Sefton Park celebrated its 148th birthday in different circumstances this year, Getintothis’ contributors on just what it is about the place that makes us love it so much.
Right now, in May 2020, we’re probably talking about our parks and green spaces in a way in which we haven’t for decades.
Designed to offer respite from relentless urbanisation of the industrial revolution, somewhere to come away from the clatter of the factories, mills and mines, the formation and restoration of parks across the UK is something that today we are appreciating more than ever.
The land that is now occupied by Sefton Park, which turned 148 years old this month, originated as a Royal deer park for King John to hunt in. It became the ancestral home of the Rathbones, the philanthropic family which played a key role in the abolition of slavery and the suffragette movement, too.
The idea of a new park began to come to the fore as Liverpool’s Toxteth area grew rapidly in the 19th century. Neighbouring Princes Park could no longer offer the population the adequate space that residents needed to walk, to play and to create.
So, in 1862, the former Liverpool Borough Council recommended the area for development. Two years later, the Public Works (Manufacturing Districts) Act 1864 permitted corporations to borrow sums of money to the extent that in 1867, the city purchased 375 acres for £250,000 from the Earl of Sefton.
Plots of land were sold around the park’s perimeter to help fund the development, and Sefton Park opened on a day like today in 1872.
It’s been a vibrant 148 years for what has been labelled ‘the Hyde Park of the north’, and its uses have included being the venue that hosts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra‘s summer performance, Africa Oyé, Liverpool International Music Festival and individual performances from the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen.
It’s magnificent Palm House was built in 1896, restored in 1950 following the Liverpool Blitz, with it’s guardians around the structure including Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin.
The north of the park plays home to Sefton Park Cricket Club, and the park has hosted football, tennis, cross country and marathon events in its illustrious history.
Today, in 2020, Sefton Park has never been more valuable for residents south of the city centre.
The ‘daily walk’ has become a household term during the coronavirus pandemic, with the 5k challenge and DIY workouts seeing people flock to the park in recent weeks to appreciate the vast space that is so important to the people of Liverpool.
Happy Birthday, Sefton Park. Here’s why we love you. – Lewis Ridley, new music editor
Being from the North end, or should I say, so far off the map that I’m beyond the North and in the wilds of West Lancashire, Sefton Park was for many a year a mere mythical place I’d little reason to visit.
Talk of Keith’s, Marantos, The Albert and The Moon & Pea were all stop-offs on the South end I’d painted a picture in my mind of long before actually walking down Lark Lane and on to the park.
It took the pull of Liverpool’s first proper pop music festival to finally take me there.
That walk from St Michael’s railway station, crossing Aigburth Road and down the Lane I’ve become accustomed to now – but that sense of dropping off on to the park still fills me with a sense of joy now matter how many times I visit.
Whether it’s Africa Oye (a festival Liverpool City Council should nurture and cherish like a newborn child), Liverpool International Music Festival, set piece big concerts, LightNight or pop up happenings at the magnificent Palmhouse, there’s been a multitude of spectacles I’ve experienced too vast to list.
However, those early itsLiverpool stage artists and bands Getintothis was lucky to be asked to select at LIMF remain a favourite: the maverick mayhem of Bonnacons of Doom (capes and mirror-hubcapped masks and all), the rhythmic funk of All We Are, HIVE collective’s collage of noise, Jetta combining with the awe-inspiring Sense of Sound choir and the wild abandon of the Wild Eyes‘ rock & roll.
But it’s Africa Oye and the feeling of togetherness on the park which is the ultimately thrill.
A festival and feeling unique to Liverpool – bound together by colour, joy and a huge tray of Raggas delicious goat curry. – Peter Guy, Getintothis editor
Sefton Park has always been associated with music for me, as I would guess is likely to be the case for a number of contributors to this piece, so apologies for the inevitable repetition. But there’s it is. I was never big on picnics or sports, so that’s not my main use for the park.
I did once go to photograph the Sefton Park Cricket Club at stupid o’clock in the morning in 2010 for their Summer Solstice match, celebrating the club’s 150th anniversary and at which the first ball was bowled at sunrise. An exercise the club repeated, but without me.
There was Lark’s in the Park in the early eighties, with some pretty big name bands playing on the band stand in the middle of the lake.
An event about which, to be quite honest, I remember precious little (I wonder why) save that it was hot weather and the price of admission was zilch. The 80s were a weird time and a large part of them passed me by.
Nevertheless, it is live music that tends to draw me into the park and, specifically, Africa Oyé.
I’ll confess to being late to the party, in the sense the first time I went to Africa Oyé in Sefton Park was 2010, but I was sold then and I haven’t been to a bad Oyé ever since.
Even the year it was cancelled (2012) because of the weather and swiftly relocated to District in the Baltic Triangle.
This is an event that Liverpool does so well. It’s superbly organised, stewarded and wonderfully inclusive, as well as being free. The atmosphere could be bottled and sold.
There are always new bands to discover, but the booking policy is impeccable. 2019 saw Moonlight Benjamin tearing up the stage in what was one of the best performances I have ever seen at Oyé.
The Haitian, self styled Voodoo Priestess gave us a masterclass in how to command an audience and demand, through her blend of rock, blues and rhythm that no one was to go anywhere, or do anything, other than pay her complete attention.
It’s moments like that which will always want to keep coming back.
More recently LIMF has found a home in the park, but for me, it doesn’t work as well. It gets the numbers in, though.
Despite their commercial feel, and a uneasy price of admission, I’ve always really enjoyed the food festivals as well.
Assuming the weather is kind (and it isn’t always) then they’re just good fun events to have a stroll around, munching on speciality pork pies, collecting exotic sausages for dinner and drinking too much Prosecco.
The Palm House, too is an occasional magnet. The site for weddings, parties and any number of off the wall events. I saw a display of exotic birds in there once.
It was fun, really. I recall, many, many years ago going to a fund raising dinner in the Palm House, in the days before its roof had been restored. It got somewhat out of hand and that one will remain a minor legend in this house. Although I’m happy we did our little bit.
I don’t want to sound all Tory politician about the park. But it’s a valuable resource and we really do owe it to ourselves to use it as much as possible. My partner uses it for running, there’s a half decent café, the Alfred Gilbert replica Anteros statue to admire and tame squirrels to feed.
Or, you could just get some supplies from the Co-Op on Lark Lane and go and have a BBQ. Whichever you choose, and you should choose at least one, go and make use this most valuable of resources. – Peter Goodbody, live editor.
My first memory of Sefton Park was actually a gig back in the late 70’s early 80s, I think. I’m sure it was part of a few gigs in the park put on by the BBC and this one featured Bow Wow Wow. There is a video of this gig I saw somewhere online.
I went with a girl who I fancied like mad, and we did actually get married, though it didn’t last long. In no way do I blame Bow Wow Wow.
— Keliasphotography (@Keliasphotogra1) April 4, 2020
My next memory is non-musical. In my late teens early 20s I took up cycling along with my identical twin brother. We both raced competitively for quite a few years in the 70s and 80s and anyone that knows about cycle racing in Liverpool during those times will tell you that all the best cyclist came from the Liverpool area so it was very tough.
Anyway, I was never any good really. always getting dropped on any climb but my twin brother was very good and eventually got picked to ride for Mersyside.
One of the bigger race’s in the calendar then was The Sefton Wheel Race which attracted quite a few big international riders and one year My twin brother Keith was in the field.
I think it was about 50 laps of the park on the road so at just over 2 miles a lap was probably about 100 miles and in a very strong field Keith came third having been in a break of 5 or six riders most of the day.
Lastly and in more recent years Sefton Park is home to what is always a highlight of my year and that Africa Oye festival. In my opinion it’s by far the best festival of all.
Great music, friendly people and at the wonderful Sefton Park. – Warren Millar
What a question. Being a local historian the park and its history hold wonder and intrigue to me.
The land being ancient in origin, from being a Royal deer park for King John to hunt in, to the ancestral home of the philanthropic family, the Rathbones, with members of the family playing a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery and the suffragette movement.
Move further on in the time line and we have the creation of it as a public park, being one of largest “ribbon parks in the country”.
The fact this stunning public space still exists is a miracle.
Happy 148th Birthday to Sefton Park the best Park in the world ♥️
(Photos by me) pic.twitter.com/lyQ7Umd9wt
— Louise* #StayHomeSaveLives (@LouiseLacy) May 20, 2020
I spend a lot of time in the park and every time I am there I always feel like I’ve been transported back in time, I think of all the wonderful memories that have been created and shared there over the last 148 years in the park, from family day outs to music concerts like Kings of Leon and the Lightning Seeds to name but a few.
Memories of past relationships also flood my mind, I wonder how many people met or fell in love in this park?
Yes, I really love Sefton Park and know how lucky I am to have it on my doorstep,
I’m also a photographer and the park offers endless opportunities for this from concerts to shooting the wildlife.
I have never tired of Sefton Park and never will. I’m excited for the continued memories I will create in this park with friends old, new and family.
What would Liverpool be without Sefton Park?
The park is as much a Liverpool icon as the Liver Building to me and many others. – Billy Vitch
I’ll take this back to when I first became aware of Sefton Park, or Sevvie as I came to hear it being affectionately referred to every time it came up in a discussion. Off the bat, the name itself brought a little instant familiarity.
Coming to the city to study, living around a particular end of town it seemed Sefton Park was the enormous presence that was just there.
Took a while to actually visit mind, but for what probably was a year or so, it was this sprawling green area that took forever to drive around.
It was a curious side to what Liverpool had to offer.
Understandings of its long historical settings and reference points looking in, combined with the present student experience really gave no clue to such a hidden treasure.
The vibrant town centre, the constantly shifting energy gives way to a lush green serene.
— Dave Graham (@DaveGraha) May 20, 2020
Never quite getting a handle on the whole scale of the place, even now I can enter through one of the many roads in and still not have a clue where I am.
Whether it’s the approach from Aigburth Road, wondering in from Ullet Road, the immediate serene to be found at the end of Lark Lane or even the rambling walk up from St. Michael’s. There’s always a sense that if luck is with you, she’ll divulge something new.
A new path, and new clearing. This is exactly how the Palm House came to my attention- imagine just stumbling into that!
To me, the park symbolizes a challenge, one that I’ll never concur – albeit more than happy not to. I’m not much of a walker y’see.
To some, the association with music events, LIMF in particular may be the reason for discovery.
To me, the endless joggers and cyclists you pass when driving around the perimeter is the most rewarding sight. Knowing the space is crucial to the lifestyle of so many.
It’s escape, it’s beauty, it’s a part of the Liverpool home. – Howard Doupe
Sefton Park is basically my second home.
It’s my favourite public space in the world and the fact that I live two minutes away from it makes me feel very privileged in this life.
While many people will reference the music festivals that are held on the park throughout the year, to me it’s not about that, despite Africa Oye being one of the best festivals in Liverpool.
This might sound somewhat glib and hippified, but I associate Sefton Park with escaping the noise from the everyday and momentarily finding an inner-peace. Only if it’s for an hour every day, it’s better than nothing.
Headphones on, just walking and looking at the trees and acknowledging the wildlife, trying to forget about everyday concerns. That’s what I associate Sefton Park with and from a mental health perspective, it’s been a massive crutch for me over these past two years.
They say the best things in life are free and in this case it’s true. – Simon Kirk
Being a Wirral kid, I never actually went to Sefton Park with my family, because we were surrounded by parks and open green spaces our side of the river.
I didn’t go to Sefton Park until I was about 13. My Liverpool cousins treated me to a banquet at Lau’s Restaurant at Rankin Hall on Ullet Road, right by the park. It was the first time I had eaten a Chinese meal and it was life changing.
Sefton Park for me holds great memories of LIMF with friends.
Where else can you get into a festival for the price of a cocktail and take your own picnic? I think LIMF is a huge asset to the city, particularly for teenagers as it serves as an introduction to summer festival life without the need to travel.
I attended Cream Classical at Sefton Park last year which was highly enjoyable, sharing tales of Nation with 40 somethings who decided to study in Liverpool in the 90’s purely to attend Cream.
It would appear the park has staged huge public events for some time.
The 1929 Eisteddfod of Wales was held at Sefton Park, the third and final time that it was hosted by Liverpool.
Although well attended, the event made losses and the event has never been held outside of Wales again.
As the Park celebrates another birthday, I wish it well for many more birthdays to come. – Jane Davies
It’s the place to go where you can gather your thoughts when the hustle and bustle of life becomes overbearing, an opportunity to break away from your phone and the constant notifications. I always find my head is clearer after a walk around the park.
There’s always something new to discover on every visit, paths that have been well walked suddenly surprise you with the arrival of new plants in spring or a muddy track that takes you off on a route that you’ve never explored before.
It’s often noted that nature plays a part in our mental wellbeing and having Sefton Park on our doorstep offers that opportunity to engage with nature, whether it’s watching the ducks and their off-spring take to the water of the boat lake, catching a squirrel as its scampers it’s way up a tree or even just listening to the trickling water of the brooks that meander around the park.
There’s something about the sights and sounds of nature that warm the soul and calm the mind.
Ask a hundred people what they love about Sefton Park and you’ll get one hundred answers, for me it’s the pockets of privacy that you can find even on the busiest of the days, whether it’s tucked down the side of the embankment or behind the Palm House you can still escape to your own private world. – Michael Maloney
Here in Liverpool we are blessed to have some stunning parks and green spaces.
From Calderstones to Stanley Park, Allerton Towers, Woolton Woods, and Reynolds Park we are spoilt for choice.
Sefton Park has been a constant in my life in Liverpool. From hazy afternoons in the park in my early days here, to becoming a place more than a little intertwined with my musical journey in the city.
I’ve worked with Africa Oye since 2003, and I’ve grown up with this beautiful festival. Some of my favourite memories of Sefton Park have been at these wonderful gatherings, a real celebration of the city and community.
The magical bandstand also holds a special place for me.
We hosted the Mellowtone stage there as part of LIMF for five years – bringing our laid back vibes to the riverside, and installing our very own ‘people’s republic’ on the island at the very epicentre of the park.
The stunning Palm House has also loomed large. We’ve hosted Mellowtone shows there, the Next Stop New York programme of events, and I also work with the Arab Arts Festival for their fabulous annual ‘family day’.
Earlier this year we held the inaugural Krewe Liverpool – a surreal New Orleans’ inspired masquerade. The way 2020 is going – it looks like it’s a contender for the ‘party of the year’!
Steeped in Liverpool’s history and with its almost Parisian feel, for me it’s been a place of aimless wanderings, lost afternoons, endless rendezvous, and many happy memories. – David McTague, Mellowtone
Living in the north of the city, where the parks are just seen by Joe as potential development sites, my main view of Sefton Park is one of jealousy.
It is a great park; a focal point for exercise and relaxation on a daily basis, and also great public events. I’ve enjoyed fireworks displays and Africa Oye in recent years and the free music festivals in olden sepia toned times back in the 90s.
Seeing the LIMF having to fence it off for the their recent festivals gave me a sadness in memory of the laid days of the 90s.
Driving past the other day I was struck by how large it is… and also how big the groups of people were sat together. In other non-pandemic times it would have been good to see; this week, not so much.
May Sefton Park have many more birthdays and host many more relaxed days, assignations and cool event. And may are other parks too: even ones in the north. – Andy Walker
Living in a city centre flat with no garden or outside area, Sefton Park offers an important slice of the great outdoors that’s so easy to miss when living in an urban area.For me, Sefton Park brings to mind long summer days in the sun, whether enjoying picnics with friends from university or making the most of the acts on offer as part of LIMF.It’s the setting of many of my fondest memories in recent years, particularly those around that heatwave back in the summer of 2018; having a kickabout with mates or just walking round the old boating lake.For many such as myself who live in the city centre, I don’t doubt that I’m far from the only one whose memories of that glorious summer are largely set in the confines of the park – a reason I think I have such an attachment to it.It’s difficult not to think of that summer when the words Sefton Park are mentioned to me – it’s so deeply connected with that time in my mind that it even brings to mind memories that aren’t even set in the park, enjoying England’s world cup performance or sitting in some beer garden with a cold pint.And of course, many a Sunday afternoon in the autumn has been spent ambling round the park, soaking in the calmer atmosphere and watching the leaves changing colour.Sefton Park is such an important site in Liverpool for so many reasons – a site that I’m sure is the setting for at least one memorable story for many of those living in the city. – Max Richardson