One afternoon last week I took the camera and recorded the progress of the renovation work along the waterways in Sefton Park. The waterways are full and the waterfalls pour again for the first time in a long time. This post compares those photos with ones taken in October 2008.
Sefton Park is amongst the premier historic parks in the world and is one of Liverpool’s key heritage assets. The site of the park was once within the boundaries of the 2,300 acre Royal Deer Park of Toxteth which became ‘disparked’ in 1591, the land eventually being acquired by the Earl of Sefton. The park’s history began in 1867 when the Liverpool Corporation purchased land for the park from the Earl of Sefton, and then held a competition for the design of the park.
The French architect Edouard Andre and the local architect Lewis Hornblower won the competition with a park design in French style. The winning park design included a cricket ground, and a lake for recreation activities such as boating, and fishing. The park opened in 1872. Further development of the park continued with the construction of the Iron Bridge in 1873. Construction of Victorian houses at the park’s perimeter continued until around 1890. The restored Victorian Palm House opened in 1896. Another attraction is the Peter Pan statue which was made by the British sculptor Sir George Frampton and donated to the park by George Audley in 1928.
When the park first opened it served as a cultural hub for the city and was the reason that many travelled to Liverpool. Hotels and guesthouses that border the park are a testament to the popularity of the park with tourists and visitors,taking advantage of the elegant watercourses and boating lake, historic monuments, and spectacular Grade II listed palm house, home to previously unseen tropical plant species. A 60 strong team of groundsmen lived on the site to maintain and preserve the grounds.
Unfortunately, over the years, Sefton Park, as with most public parks, had suffered from a lack of sufficient investment and management. Liverpool City Council, keen to reverse this period of decline committed itself to restoring the park to its former splendour and to reinstate Sefton Park as the cultural centre that it once was.
There are two watercourses which run through the park, following the routes of the Upper and Lower Jordan, both of which existed prior to the construction of the park in the 1870s. Since the opening of the park the impact of urbanisation and the development and management of the rivers upstream has lead to problems in the river flows. The major issues with the watercourses included silting, condition of lake linings,connections between watercourses and bank erosion. In addition to these, it was found that an additional water supply was needed to supplement the existing flows in the Lower Jordan.
Surveys and site investigations had shown that the condition of the waterways had degraded from the park’s heyday. Investigations showed that the lining of the waterways had deteriorated. The lining was constructed with puddle clay and finished with dressed stone walls, many of which showed various states of disrepair. Silting of the river courses was found to be a major problem. This adversely affected the capacity of the rivers, wildlife and aesthetics, as well as causing obstructions to boating in the main lake.
In 2005 the City Council received approval for a £5 million Heritage Lottery funded renovation project which involves the refurbishment and improvement of many of the park’s features. The work began in June 2007 will be completed this summer. This work was controversial with some regular users of the park as it included destroying trees and breeding sites of birds. The work led to the formation of the Friends of Sefton Park campaign group.
Together with fully renovated watercourses, and a restored, five-acre boating-lake that occupies the former valley of the River Jordan – named as such by the Puritans who lived in the district in the 17th century – the park is receiving a whole new lease of life.
The Peter Pan statue has been restored and the surfacing around it upgraded. Best of all, the ugly concrete bridge across the Jordan to the statue has been removed.
Dorothea Restorations was contracted to restore the original bandstand as part of a project to create an outdoor performance venue. Their team labelled and carefully dismantled the bandstand for repair and restoration. Works included the manufacture of a new cast iron main column, as one had a large crack in it. Once repaired and painted the components were returned to site and re-erected on its original base.
The bandstand, seen above in a 19th century postcard, is said to be the inspiration for The Beatles Sergeant Peppers album.
The old aviary has been pulled down. It was built in 1901 and at one time was home to many exotic birds. As Liverpool’s fortunes slid in the 1980s, I remember it as a dreadful place with bedraggled and sad-looking birds trapped behind the most monstrous cage bars to keep out the vandals. Now the old cages have been removed and replaced with a new curved viewing point with trellis (through which climbers will grow) which overlooks new outside planting.
The aluminium Eros atop the restored Shaftesbury Fountain – it’s a replacement of the original figure which is too corroded for outdoor use and is now on display in the National Conservation Centre in Liverpool.
New fountains have been installed in the watercourse either side of the bandstand.
The fairy glen (or Dell) also has new cascades that appear (like the fountains) to be solar-powered.
The Rathbone monument has been cleaned and the area around it resurfaced and provided with some of the elegant new seats that have been installed throughout the park.
William Rathbone was a member of the noted Rathbone family of Liverpool. He was a Liverpool merchant elected a Liberal councillor for Liverpool in 1835 and Mayor of Liverpool in 1837, and fought for many cases of social reform. He was an active supporter of the Municipal Reform Act 1835, supported Kitty Wilkinson in establishing Liverpool public baths and wash-houses following the devastation of the cholera epidemic and was responsible for the distribution of relief funds for Irish famine 1846-1847.
Fencing still surrounds the field covered by the mud dug from the lake and watercourses during restoration. Looks like Banksy has been lurking round this Nonexistant Area!
And it’s not over yet: the Council has announced plans to spend £70m improving Liverpool’s parks and green spaces. The funding will be part of a 25-year plan to restore the city’s heritage parks, including Sefton and Stanley Parks.
Improvements will also be made to Fairfield’s Newsham Park, Knotty Ash’s Springfield Park and Anfield cemetery, as well as other key projects, including the restoration of Croxteth country park and the relocation of the unique botanic plant collection. Up to £1m will be spent upgrading play areas in parks and public spaces as part of the scheme, which councillors insist shows Liverpool’s commitment to its Year of the Environment. They said the world’s economic downturn could not get in the way of investment in communities. Council leader Warren Bradley said: “The city has undergone a dramatic change and we need to sustain this.”
And earlier this year Princes Park was recognised for its historical importance. The 166-year-old south Liverpool park (seen here after a snowfall in March 2006) is being upgraded from grade II to grade II* listed status by English Heritage. It was the first major park created by Joseph Paxton, inspiring other designers, and elements of Princes Park can be seen in urban parks throughout the country.
- Sefton Park: Wikipedia
- Sefton Park History: Liverpool City Council
- Sefton Park in old postcards: TANN website
- Sefton Park history: by Ken Pye on TANN website
- Sefton Park takes shape: BBC Liverpool photo gallery