Thursday 19th October 2017
SITE TOUR: BIRKENHEAD PARK
A site visit with guided tours of the park will take place on Thursday 19th October as an important part of the Congress programme
Birkenhead Park celebrates the 170th anniversary of its opening in 1847 this year. It is grade I listed and a conservation area.
Importantly, the park is of international significance as one of the World’s first municipally funded public parks. Its concept and layout influenced the parks movement in Britain and across the globe. It was initiated through two of Birkenhead’s improvement commissioners – Isaac Holmes and William Jackson.
The park was created on formerly marshy grassland and designed by Joseph Paxton. His serpentine layout contrasts with Laird’s grid plan for the town. Paxton also designed the gardens at Chatsworth House – a stately home (Dukes of Devonshire) and an attraction on of the pre-Congress Tour.
Paxton’s pupil Edward Kemp supervised the work and later went on to design many parks and gardens especially in the North West of England. This year commemorates the centenary of his birth in 1817. As Park Superintendent, Kemp lived next to the park – first in the Italian Lodge and then at No 76 Park Road West. He is buried in Birkenhead’s Flaybrick Cemetery, which he designed. This cemetery is a site visit for one of the post-Congress Tours.
Birkenhead Park inspired other parks around the world including, notably, New York’s Central Park. Douglas Blonsky (the CEO and President of Central Park, New York) will be the keynote speaker on Tuesday 17th October with his presentation on ‘Sustainable Cities, Vibrant Parks’.
Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the father of American landscape architecture (also a journalist, social critic, and public administrator), commented having visited the site in 1850 that Birkenhead Park was “all this magnificent pleasure ground (which) is entirely, unreservedly and forever the peoples’ own”. Olmsted (with Calvert Vaux) later won the competition to design New York’s Central Park in 1858.
Birkenhead was the first town to apply to Parliament in London for permission to use public funds to create a park. This was granted in 1843 and this legislation represented a milestone in the history of parks. The park was specifically for the benefit of the whole community. It was to address concerns about the growing population of the town (which had tripled in a decade to 1841) and to help ensure the health of its inhabitants. Furthermore, the Improvement Commissioners (set up in 1833 and the forerunner of a modern local authority) had great plans for their town which was to be one for a new age. One way to demonstrate this ambition was to lay out a well-designed spacious public park to provide fresh air, a variety of walks and features plus space for recreation and leisure – for all the people of Birkenhead.