Good news yesterday that Sefton Park has given Grade 1 listed status by English Heritage. The 235-acre site is regarded as a prime example of the municipal parks created in British industrial cities in the19th century. English Heritage said that the park had been listed because it had remained essentially unchanged from its original layout and was one of the first to introduce French park design to England. It was built by Liverpool City Council and opened in 1872. Sefton Park was designed by Liverpool architect Lewis Hornblower and landscape architect Édouard André who also worked on parks in Paris. The park also features the grade II* listed Palm House, erected in 1896.
Most days of the year dog-walking duties mean two circumnavigations of the park, and with every circuit I give thanks to the vision of city councillors who, in 1867, voted in favour of the Council borrowing £250,000 to purchase 375 acres of land for the development of the park from the Earl of Sefton. Some at the time thought the outlay was extravagant and wasteful. but what won the day was the case for clean, fresh open spaces where those who lived out their lives in narrow streets and courts that lacked sanitation or running water could walk and breathe freely.
So land that had once formed part of the Royal Deer Park of Toxteth did not disappear beneath the streets and houses of the expanding city. The open fields and the winding courses of the Upper Brook and the Lower Brook that I walk each day remained, a miraculously-preserved landscape of meadows and woodland that might easily have disappeared.
A pleasing aspect of Sefton Park is that, although its overall plan is formal, there are many parts where (both as deliberate policy to encourage wildlife and, I suspect, due to spending cuts and reduced staffing) it has been left to grow wild, so you can walk through glades and along paths that feel like open countryside.
Each morning, joining the confederacy of dog walkers, I have enjoyed hearing birdsong and watching birds and animals for whom the park is home. Each spring we watch families of swans, geese, coots and moor-hens as they grow; the small but noisome flock of bright green parakeets seems to have grown through the years, too.
On summer mornings, after barbecues, we marvel at the ingenuity of crows and foxes that have scavenged the rubbish left behind by picnickers to leave it strewn across paths and borders (marvel, too, at the ignorance, of humans who leave their detritus where they sat, making no effort to bin it or take it home).
But, miraculously, the park recovers. At the end of August, tens of thousands poured into the park for the first Liverpool International Music Festival – an event organized so efficiently that 24 hours later the park was immaculate, without trace of rubbish.
At the turn of the millennium, the park was in a sorry state: the waterways had all but dried up, and the lake too. The cafe was shoddy and dilapidated, and the bandstand paint was peeling. But the park underwent a £7m restoration in 2005 which included a refurbishment of the watercourses, the renovation of rockeries, a new play area and the restoration of monuments. In 2009, I wrote about the improvements, and added a little bit of park history.
Now the park – with its statues and beautiful Victorian buildings such as the bandstand and palm house – is restored to its former glory. To celebrate its new status as grade 1 listed, I’ve put together photos I’ve taken over the years in the park, images that present Sefton Park through the seasons. We are so fortunate to have this space to breathe right on our doorstep.
- Sefton Park: Wikipedia
- Sefton Park: text and photos on allertonoak site
- Sefton Park and the evolution of urban park design in Britain: essay on Mark Royden’s local history pages
- Sefton Park Palm House: history and renovation
- Sefton Park renovation
- Canada Geese in Sefton Park
- Summer grasses
- Africa Oye in Sefton Park
- Africa Oye: Authenticite!
- The Christians in Sefton Park: ‘blue up in the sky, a song of hope’
- Swallows: circling with their shimmering sound
- Requiem for a swan
- An autumn afternoon in Sefton Park
- Mist rising in Sefton Park
- Midwinter Toast