Fact of the day: 5th April

On this day in 1847 Birkenhead Park, the first civic public park was opened in Birkenhead.

Birkenhead Park is a public park in the centre of Birkenhead, on the Wirral Peninsula, England. It was designed by Joseph Paxton 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, a private development.

In 1841 an Improvement Commission – part of Birkenhead’s local government – proposed the idea of a municipal park. A Private Act of Parliament allowed it to use public money to buy 226 acres of marshy grazing land on the edge of Birkenhead. Plots of land on the edge of the proposed park were then sold off in order to finance its construction. Although some large houses and private villas were initially built by local merchants and wealthier business people, the Long Depression in the latter 19th century would mean that many plots remained undeveloped well into early 20th century.

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The Improvement Commission chose Paxton to design the park and Edward Kemp as the works supervisor because both had previously worked on redesigning the gardens at Chatsworth House. The park, which took five years to build, was designed to be natural and informal rather than a structured neatly arranged urban garden. Several miles of drainage pipes were lain to remove the water from the marshy land.

The park also led to the diversion of Old Bidston Road and the loss of a direct route between Claughton and Woodside. During construction, hundreds of tonnes of stone and earth was moved to create well-drained terraces, hills, rockeries and lakes.

Paxton planted numerous trees and shrubs at various places so visitors would enjoy the surprise of unexpected views or hidden features as they wandered through the park. Buildings included the Swiss Bridge, Boathouse, Norman Lodges, Gothic Lodge, Castellated Lodge and Italian Lodge.

The Grand Entrance, which is one of several into the park, was built to look like a classical triumphal arch. As many as 10,000 people attended the official opening in 1847.

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