A Couple of Lovely Victorian Parks

Southport in Merseyside is an Irish Sea coastal resort about twenty miles north of the city and port of Liverpool. It’s the town in which I was born and where I lived until I was twenty-one when I moved away to take up my first teaching post near Doncaster.

Location of Southport in Merseyside

The town grew rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, soon becoming popular as a seaside resort known for its extensive coastal dunes and invigorating sea air. I intend to do a full post about Southport soon but, for now, I just want to focus on two lovely, Victorian parks in the town that draw many visitors every year, namely Hesketh Park and Botanic Gardens.

Locations of Hesketh Park and Botanic Gardens in SouthportHesketh Park is located at the northern end of Lord Street, Southport’s most famous street, and just a mile away from the town centre. It was created in 1868 by Edward Kemp on land donated by the Reverend Charles Hesketh of Meols Hall, which I’ll be talking about in my post on Southport in general.

These are some photos of features inside some of the entrances to the park.

This is of a photo of a fountain at the south entrance to the park. It was taken in early November 2019.

Like Botanic, Hesketh has many Victorian features and landscape designs. The central feature of both parks is a lake, around which all of the other attractions are situated. Both parks have undergone alterations and refurbishments in relatively recent years  to restore the splendour of the original Victorian work. Amongst other things, Hesketh boasts an observatory, a small cafe, a play area for kiddies, crazy golf, a small waterfall, a floral clock and a Victorian gate house at two of the four entrances, both lived in by park keepers. There are nature trails, exercise machines in some of the little niches and a large conservatory, once full of exotic plants. In 2007 the plants were removed and the building was restored on the same site. The beautiful lake has a small island in its centre for wild birds that breed in the park.

The following are photos taken in Hesketh Park on a few of our visits at different times of year. First are a few from a visit in August 2015:

These are some photos taken in Hesketh in November 2019. I always loved this park in autumn.

Botanic Gardens is in Churchtown, once a delightfully pretty village in its own right, which is now a suburb of Southport. Botanic is situated on the opposite side of Bankfield Lane to Meols Hall and its estate, the main entrance to which is shown in this photo:

Botanic was founded in 1874 by a group of working men known as the Southport and Churchtown Botanic Gardens Company, who acquired the land from the Reverend Charles Hesketh at Meols Hall – the same person who had donated land for the creation of Hesketh Park a few years earlier. As at Hesketh, the lake is the central feature. It was formed from a stream called the Otter Pool that flowed through it from Meols Hall. The lake is now known as the Serpentine and is crossed by two ornamental cast-iron bridges. At the south end of the lake was a boathouse and when I was a child we could hire little boats and row ourselves around the winding lake.

There are a number of attractions just inside the main entrance gates to greet visitors on arrival, including a former museum and cafe. These three photos  are from February 2o17:

Unfortunately, the museum (central photo above) closed in 2011, and I believe some of its exhibits are now in the Atkinson Art Gallery and  Museum on Lord Street in Southport, including this fabulous dugout canoe, dating from AD535. It was found in a field near Crossens (just north of Churchtown) in 1899, close to what once was the northern shore  of Martin Mere (‘mere’ being the name for a lake). I remember seeing this canoe many times on my visits to Botanic  in earlier years.

Dugout canoe dated AD535. Author: Small town hero: Public Domain

I also recall rooms full of stuffed animals and birds which, as a child, I hated. I still hate the idea of taxidermy, though I suppose it takes some skill, and it was extremely popular in Victorian times. Like the canoe and other local exhibits, the taxidermy section is now housed in the Atkinson Museum.

On the opposite side of the entrance to the museum and cafe is the aviary, which always delights the children. There are various bird species including peacocks (not averse to fanning their tails to impress appreciative audiences) parrots and budgerigars, to name but a few. There are also a couple of ‘runs’ with rabbits and guinea pigs. We’ve taken lots of photos of these in the past but, unfortunately, right now I’m at a loss to find them! Duh…

These are a few of the photos taken in  August 2015 and 2016. We visited in the rain in 2016. The different floral displays of each year are also evident:

Other attractions of Botanic include a bowling green, mini-golf, a children’s playground and brass bands in the summer.  A fernery houses a unique collection of ferns from around the world and is all that remains on a former huge glass conservatory that was built in Victorian times and eventually demolished in the 1930s and 40s. This is a photo of it from Wikipedia, which shows two Edwardian ladies in front of it.

Southport Botanic Glasshouse, taken during the 1920s. Author unknown. Public Domain.

It stood where some of the flower beds are today, with the front entrance facing the museum. In the  photo below, the fernery is at the back of the flower bed:

To finish with, these are a few  photos taken in Botanic in February 2017. There are no bright flower beds at this time of year and there are fewer people about, but it’s still a very pleasant place to walk, especially when the first hints of spring are evident.

18 thoughts on “A Couple of Lovely Victorian Parks

    1. Thank you Molly. So many of us want to see the many lovely sites in the world. We’ve always wanted to tour the U.S. but we haven’t managed to get there yet. It always seems to be a case of ‘perhaps next year…’

    1. They are quite striking parks, Ineke, and so colourful at most times of year. Both look amazing in the snow, but I haven’t seen them that way since I lived in Southport. I always loved to watch the ducks landing on the ice of the lake inmid-winter and treating us to a skating display. So funny.

  1. How interesting to see the same areas in different seasons! I see what you mean: I would enjoy walking there even without the flowers. I’d never heard of a floral clock, so thanks for the excuse to look that up! I had assumed they would have started with sundials but no, the first one was a working clock hour hand, wow! I can never remember flowers so I fear I don’t appreciate botanical gardens as much as, say, my mother (the gardener in the family). But I loved the metal work on that front entry/porch!

    1. My parents’ house in Southport was within easy walking distance of both these parks, so I visited them both at all times of year when I was young. You’re right, all seasons have their charm and the parks took on completely new ‘looks’ during each of them. Both parks were quite stunning in the snow – not that we had snow every year – but I do remember the lake in Hesketh freezing over a few times.
      Not everyone appreciates flower beds, especially cultivated ones. Wild flowers in the countryside take a lot of beating – unless you’re a gardener. My husband’s the gardener in our family, so he’d probably get on well with you mother. The floral clock looks good when it’s in full bloom and if I remember rightly, there was a ‘cuckkoo’ on the hour at one time. I don’t think that feature was restored.

      1. I find that the more I know about a topic, the more I appreciate going to displays or performances of it, and flower gardens are the same. If I could only remember the names of the flowers, and know which ones are hard to grow and which are native and whatnot, I would appreciate the end result. So if I remember (and have time) I like to bone up on flower types before I go, and then try to look for specific flowers. And that helps! But they just don’t stick in my memory. Next time I go, I’ll back to, “Oh, there are some tall red ones. And those little blue ones are pretty. And the other little blue ones.” (Repeat for all colors and sizes, sigh….)

        I’m even worse with birds, though. “You know, those smallish brown ones. With the… markings somewhere, I think.”

  2. Thanks for posting this and keeping up with the promise. Beautiful parks, indeed. It looks like they are huge. the water body adds to the charm of the garden. I agree Autumn colors are awesome.

    1. Thank you for reading my post, Arv. Yes, both parks are quite large and there are many differences between them. Even the lakes are very different and there are bridges over the narrower one in Botanic. There’s something very special about autumn colours, and they can be so vibrant.

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