Sunday 29 May 2016

Walking in the Park with Jim and Mary, Summer 1947

Stanley Park
Walton Lane
L4 2SL

Two miles north-east of Liverpool city centre lies Stanley Park, a 110-acre, Grade II registered green space sandwiched between the stadiums of Liverpool (Anfield) and Everton (Goodison Park) Football clubs and a predominantly late-19th and 20th-century residential area.

Growing up in South Liverpool I have to admit that I was completely unfamiliar with this park when my family first visited in the summer of 2008, Liverpool's year as the Capital of Culture. I was pleasantly surprised.

The park has undergone extensive renovation in the last decade or so and I was impressed with the restoration work undertaken on all of the original structures which has helped to bring the park back to its former glory. I have visited several times since, taking plenty of photographs which I have enjoyed looking at but I couldn’t help feeling certain parts of the park looked familiar. Where had I seen them before?

General History

Stanley Park was one of three municipal parks conceived together in the mid-19th century to provide Liverpool with attractive open space for citizens of all classes, but specifically for the working class. Following the influx of migrants from Ireland and elsewhere during the late 1840s the population of Liverpool was growing at a phenomenal rate and the town expanded accordingly, in a largely unplanned and uncoordinated manner. Public open space was extremely limited.

Inspired by the success of Birkenhead Park (1843-7, the subsequent inspiration for New York's Central Park, no less) Liverpool Corporation developed a grand plan to form a ring of parks around the city limits. Although it was never fully realised, it did lead to the creation of three of Victorian Liverpool's great municipal parks: Sefton in the south (1872), Newsham in the east (1868) and Stanley in the north (1870).

To create Stanley Park 95 acres of land in Anfield was bought from Lord Derby for the sum of £115,556 and by way of acknowledgement the park was named after him, and not, you'll be disappointed to learn, after Stanley Parkes - John Lennon's cousin.

Today it is considered to be one of, if not the, most architecturally significant of Liverpool's parks on account of its layout and architecture.

The landscape of the park and adjacent Anfield Cemetery were designed by Edward Kemp, a pupil of Joseph Paxton who had assisted with the design of the landscape at both Chatsworth House and Birkenhead Park. His proposals combined many of the features laid out at Birkenhead Park and Sefton Park.

The 95 acres were landscaped with trees, shrubberies, expansive bedding schemes that were once highlighted by fountains and fishing lakes. Kemp's plans were enhanced further through the buildings and structures designed by Edward Robert Robson, at that time the Corporation Architect. Their partnership proved very successful and led to further collaborations (including Saltwell Park in Gateshead) before Robson went on to become the school boards architect for London in 1871.

Stanley Park was formally opened by the Mayor of Liverpool on Saturday, 14 May 1870, an event sufficiently impressive to warrant a report in the Illustrated London News (28 May 1870):

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... 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.

A closer look at some of the features of Stanley Park

The Pavilions

Constructed in Liverpool’s signature red sandstone, Robson's Pavilions adopt a simplified gothic style with columns and arches supporting slate roofs. These structures provided shelter along Kemp’s formal terraces and framed the views across the park to the distant landscapes.

Lakes and Bridges

Kemp’s picturesque landscape initially included three lake areas crossed by a sandstone bridge and four iron beam composite bridges. However, not long after opening one of the lakes was filled in, presumably because of a problem with the lake lining. Today it remains a popular spot for anglers.

The Boating Lake

It was like a scene from an old Judy Garland film like "Easter Parade" or something. People would be getting on and off the rowing boats and families would be walking through on a sunny day buying ice cream cones from the kiosk with the striped awning.

The Aviary (below) was dismantled because it was too exposed to cold winds and subsequently replaced by the Children's Garden.

The Fairy Glen in the Children's Garden

We would run around the Giant's Frying Pan n the way and afterwards we would go to the Audley (Children's) Gardens to hear the flower cuckoo clock mark the hour. In the school holidays all the children would hurry down to the puppet show area where there was a stage and we could listen to a variety show for 3d.

Two images of the floral Cuckoo clock, the photo below dating from 1936.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I found out they were going to build a paddling pool by the swings. Young people had somewhere to go in those days and something to do. The government looked after its own then.

- The above quotes are from Kate Healey, taken from the Old Photographs of Liverpool Picturebook Facebook page

The outdoor bathing pool was opened in 1923 and gave endless pleasure to youngsters on warm summer days until closure 40 years later.

The Bandstand (below left) was introduced in 1899 and soon after reports commented that “the average attendance upon a night when music is added to the park’s permanent features if attraction is stated to be upwards of 10,000”. Clearly there wasn’t much on television back then.

The Gladstone Conservatory

The Gladstone Conservatory was not an original feature of the park. It was presented in honour of the four times Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone who was born in Liverpool in 1809.

The glasshouse was gifted to the park by Alderman Henry Yates Thompson in 1900.

Yates Thompson was a newspaper owner, collector of historic manuscripts and a generous donor to institutions including the British Museum who had earlier, presumably in the interests of fairness presented Sefton Park with an even grander glasshouse, the Palm House. Both were predominantly cast and wrought iron structures, built by McKenzie and Moncur of Glasgow.

Unfortunately the glasshouse was badly damaged by enemy bombing during the Second World War and was not re-opened until 15 September 1958.

It had several uses between the 1960s and 1980s with varying degrees of sucess. An attempt to run it as a public house encouraged undesirable elements and the misuse of the western end of the terraces. It subsequently closed and fell prey to vandalism.

A similar fate had befallen the Palm House in Sefton Park but with the help of a number of beneficiaries, including one George Harrison, the structure was beautifully restored in 2000. This provided a model for the regeneration of the Gladstone Conservatory which was underway at the time of my first visit to Stanley Park. It was fully restored in 2009 with the introduction of a new ground floor lifting the structure level with the park terrace behind. The building was relaunched as the “Isla Gladstone Conservatory” in recognition of the local artist and print designer and today plays host to weddings and corporate events, including matchday hospitality for Liverpool Football Club.

So, Beadlepeedles, what's the connection?

It was this wall with its distinctive, and unique, inlays arranged in triplicate and evenly spaced, separating the terraces that jogged something in my memory. Where had I seen this before?

The wall is the backdrop to a well known and often seen picture of Paul and Michael McCartney with a young cousin but despite appearing in several of Michael's photo books the location has never been identified. Until now.

A 2014 recreation with some willing assistants

At the time the photograph was taken the McCartneys were living in Sir Thomas White Gardens, St. Domingo Road, a short walk from Stanley Park (see the map at the beginning of this post).

Michael McCartney was born in January 1944 and the family moved back to Everton shortly afterwards. Paul was about two years old when they arrived and and had just turned five when they moved to Speke in August 1947. He looks about five (and Mike about three) in the photo so I'm tentatively dating this photo as summer 1947, just before their mother Mary McCartney's job necessitated the move south.

As originally intended 87 years earlier Stanley Park would have provided the McCartneys and hundreds of families like them with an attractive open space to play and relax away from their tenement block. Jim probably had fond memories of his first visits to the park with his parents and siblings when they lived in Everton during the early 1900s and almost 50 years on, was keen to bring his own family here.

Paul and Michael were probably too young to go swimming but perhaps they enjoyed a paddle in the kid's pool, before letting off steam in the playground.  Maybe Jim or Mary suggested hiring one of the boats and they all had fun rowing on the lake for a spell before queuing at the red and white striped kiosk to buy an ice cream for the walk home.

Just arriving, or on their way back home? A second photo taken in Stanley Park! Note the broken panes on the Glasshouse, still closed and un-repaired in 1947, six years after being damaged by the Luftwaffe. See also the Magritte-like shadow of Jim McCartney bottom right. 

Interestingly, despite Paul and Mike wearing similar clothes in both photographs, Mike's hair looks much longer on this second photo indicating it was taken during a different visit.

67 years later the entire park has been restored to its original glory.

(Above) This is the entrance to the Park and the view immediately behind Jim that the McCartney boys would have had when posing for their photo. Jim would have been standing where the watermark is bottom right, facing the camera.

So, I hope I've solved a minor mystery. The fact that neither of the two McCartney family photos have ever been captioned with a location suggests that Mike (and probably Paul) don't know where they were taken.

It would be great then if Mike (or Paul) could read this and finally put a place name to what they must both consider are a couple of highly treasured photographs.


All colour photographs were taken by me (MP Ashworth) or my Dad (NF Ashworth) unless otherwise stated.

The copyright of the photos of Paul and Mike McCartney belongs to Paul and Mike McCartney.

All black and white photos were found online and presumably originated from L.R.O.

Some of the text was adapted from Adrian Pearson's fine article about the regeneration of Stanley Park and the Gladstone Conservatory which you can read in full here