On Easter Monday 1847, the gates were opened to the very first publicly funded park in the world. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton - Birkenhead Park was created to be the People's Garden - a place where the lowliest peasant to the British Monarch could stand together to enjoy a piece of the countryside in the middle of the city. The land was acquired through Act of Parliament and the project was financed from the profit of the houses which surrounded the park.
Joseph Paxton designed the park with the help of Edward Kemp who came to supervise the construction in 1843. In 1845 Kemp was awarded the position of Park Superintendent following recommendation from Paxton. Kemp had a salary of £150 a year and lived onsite in the Italian Lodge. He was given a budget of £1,000 per year and it was Kemp who was largely responsible for the planting and general development of Birkenhead.In 1850, Fredrick Law Olmstead visited the park and with its inspiration, then went on to design and create what is arguably the most famous public park in the world - Central Park New York.
"a place where the lowliest peasant to the British Monarch could stand together"
Patricia Routledge CBE at the Grand Entrance for the park's reopening.
Birkenhead Park underwent a five-year £11.5 million renovation completed in 2007, funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Wirral Waterfront SRB, Wirral Council, and the European Union via the Objective One programme. It was officially reopened in July of 2007 by Birkenhead-born actress, Patricia Routledge CBE. A VIP ribbon-cutting performed at the park’s famous listed gatehouse officially marked the end of the major renovation scheme which has seen the park’s famous Swiss Bridge, Boat House and Grand Entrance restored, along with new bridges, paths, and railings. Much of the original planting has also been restored, reinstating the park’s status as a national treasure.
Today, Birkenhead Park is a Grade I listed landscape and carries the prestigious Green Heritage Award as well as the Green Flag. It caters for all visitors with a number of sports such as Football, Cricket, Bowls, Angling and cycling, as well a visitors centre and access to some of the original structures around the park.
" All this magnificent pleasure ground is entirely, unreservedly and forever the people's own"
Fredrick Law Olmsted - 1851
Things you might not know about the Park!
1. The original land for Birkenhead Park consisted mostly of fields, marshes and commons, and was acquired at little cost due to its poor quality. According to the Friends of Birkenhead Park, it also reportedly included a small farmhouse which was a known beer den where illegal gambling and dog fighting took place.
2. You won’t see them today, but Birkenhead Park had its own population of red squirrels when it opened in 1847.
3. Birkenhead Park Cricket Club was founded in 1846 – a full year before Birkenhead Park officially opened. It also has what is thought to be the oldest clubhouse in Britain.
4. In 1858 two cannons from the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War were sited in the park, on what is known now as Cannon Hill
5. Birkenhead Park Rugby Club has played host to international rugby matches and in the 1800s even had an archery club
6. Park designer Joseph Paxton was hired in August 1843 for a fee of £800
7. There are five types of bats in Birkenhead Park – including the pipistrelle, daubenton and noctules.
8. The National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Birkenhead in 1917
9. The park once had a building in the upper park called the Warrior’s Rest in tribute to its military connections. It was constructed after the end of the First World War, but has since been removed and replaced by two benches
10. Birkenhead Park has had two bandstands - the first, a cast iron structure, was erected in 1885 but fell into disrepair and was replaced with a more modern structure in 1929. But it had to be demolished after suffering heavy damage during the Blitz of 1940-41.