History of Stanley Park
Stanley Park is arguably the most architecturally significant of the city's great Victorian parks. Landscaped by Edward Kemp, who had assisted Paxton at Chatsworth and Birkenhead, the park features a grand terrace punctuated by imposing shelters with expansive bedding schemes once highlighted by fountains. The 45 hectare park opened in 1870 and contains the Gladstone Conservatory (Grade II) by Mackenzie & Moncur (1899), who had also constructed the Palm House in Sefton Park.
In 1865, Liverpool Council finally bowed to increasing pressure from the 'Parks Movement' and agreed to establish two parks 'worthy of the town' one to the south and one to the north. The latter was to become Stanley Park.
In 1868, following the granting of Parliamentary powers to use ratepayers' money for the construct of new parks in the city the Corporation purchased approximately 750 acres of land. The semi-circular layout of Liverpool allowed for the creation of three large parks: Stanley (started 1870) to the north-east; Newsham (started 1868) to the east; and Sefton (started 1872) to the south-east.
An area of some 95 acres was purchased comprising:
27 acres Walton Hall Estate (Thomas Leyland)
22 acres The Woodlands
8 acres Walton Lodge
With other purchases this gave an area bordered by Anfield Road-Priory Road (E-W) and Walton Lane-Arkles Lane (N-S).
The cost, £115,566, included two detached mansions and a row of houses fronting Priory Lane. The design of the park was divided between the Corporation architect, Mr. E.R. Robson and the landscape gardener Edward Kemp. Kemp had assisted Sir Joseph Paxton in the layout of Birkenhead Park (1843-7) where he remained head park-keeper for 40 years (see Princes Park).
The costs incurred in laying out were:
£23,142 Earthworks, planting, gates, railings, etc.
£ 1,490 Sundry expenses
£154,398 Total Cost (including land)
At the time of its construction, the local satirical journal 'Porcupine' was critical of the expenditure and believed the work to be too prolonged and too expensive. The park superintendents lodge on Anfield Road was described as a "Showy mansion.., so ornate in its construction as to warrant conjecture that it will be a costly edifice". The lake area also received criticism for its "monstrous congeries of overgrown molehills' (13/6/l868). Indeed there was a widely held belief that a park too elaborate in architecture had been constructed for the "working people and their countless children". Much of the controversy centred on the distinctive Terrace. This was the scene of the opening ceremony on a fine sunny May 14th, 1870. The Mayor of Liverpool, Mayor Hubback, entered the park from Anfield Road and crossed the upper part of the Terrace, to the central pavilion. He went down to the central bastion of the retaining wall and addressed the gathered crowd of between 20 - 30,000 people below, extolling the virtues of the grand new park. The Terrace itself was reserved for ticket holders including civil dignitaries such as the Mayor of Dublin.
Entertainment consisted of a police band and children from charity schools. The event was of such magnitude that it was even portrayed in the London Illustrated News (28.5.1870).
Some weeks later (6.6.1870) a Fancy Bazaar was held in the park to raise funds for Stanley Hospital. After laying the foundation stone, the Earl of Derby opened the fair which featured Old English Sports such as the sack race and greasy pole, a flower show and balloons. Each day finished with a spectacular firework display and at the end of the 4 day festival, £10,000 had been raised, £150 of which came from a pony raffle. In 1874 a similar event made £1,010-although this surely would have been more if the bazaar tents had not blown down! Subsequent bazaars in 1878 and 1889 raised £4,195 and £5,000 respectively.
For some years the park remained divided by Mill Lane, now a path which leads from the grand red-sandstone terrace. This remains the outstanding feature of the park. Another park feature added in 1900 was the magnificent Gothic-style conservatory. This oblong, vaulted building was built at a cost of £10,000 and a marble plate at the north end carried the inscription-
THE GLADSTONE CONSERVATORY
BY HENRY YATES THOMPSON
AND PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF LIVERPOOL
IN MEMORY OF THE
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF HER SONS
The conservatory was constructed by MacKenzie and Moncur of Edinburgh. Henry Yates Thompson also donated the Palm House to Sefton Park and he was the grand nephew of the founder of Princes Park, Richard Vaughan Yates. In 1902 there were fireworks at Stanley Park to mark the coronation of King Edward VII and this was a period when Stanley Park was arguably at its most popular. The newly opened conservatory, 7,500 sq. feet of glass and cast iron housed interesting temperate plants from Australia and New Zealand, in an attractive setting of fountains, pools and statues - including a bust of the four times Prime Minister who the house was named after. There were also statues by Liverpool sculptor Benjamin Spence such as 'Flora McDonald' and 'the Nymph of the Dingle'.
Alongside the conservatory, the terrace provided a splendid panoramic view of the area. This 300 yard expanse ensured on a clear day views as far afield as Snaefell (Isle of Man), Black Combe (Cumbria) and the Pennines. At one time telescope rests stood along the board walk with the heads of the rests inscribed in brass with the names of places visible from that location, including Ashurst Beacon, Billinge Hill, Littledale and Longridge Fell and of course there were fine views across the Wirral of New Brighton Tower, Bidston Hill and beyond to the Welsh mountains.
The terrace was not only a source of fine views, there were the shelters with a multitude of flower beds and three fountains at intervals along its length. Beyond the battlemented parapet were 3 bowling greens one with an ornate iron shelter with floral reliefs on it. The park land stretches to the lake area, where in typical Paxton/Kemp fashion lake spoil was used to isolate the water feature from the surrounding open landscape. Initial plans show a lake in three sections with an island boathouse and 6 bridges (5 of rustic woodwork). It seems likely that lake leakage forced the gradual closure of the Eastern end of the lake - now re-opened in 2009, creating a new environmental area.
Pictures of the lake about the turn of the century show a channel linking the 'former lake' with the remaining water feature-possibly an attempt to prolong the use of the boathouse. The area was also bedded out and later an aviary - the gift of Alderman J.R. Grant - became a feature of this part of the park. This complemented the dovecotes which were already a feature of the park. The aviary was later dismantled owing to its exposed site.
Between the former lake and remaining lake a public swimming bath and children's paddling pool were opened (1923). Another children's feature, opened in 1929, was the Audley garden. A cast of 60 and an audience of 1200 children celebrated a 'Pageant of Cuckooland' in the new garden which featured a wishing well, bronze and marble figures of gnomes, elves, animals and fairies and a replica of the famed floral cuckoo clock of Woolton Woods. The whole idea was the gift of George Audley of Birkdale, well remembered also for his gifts to Sefton Park, including the Pater Pan statue.
In 1930 the garden was visited by the Mayor of Liverpool, the President of Hamburg and the Mayor of Amsterdam who planted 3 trees to mark the occasion.
After the war the park remained a popular venue for band concerts-a typical summer Sunday featured an afternoon and evening performance. In 1953 it was noted that the terrace contained 136 flower beds requiring some 11,000bedding plants.The conservatory had suffered bomb damage and did not re-open until 15th September, 1958.The swimmingbaths closed in 1963 as the pool area reverted to a lakeside path. The centenary of the park was celebrated by the baking of a huge cake in 16 parts weighing 500 lbs. based on a model of the park.
Stanley Park remains a fine example of a Victorian Park, and, fortunately, the architectural features which some described as 'heavy' 'elaborate' and 'showy' at the time of their construction have survived to benefit a park which once rivaled the better-known neighbours of Anfield and Goodison Park, as the 1905 Parks Handbook noted-"a post scriptum may fitly be added to the effect that the average attendance upon a night when music is added to the parks permanent features of attraction is stated to be upwards of l0,000 people."
The Opening of Stanley Park on Saturday May 14th 1870 was reported in the Illustrated London News on 28th May 1870, as follows:
The great and busy town of Liverpool with its population of 400,000, though it has the broad Mersey in front of it and the open sea a few miles distant wants breathing space and room for play or for quiet refreshment. It has several public parks - the Wavertree, the Sheil, and the Newsham Parks with the Sefton Park now in course of formation and the Birkenhead Park is not far off across the river. But the Stanley Park which was formally opened by the Mayor Mr Joseph Hubback on Saturday the 14th inst. will be a valuable boon to the inhabitants of the north end of the town in the neighbourhood of Vauxhall Road, Scotland Road, Great Homer Street and Netherfield Road and to those of Everton and Kirkdale. The ground taken for this new Park is very high, commanding a panorama of South Lancashire and Cheshire with the sea coast: the distant mountains of North Wales as far as Snowdon on the one hand: the mountains of Westmorland and Cumberland on the other: some of the North Yorkshire Hills: Blackstone Edge and the Peak of Derbyshire: but the last of these are often obscured by the smoke of the factory districts. The park is greatly laid out with a terrace, lawns and shrubberies, a lake and bridges over it arranged by Mr Kemp; landscape gardener of Birkenhead. The land belonging to the woodlands and Walton Lodge estates was purchased by the Town Council: with other land adjoining to the extent of 100 acres. The whole cost of this new park is 120,000 pounds sterling.
The proceedings of the day of its opening are briefly to be noticed the Mayor entertained a hundred gentlemen including the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the aldermen and town councillors of Liverpool and others of local distinction at a luncheon in the Town Hall. The whole company went in carriage to the new park where twenty or thirty thousand people assembled. The terrace was reserved for the privileged visitors and holders of tickets. The band of the borough police under Mr Deane as director and Mr Beardsall as band master performed a selection of music. The children of several charity schools with their banners and some with music of their own appeared in the Park. The Mayor on arriving at the Anfield Lane entrance was welcomed by Mr Alderman Weightman chairman of the improvement committee unlocking the gate with a key handed to him by Mr Rollett, deputy borough surveyor. Walking along the upper part of the terrace to the Central pavilion the mayor went down to the Central bastion of the terrace wall and addressed the people below him, speaking of the advantages of this public park and declaring open, subject to rules and by-laws for its use. Mr Councillor Woodburn members of the improvement committee also spoke in turn: a vote of thanks to the Mayor was passed by acclamation and the company walked around the park. A fancy bazaar will be held in this park on Monday 6th June 1870 for the benefit of the Stanley Hospital: and Lord Derby will that same day lay the foundation stone of the hospital building for which he has given the site. The sanitary condition of Liverpool is sadly behind that of other large towns. Of the mortality last year, exceeding 14,000 more than half consisted of children under five years