Park Life; Peter Elson Reports on How the City's Ugly Duckling Is Turning Back into a Swan

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), February 4, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Park Life; Peter Elson Reports on How the City's Ugly Duckling Is Turning Back into a Swan


Byline: Peter Elson

THE demise of Princes Park can be traced back to an alleged incident, which, even by Liverpool's high standards, is of immense comic proportions.

A maintenance crew in a rowing boat on the park's lake dredged up a large chain. An irresistible urge caused them to pull manfully on this chain, which they discovered was attached to - a large plug.

Glug, glug, glug.

The lake's lowering level seems to relate to Princes Park's fortunes. Now the lake is almost back at its optimum level. For once, the lake's island is actually surrounded by water.

This is largely due to the selfless efforts of the Friends of Princes Park, a 50-strong group of volunteers, consisting mainly of local residents, dedicated to the park's restoration.

However, they readily admit the lake is far from secure. All last year, Liverpool's parks department were sorting out another leak caused by a collapsed sewer.

This is a marked improvement from the days when the city council simply wanted to forget the park, leaving the boathouse, Japanese ornamental bridge, bowling green and pavilion to be destroyed by vandals.

Princes Park deserves better. Although it is not Liverpool's biggest or most famous, it can claim to be its oldest public park. Thanks to the generosity of the merchant, Richard Vaughan Yates, and his descendants, it became a public asset to the area.

Town planning students from as far as the US come to visit because it is the first park designed by Joseph Paxton who later went on to design Birkenhead Park, which inspired New York's Central Park and influenced others throughout North America.

One of Britain's leading authorities on Paxton, landscape architect Hilary Taylor, was commissioned by Liverpool City Council to produce a plan for Princes Park.

She raved about its historic value (citing the lake as one of Britain's finest civic water features) and future potential, but implementation of her ideas has yet to get the go-ahead.

PRINCES Park is only 90 acres and its larger near neighbour, Sefton Park, at 269 acres, was Britain's biggest park when opened in 1872.

Because of its diamond shape, it stretches out to more inhabitants than some regularly-shaped parks and its layout is encircled by a kidney-shaped carriage drive, that starts and ends at the sunburst gates on Princes Drive.

The latest push to upgrade comes from the Friends of Princes Park, which had a previous incarnation in the 1970s, "before going the way of all good things," sighs chairman, Jean Grant, an ecological artist, who works on Liverpool's Pool Project.

Ms Grant says: "We became very aware that other parks were being regenerated. All that was happening here was the management of the mowing regime was occasionally altered.

"In desperation, we restarted the Friends of Princes Park two years ago. Since then, we've had an AGM and organised litter collecting, patronised by the Lord Mayor last weekend, and other activities.

"The trees and bushes in the Park were becoming extremely scarce, so we're very keen on replanting. The Park needs the Friends because it is not only Liverpool's first park, but also Joseph Paxton's first park.

"It's not on the tourist maps of Liverpool, but it could be developed along with Princes Drive as an attraction. Why not link it together from Hope Street to Sefton Park's Eros with a rickshaw service for visitors?"

"There is another problem as the avenue is a great bureaucratic divide with different people responsible for maintenance either side, rather than the area being treated as a whole," Ms Grant adds.

"There is a great need in the wider community around here for open spaces, but at last the the Park is being appreciated better by the powers that be."

Ingrid Spiegl, an active member of the Friends, has lived for 35 years in Windermere Terrace, the only houses within the park.

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