SEFTON PARK & ITS MAGICAL PALM HOUSE
A review of our February talk - by Mary Champion
On Sunday 15th February we had a magical illustrated talk from Dianne Cox, a North West Blue Badge Tourist Guide, about Liverpool's Sefton Park Palm House.
Sefton Park, 269 acres in extent, was originally part of Toxteth Park - a deer park which was sold to the Earl of Sefton. The land was bought by Liverpool Council in the 1860s. Three new parks - Newsham, Stanley and Sefton Parks - were all created within two years of each other. In eighty years the population of Liverpool had grown from 2,000 to 85,000, so parks were very important.
A competition was set up to find a designer for Sefton Park. Edouard André of Paris and Lewis Hornblower of Liverpool won. The latter had worked for Joseph Paxton as architect at Birkenhead Park. The budget was £85,000 but the final cost was £250,000. To raise money, plots for housing were sold round the perimeter of the park. The park was opened on 20th May 1872 by Prince Arthur, and the procession of carriages from Liverpool Town Hall was a mile long. Henry Yates Thompson paid for the Palm House, which opened in 1896. It is 82 ft high, with a granite floor and almost 4,000 pieces of glass. It was heated by water pipes, and plants were brought from all over the world.
The Palm House closed in the 1980s when it was in a very poor state of repair. In June 1992 a campaign headed by Matthew Spencer, with supporters including George Melly, was started to save and restore it. £254,000 was soon raised, and the Palm House was reopened, minus glass, in August 1993. Then people were invited to 'sponsor a pane' at £10 each. By 1997 £2 million had been raised, mainly from the Heritage Lottery Fund. All the metal framework was removed and sent away for restoration or renewal.
The sculptures round the exterior include Christopher Columbus, Charles Darwin, Carl Linnaeus, James Cook and Henry the Navigator - and Peter Pan who has been brought from elsewhere in the park. Inside the Palm House are marble benches and sculptures. The plants include an original date palm, and banana trees which bear (very tiny) fruit.
The Palm House is open every day from 10.30 a.m., and is hired out for events. While the Council give a small grant, the place has to be self-supporting and hosts weddings, concerts, conferences, etc. The catering facilities and loos are in the basement. At least three major free events are held each year.
Sefton Park itself is also, currently, being transformed. £5 million has been allocated to the park's restoration. Hard surfaces will be repaired, tree work done, waterways cleared, the lake restored, the café refurbished and a new boat house provided. It is already a wonderful place to visit - and will be even more wonderful soon.