Cressington and Grassendale parks: river access restricted

Cressington 4

Recently, when describing a Mersey estuary walk along the Garston shore,  I wrote that, on arriving at the boundary of Garston docks,

this as far as you can go: Garston Docks and the private residential Grassendale and Cressington Esplanades prevent public access to the riverside.  The docks I can understand, but as a freeborn Englishman I can’t understand the idea that a private estate should have the right to deny people access to a great river.

That’s not entirely true: although the long-distance footpath, the Mersey Way, comes to an abrupt halt here, the river front at Grassendale and Cressington Parks in Aigburth is accessible on foot, even if you can’t continue your walk through to the adjacent Otterspool promenade or onward to the Pier Head.  A couple of weeks back, I went down to have a look.

Grassendale gate

Sandstone gates at the entrance to Grassendale Park

Grassendale and Cressington Parks are 19th century gated private estates, built for wealthy Liverpool merchants in what was then open country.  They were ‘carriage folk’ who had the means to travel to and from the city centre.  Turn off the busy dual carriageway of Aigburth Road through the ornate sandstone gates and past the elegant sandstone lodge house and you enter a quiet enclave of Victorian mansions laid out in the early to mid 19th century along carriage ways both leading to an elegant riverside esplanade.

Cressington Park Lodge

Cressington Park Lodge

But beware! Don’t attempt to bring your car down here.  These are still private estates and on every lamp post there are warnings that if you are not a resident with a parking permit and you dare to park your car anywhere on these deserted avenues you will be hit with a substantial fine (£85, if I recall correctly).  So I parked on Aigburth Road and walked down leafy roads past detached Victorian villas, no two alike, each standing in their own grounds.

Cressington Park notice

This is a private park – there is no public right of way!

Grassendale and Cressington Parks, begun in 1845 and 1846, respectively, were the second and third of Aigburth’s gated  riverside housing developments (Fulwood Park, which has the largest and most elegant houses, was the first). The residents even had their own railway station when the Cheshire Lines branch opened in 1861.  Today, as a notice (above) warns, access to the station by non-residents remains a concession granted by the Trustees.

Cressington Park

Cressington Park

Restrictive covenants relating to the size of plots, building lines, external materials and other design features continue to be enforced by Trustees of the Parks. Cressington Park consists, mainly of solid, but not particularly outstanding, red-brick Victorian villas, though I did notice several plots where modernist post-war dwellings had been erected.  Had these been empty plots, or were earlier buildings demolished?

Cressington railway station

Cressington railway station

The railway station is one of the most desirable features of Cressington Park.  The Liverpool Heritage Bureau describes it as ‘a splendid complex of buildings with elaborate details such as pierced bargeboards, half-hipped roofs, and curious eaves brackets’.  Renovated by British Rail back in the 1970s, the cast iron canopy is now under threat of being demolished, having fallen into disrepair.

Very few houses in the parks are of the same design, the most attractive being those built in the 1840s in Grassendale Park. Some have fine iron balconies and beautifully proportioned windows, doors and stucco details. The later Victorian and Edwardian houses are not as architecturally distinguished, but, as Pevsner has commented, ‘the whole area achieves unity and grace through a wealth of generous planting and mature trees’.  As I neared the riverfront, I noticed that the parks also possessed a private tennis club.  But perhaps what gave the parks their greatest exclusivity was having their own stretch of river promenade.

Grassendale Promenade Early 20th century postcard

Grassendale Promenade: early 20th century postcard

The view from the eastern end of Cressington esplanade is not so elegant: razor-edged fencing and floodlights mark the boundary of Garston docks.  At its height, over 1000 people were employed at Garston Docks and on the miles of railways that serviced and connected them.  Victorian Garston bore no resemblance whatsoever to the rural village had once been. Public health, hygiene, and living conditions were desperately poor, and the working environment was dangerous and hard. By 1937, there were 93 miles of railway sidings serving the docks, with 8 miles of these running alongside the quays.

The economic and industrial decline that afflicted all of Liverpool’s docklands in the 1960s and 1970s had a devastating effect on  Garston as local industries and shipping declined.  The docks have revived in recent years, with a new container terminal that handles a growing volume of freight, but which is much less labour-intensive.

Garston docks

Garston docks

Cressington 2

The view west along Cressington esplanade.

Cressington 3

Low tide on the Mersey, looking across to the Wirral shore.

Cressington 6

The elegant Victorian terraces of Grassendale promenade.

Cressington 7

Reaching the end of Grassendale promenade, Otterspool promenade is visible less than a hundred yards away, but there is no public right of way.  Leaning over the metal fence that forms the boundary here, I noticed this mysterious culvert.  I’ve since discovered that this marks the end point of a network of 19th century drainage channels laid down at the time the parks were established.

Cressington 8

Cressington 9

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29 thoughts on “Cressington and Grassendale parks: river access restricted

  1. It seems you appear to resent the exclusivity of Grassendale etc? I, on the other hand admire those who have been successful enough to be able to afford a little privacy. Granted, perhaps a continuation of the footpath would be a good idea and should not impinge on their privacy.But I feel no envy at all, only admiration!
    As for me? Well I was brought up in Wavertree .

    • The trouble with this is that for two centuries in Britain those who have been successful have been able, not only to protect their privacy but also to profit from the enclosure of land that people were once able to roam freely. Like Woody Guthrie,I believe that this land is your land, this land is our land.

      • Oh dear! This sounds like the culture of envy and jealousy which so pervades some socialist thinking. Am I right? Please remember those who bought these properties mainly did so with hard earned cash, gleaned from whatever kind of background they came from, Many a REAL socialist would have been amongst those people.
        You rightly say that those who were successful purchased the right to privacy etc. So what is wrong with that, for heaven’s sake?. I’m sorry to say that your kind of thinking is one of the reasons for the decline in the city’s fortunes in post-war days and why the middle classes deserted Liverpool in their droves, .

  2. I think a) the piece recounts a historical sequence of events without political colour, unless you’re of those who (I think mistakenly) see ‘The Merchant of Venice’ as anti-semitic; b) my gut sense is that the persuasion of ‘free access for all’ runs only to river- and sea-front areas. The idea of free access remains undisputed anywhere else; neither farmer Jones nor Lord Crawley have to put up with hikers in the barnyard so why should anyone else? And does anyone know where Woody Guthrie lived himself?

  3. Interesting article and curious reply. Isn’t the key point that in Britain we don’t normally allow the seashore to be privately owned, or access blocked. Doesn’t land below the high water mark technically belong to the State or the Crown? Many people might agree with R D Owen that people should be allowed to buy their privacy, but possibly not at the cost of excluding the general public from the seashore.

    The banks of the River Thames in London also suffered from blocked access in some places. However, as redevelopment takes place it seems the norm to include or restore a public right of way along the riverside. Occupiers of the many new riverside developments don’t seem to object or suffer from this arrangement and it is not seen as a socialist or “envious” policy. The aims of privacy for property owners and access for riverside or seaside walkers are not mutually exclusive and are achievable with goodwill on both sides.

  4. No one becomes financially succesful by their own efforts but with the aid of all the people past and present who have paid for and created the education system and infrastructure which makes their success possible. In most cases “success” is also the result of luck! For the majority of people in the world, however hard they work, the cash they earn barely provides them with basic necessities let alone exclusive privacy. It’s not envy to believe in FAIRNESS, to believe that the earth belongs to all of us who are born on it and that we all have an equal right to share in it’s beauty as well as an equal responsibility to care for it and to care for each other! I happen to own 33 hectares of beautiful Polish countryside, forest, meadows and marshland, unfenced except for a horse pasture, and am very happy to see people wander over it and enjoy it – if I could be sure of it remaining cared for and undammaged I would much prefer it not to be my private property.

    • I certainly accept that “luck” comes into it but am surprised at the comment that”no one becomes financially successful by their own efforts”. I gather, perhaps wrongly, that the writer is Polish. I have had strong connections with that country, my mother having worked there BEFORE WW1 and I find the Polish to be an extremely hard working nation, where luck, does help of course, but it is by no means the only ingredient. Also some extremely successful people have had little education but earned it “by the sweat of their brow” Anyway, I’m ceasing comments on this subject now, I’m too busy trying to keep warm.

  5. If “being hard working” should entitle one to more than a fair share of the world’s space and resources then presumably miners, nurses and small farmers would be very wealthy – which they aren’t, even in Poland, while many people who were simply in the right place at the right time, knew the right people or had the right parents have become rich! Sorry to get into such a discussion on this fantastic site which lifts my spirits and inspires me each time I read it and helps me to keep believing in a better future for all humanity – not just those who can afford it. Thank you Gerry!

    • Eva, thanks so much for your generous comments about the blog. I’m working on a post that will explore these issues in more depth.

  6. I look forward to reading that – of course I was just too cross to write sensibly, especially when also trying to look after horses, sheep and chickens in what should be spring but is still winter and keeping hikers from crossing my barnyard !!!

  7. You wrote a caption for the last 2 pictures……I noticed this mysterious culvert. I’ve since discovered that this marks the end point of a network of 19th century drainage channels laid down at the time the parks were established.

    Are you sure its a drainage culvert….looks rather elaborate for that….I have often wondered what this inlet or is it an outlet is for….my thinking was it was for some kind of boat access to the river….the route of the trackway leads back upto the road further up into Grassendale Rd but is a bit overgrown…could it have been something to do with the ferry that ran from Eastham directly opposite on the other side of the river????

    Anybody that can confirm the purpose of this in/out let please email me at nickjaxe@ntlworld.com

    I would be very grateful

    Nick.

  8. HI Gerry thanks for a speedy reply and thanks for an interesting blog,

    I only discovered it as my wife and kids went for a walk around Cressington/Grassendale today…quite a few years since we where last there…I thought it was looking slightly less well kept but still lovely….anyway I thought I will have another go at trying to find out what that roadway down to the shore line is when I get home….and came across your website,

    Re the culvert…I still not convinced about it being a drainage culvert even after reading your link….as last time I was down there I found the start of it further up the road…its more of a track that runs to the river with access from the road….making me think it was some kind of boat slipway….cant find anything on google about it,

    There are what look like drainage inspection hatches on the river bank very near the culvert or what ever its called….maybe they are connected with the culvert it the link,

    Thinking about it….I have a cousin that I seem to remember wrote a book about the history of Garston….I will give him a shout and see if he can shed any light on it.

    Nick.

  9. Just a bit more to add to the above post….does anybody know the landing site on the Liverpool side of the river for the ferry that the Monks ran from Eastham during the 1800s I think it was.

    Nick.

  10. hi ive been looking into this “culvert” for quite some time and found out that it was an old road called back lane

    • Mmmm interesting….I was looking at some old o/s maps from the mid late 1800s…seems to be on them but no real clues….somebody must know.

      Nick.

      • This is Google’s view of the culvert – the answer might lie in those trees at the end of Stanlow View
        Culvert

        Something else becomes clear looking at the Google view:whereas you can, at least, walk along Cressington and Grassendale esplanades, those new properties on Stanlow View have been given exclusive access to the waterfront. How did that happen?

        Culvert 2

  11. yes it is possible to walk from either end

    the prom end is accessed by jumping over the railings at the bottom of beechwood road and into the mersey or jumping the fence in the link above

    my theory is that it was an access road from when there was a beach at the bottom cant be sure though

  12. My father in law who is 88 remembers walking down this lane in the 1930′s to his Uncle Arthur’s house which was the first one alongside it. Arthur Bryning (not sure of spelling) was the head of the Cotton Exchange and Dave remembers making his way along the back of the houses to the shore. We went to see it last year but the top end is closed off with a fence. there might have been two stone pillars either side if my memory serves me right.

  13. Hi Gerry,
    Just come across your site; very interesting.
    Though I’m confused; I know Fulwood Park is in Aigburth but aren’t Cressington and Grassendale Park both in Garston? Although they are off Aigburth Road it is in L19? Just wondered……
    Regards, Paula

    • Thanks, Paula. Pleased you’ve found interesting stuff here! You are right – Fulwood Park is L17, while Cressington and Grassendale Park are both L19, but in my mind I don’t really think of them as Garston – more like leafy, suburban Aigburth.

  14. Spent most of my young life, playing in and around,Cressington and Grassendale Parks,climbing over the railings to get on the shore,lighting a fire
    roasting spuds,(those were the days) I was known as my dad was the verger
    at St Marys Church,and the Archdeacon of Liverpool,Rev Wilkinson,was the vicar,he lived in Cresington Park,so if we upset anyone it soon got back to my
    dad.

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