Wavertree Playground ('The Mystery')

In 1895 the Grange was demolished, and it was assumed that - like other mansions around the village - its grounds would be bought by house-builders. During the previous 25 years almost the whole of the area between Smithdown Road and Picton Road had become covered with tightly-packed housing: decent enough, its spacing dictated by the building bye-laws, but with virtually no provision for open space. The Liverpool Daily Post conjured up a picture of the area round Wellington Road - the area downhill from Wavertree Playground - as it was in 1895:

"Wavertree ... is, as it were, one of the arms which, like other great towns, Liverpool, in the manner of a vast octopus of bricks and mortar, stretches into the country along the main roads which lead into it. At the point where this area of Wavertree joins on to the body of the city we have the brick and mortar plague now passing through its acutest stage ... streets of cottages awkwardly fitted in anywhere, or leading into other streets, which seem in turn to lead nowhere. There are villainous-looking wastes, whose surfaces present an alternation of stagnant pools and hillocks of tipped rubbish, a lonely public-house or two built as speculations in 'futures' on what may turn out to be 'desirable corner lots', a grimy brick church, and board schools ... but ... the wastes are slowly and by degrees disappearing before the enterprise of the inevitable builder".

Then suddenly, in May 1895, it was announced that an anonymous donor had purchased the Grange estate together with some adjoining properties, and was presenting the whole 108 acres to the City of Liverpool. The donor had levelled and grassed the area - eradicating the ornamental lake that was once a feature of the grounds - and suggested the name 'Wavertree Playground'. It was to be a venue for organised sports, and a place for children to run about in, not a park for 'promenading' in the Victorian tradition. He expressed the hope that the City Council "might approve of giving it a fair trial for this purpose ... before appropriating it for any other use".

The mysterious donor's offer was accepted by the Council; the Playground was opened by the Lord Mayor amid great rejoicing on 7th September 1895. There was a march past of 12,000 children, after which, the Daily Post reported, "the children were liberally regaled with cakes and milk". Juvenile sports, a gymnastics exhibition and Morris Dancing followed, and finally "for upwards of two hours, the sky was brilliant" with a fireworks display watched by an estimated 60,000 people.

The new park was immediately nicknamed 'The Mystery'. At the time the Press speculated that the donor might be Philip Holt - a shipowner who himself lived on the edge of Sefton Park - but this was neither confirmed nor denied. Looking across the park (and the newly-built Athletics Centre) towards the city centre skyline, the foresight of preserving such a 'green lung' can be appreciated today just as it was in 1895. If Holt was indeed the Mystery man, Wavertree has a lot to thank him for.

The above is an extract from 'DISCOVERING HISTORIC WAVERTREE',
. © Mike Chitty 1999.
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