ADVENTURES OF A VICTORIAN MILLIONAIRE
A review of our September talk by Mike Chitty
On 28th September we were visited by Mr Henry Yates Thompson, who had been born in Liverpool in 1828 and, 70 years later, gave the Sefton Park Palm House to the city. More accurately, we were visited by park ranger Richard Baker, but he was in costume - acting out the life and memoirs of his Victorian hero.
Born into a wealthy banking family, living at Thingwall House in Knotty Ash, Henry obtained a 1st class Honours degree in Law from Cambridge. But instead of joining the family firm back home in Liverpool, he decided to see the world. The European Grand Tour was followed by visits to Russia, India, China and Africa. In China he was particularly impressed by the flowers and manicured lawns. In Africa he came to appreciate the exotic plants and fruits. Then on to America, where he got caught up in the Civil War and got a bullet through his ear-lobe! Maybe Liverpool wasn't such a bad place to live, he decided; but on returning to his homeland it was to a career in politics and publishing, not banking or law.
The Thompson publishing ventures were very successful, and when his father died leaving him £2 million he became a very wealthy man indeed. Henry had already become involved in Liverpool's 'Parks Movement' - which had led to the creation of Newsham, Stanley and Sefton Parks between 1868 and 1872 - and in the 1890s he decided to present the city with magnificent glass-and-iron conservatories stocked with plants from all over the world, which few people in Liverpool had ever seen before.
Richard/Henry told us the story of the Sefton Park Palm House from its completion in 1898 to its near-destruction in the 1940s, and again in the 1970s, and its eventual restoration. He also told us about the Park itself - including the poignant story of Oliver and Catherine whose ghostly figures can be seen on the Iron Bridge each Valentine's Day at 11.15 pm.
Truly a memorable event!