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Birkenhead Park

Birkenhead Park

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Birkenhead Park is a public park
Park
A park is a protected area, in its natural or semi-natural state, or planted, and set aside for human recreation and enjoyment, or for the protection of wildlife or natural habitats. It may consist of rocks, soil, water, flora and fauna and grass areas. Many parks are legally protected by...

 in the centre of Birkenhead
Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...

, on the Wirral Peninsula
Wirral Peninsula
Wirral or the Wirral is a peninsula in North West England. It is bounded by three bodies of water: to the west by the River Dee, forming a boundary with Wales, to the east by the River Mersey and to the north by the Irish Sea. Both terms "Wirral" and "the Wirral" are used locally , although the...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. It was designed by Joseph Paxton
Joseph Paxton
Sir Joseph Paxton was an English gardener and architect, best known for designing The Crystal Palace.-Early life:...

 and opened on 5 April 1847. It is generally acknowledged as the first publicly funded civic park in Britain.
Paxton had earlier designed Princes Park, Liverpool
Princes Park, Liverpool
Princes Park in Toxteth, Liverpool, England, is a 45 hectare municipal park, 2 miles south east of Liverpool city centre. In 2009 it had it status upgraded to a Grade II* Historic Park by English Heritage....

, a private development.

History


Although not the first public park, Birkenhead was the first town to ask Parliament for the powers to use public funds to build a municipal park. 10,000 people attended the opening. It is widely accepted that, after visiting the park in 1850, American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted was an American journalist, social critic, public administrator, and landscape designer. He is popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture, although many scholars have bestowed that title upon Andrew Jackson Downing...

 incorporated many of the features he observed into his design for New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

's Central Park
Central Park
Central Park is a public park in the center of Manhattan in New York City, United States. The park initially opened in 1857, on of city-owned land. In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve and expand the park with a plan they entitled the Greensward Plan...

. He wrote about the strong influence of Birkenhead Park in his book Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, and commented:

"five minutes of admiration, and a few more spent studying the manner in which art had been employed to obtain from nature so much beauty, and I was ready to admit that in democratic America there was nothing to be thought of as comparable with this People’s Garden".


Olmsted also commented on the "perfection" of the gardening:

"I cannot undertake to describe the effect of so much taste and skill as had evidently been employed; I will only tell you, that we passed by winding paths, over acres and acres, with a constant varying surface, where on all sides were growing every variety of shrubs and flowers, with more than natural grace, all set in borders of greenest, closest turf, and all kept with consummate neatness".


Olmsted described Birkenhead as "a model town” which was built "all in accordance with the advanced science, taste, and enterprising spirit that are supposed to distinguish the nineteenth century".

Other parks influenced by Birkenhead Park include Sefton Park
Sefton Park
Sefton Park is a public park in south Liverpool, England. The park is in a district of the same name within the Liverpool City Council Ward of Mossley Hill, and roughly within the historic bounds of the large area of Toxteth Park...

 in Liverpool.

Modern times


The park was designated a conservation area
Conservation area
A conservation areas is a tract of land that has been awarded protected status in order to ensure that natural features, cultural heritage or biota are safeguarded...

 in 1977 and declared a Grade I listed landscape
National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens
In England, the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England provides a listing and classification system for historic parks and gardens similar to that used for listed buildings. The register is managed by English Heritage under the provisions of the National...

 by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 in 1995.

The Grand Entrance is the main entrance to Birkenhead Park. Within the Grand Entrance are the North and South Lodges, two Grade I listed buildings. The Grand Entrance and the lodges have been renovated and now house Express Comedy and Active Drama. The lodges are also the home of the Wirral Academy of Arts.

Birkenhead Park has recently been the subject of an £11.5 million renovation, funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Lottery Fund
The Heritage Lottery Fund is a fund established in the United Kingdom under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. The Fund opened for applications in 1994. It uses money raised through the National Lottery to transform and sustain the UK’s heritage...

, Wirral Waterfront SRB
Wirral Waterfront SRB
Wirral Waterfront SRB is a large urban regeneration initiative in Wirral, England.It is jointly funded from a number of sources including Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseytravel, the National Lottery , the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and others.It works...

, Wirral Council, and the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 via the Objective One programme. All of the paths have been improved, trees and shrubs have been planted, the lakes have been emptied, cleaned and reshaped and most of the original features have been restored to their former Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

glory. Additionally, a modern glass-fronted building houses a coffee-house style café, Cappuchino's. Unusually for a park of this nature, it is possible for private motorists to drive around the outer circular road, to park freely anywhere along it, and to drive directly to the café.

The Swiss Bridge, a 23-foot pedestrian span of stringer construction built in 1847, is unique as being the only "covered bridge" of traditional wooden construction (similar to North American and European covered bridges) in the United Kingdom. It was modeled after similar wooden bridges in Switzerland.

Sources

  • Olmsted, Frederick Law. Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (reprinted University of Michigan Press, 1967)