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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The view west along Cressington esplanade.
Low tide on the Mersey, looking across to the Wirral shore.
The elegant Victorian terraces of Grassendale promenade.
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.
- Aigburth station canopy demolition plan halted after passenger protest: Liverpool Echo, 21 March
- South Liverpool: this page on the Allerton oak website has some history and pics
- Images of houses in Grassendale and Cressington parks: scroll down for examples of the variety of houses built here
- The ‘Lost Villages’ of Garston and Speke: article by local historian Ken Pye