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.

Formby Point in February

037 View to the SeaFor the past few weeks I’ve been attempting to get on with my writing and for the most part, have succeeded in doing that. I still have some distance to go before I finish Book 3, but it’s coming along reasonably well. Unfortunately, last week, we needed to visit my 87-year-old aunt in Carnforth (north Lancashire) who has been unwell recently, so my writing was again ‘on hold’.

On one of the days we were there, we managed a run out to my hometown of Southport – a Victorian seaside town on the north-west coast of England.

Map of Merseyside, UK. Source Ordnance Survey Open Data. Author Nilfanion. Creative Commons.
Map of Merseyside, UK. Source Ordnance Survey Open Data. Author Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

Southport has had its ups and downs over the years, particularly since losing its place in Lancashire and becoming part of Mersyside in the early 1970s. I intend to write a post about the town at some stage, as I’ve always loved it and often long to be back there. Many golfers from around the world will know this coastal region for its famous links golf courses, including Royal Birkdale, Hillside and Ainsdale.

On this occasion we first drove a little further down the coast to Formby Point, and I thought I’d share some photos of the sand dunes and pine woods there. This whole area of coastline is managed as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Parts of the stretch, at Ainsdale, a litttle closer to Southport than Formby, have been a Nature Reserve for many years now – even when I lived there in the 1950s and 60s. The Reserve is the habitat of the Great Crested Newt, Britain’s most protected species of amphibian. I believe its numbers are now on the increase at the Reserve.

My sister and I often used to cycle down to the pine woods with a picnic when we were teenagers, and it hasn’t changed a lot since then – except that Formby Point is now managed by the National Trust.

The sand dunes are an important habitat for both the natterjack toad, now an endangered species, and the rare sand lizard. The pine woods are one of the few remaining areas in Britain where our indigenous (and also endangered) red squirrels are found. The woods flank the landward side of the dunes, so we walked through those first. The oak leaves and acorn symbol is that of the National Trust:

098 National Trust Squirrel Walk

100 Squirrel Walk

The ‘cages’ up in the trees are feeders for the squirrels. We caught a couple of  them inside, but the photos we took didn’t turn out well. We also saw a few scuttling across the ground – but they were too distant and fast moving to show up on a photo. I don’t have a good zoom on my tablet, and our small camera isn’t too wonderful either. This picture gives a vague idea -you can see a red squirrel in there, if you look closely enough:

020 Red Squirrel 2

These are a few photos of our walk through the dunes before we reached the beach. The marram grass is essential to the conservation of the dunes – without it, the westerly winds would very quickly erode them.

And eventually . . . the beach and the Irish Sea. The beach was almost deserted due to the time of year and the fact that it was mid-week:

On another day we went to Blackpool – an even more desolate seaside town at this time of year.  I’ll share a few photos of the town, and the adjoining Lytham St Annes another time.