and the sheep that feed in one part of it do not seem much less deliberately decorative in intention than the peacocks that everywhere admirably strut and flower. To find one of these peacocks (the white one preferably) selfconsciously posing on a meadow of rhythmical daffodils is to discover the true spirit of park artistry symbolized with absolute perfection.
Eminently Parisian in the morning, when the nurse-girls bring their charges here, and gossip and read and scold and perfunctorily play ball precisely as the bonnes do in the Champs Elysees, Sefton Park grows unmistakably British in the sacred hour that lapses between tea and dinner. For then young athletes [...] fill all its tennis-courts with a white-limbed energy. It is not exactly a white-limbed energy that one observes in the adjoining bowling-green; and its laborious, stooping, shirt-sleeved figures may conceivably be regarded as striking rather a dissonant note amongst the clean-cut decorative activities which surround it. But none the less the sociologist in one eagerly welcomes and commemorates them. For their apparition is another evidence of that coalescence of strata with strata which is one of the features of suburb life just now. They mean that laborious, stooping, shirt-sleeved figures can live nowadays in the once exclusive neighbourhood hereabout; can demand, for their own especial pleasures, some share of the glittering accessory with which this suave neighbourhood once rather royally provided itself.
Lewis Hornblower was a Liverpool architect who had entered the 1843 national competition for the design of the first houses around Prince's Park and had also designed the main entrance to Birkenhead Park. Edouard André was a landscape architect from Paris, where he was Chief Gardener and had been involved in the design of public parks such as the Bois de Boulogne and the extravagantly landscaped Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Their design, in the event, was not carried out in full because of escalating costs, but the result is still magnificent.
The park is laid out like natural countryside rather than formal gardens, though with boulevards, curving drives and an artificial lake. It was opened to the public in 1872. 2009 saw the completion of a £5 million restoration project to restore the original concept.
The lake was formed by the damming the confluence of two streams, Lower Brook and the Upper Brook. The Lower Brook had its original source at Wavertree Botanic Gardens and enters the northern end of the park at an artificial grotto. It then makes its way peacefully down to its confluence with the Upper Brook at the northern end of the lake. The Upper Brook had its original source near the northern end of Wavertree Playground and enters the eastern side of the park in a deep defile known as The Dell. On the northern bank of The Dell is the Fairy Glen, a delightful piece of landscaping with rocks, waterfalls and a pool, only lacking a nymph or two to complete the perfect classical idyll.
Between the two brooks is the magnificent iron and glass Palm House, completed in 1896 at a cost of £10,000 donated by Liverpool philanthropist Henry Yates Thompson, great-nephew of Richard Vaughan Yates, creator of Prince's Park. A superb restoration, including 3,710 panes of glass, was completed in 2001 at a cost of £2.5 million. It houses a collection of exotic plants.
Around the outside of the Palm House are eight statues of various luminaries by Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud with a didactic intent. Their subjects are mainly linked to Liverpool's historical dependence on maritime exploration and mapping, and include discoverer of America Christopher Columbus, explorer James Cook, cartographer Gerardus Mercator and patron of explorers Henry the Navigator, along with naturalist Charles Darwin and botanist Carl Linnaeus.
Also outside the Palm House is a statue of Peter Pan. The bronze figure stands on a tree trunk incorporating a variety of animals. Sir George Frampton (1860-1928) was commissioned by James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, to create the original statue as a gift to the public. It was introduced into Kensington Gardens in London in 1912. The replica in Sefton Park, commissioned by George Audley of Southport as a gift to the children of Liverpool, was installed in 1928 and recently restored.
Another notable statue at the central crossing of ways in the park is the bronze and aluminium Eros, designed by Sir Alfred Gilbert, a second version of the one in London's Picadilly Circus. So many paths meet here that the concept is not inappropriate.
Also in the park is a charming bandstand. Bandstands first emerged in public parks in Victorian times, when open spaces and music were conceived as ways for people to 'improve' themselves. There is a rumour that this one may have inspired the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The northern and southern ends of the park sport grand gothic entrances with lodges of 1874-5, designed by Thomas Shelmerdine. The red granite columns are sections of much larger ones removed from St. George's Hall in the 1850s to make room for the organ.
Housing plots around the periphery of the park were sold off from 1872. Some of the resulting houses are very large, but the designs lack the elegance of the earlier ones at Prince's Park. An interesting note on which to conclude concerns the direct clash of the opposing values of modernism and the garden suburb concept that occurred in 1958. At that time the City Architect and the City Engineer proposed replacing all of the mansions with high density housing including many tower blocks, following the ideas of Le Corbusier, and compromising the original concept of the park. Five tower blocks to the north were completed by 1965, when the development was called off. Unlike many that were built to a poor standard in Liverpool at this time, these tower blocks have been spared demolition and have undergone substantial refurbishment to bring them up to current standards.
The Marie Curie Foundation Daffodils
The Lower Brook and fountain
The Dell
The Palm House
The Eros statue
The bandstand
One of the mansion houses
The southern lodge
The iron bridge in the Dell
The Dell in winter
The Palm House from the east
Pine Trees
The frozen lake
Statue of William Rathbone ...
... and at the Palm house: Columbus ...
... Darwin ...
... and Mercator
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The plan of Prince's Park originated in the Liverpool Record Office. The Sefton Park plan is a freely licensed image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The definitive book on the Garden Village Movement is the monumental study Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City, by Robert A.M. Stern, David Fishman and Jacob Tilove, 2013, to which I had the honour of contributing a number of photographs. This does not, however, cover Sefton Park. Another essential source is the Pevsner guide: The Buildings of England - Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West (2006), by Richard Pollard and Nikolaus Pevsner. There is also more on Sefton Park on this site, allertonOak.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.