- since 2011 -

Green and serene

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Deep South style to Italianate artistry. Exploring Liverpool's leafy retreats...

'It is small wonder that he fell in love with Greenbank, for the house and its surroundings formed a most harmonious ensemble, with the dwelling perched comfortably at the head of a gentle slope that ran down to an ornamental lake, and then up again on the opposite side... It became a favourite port of call for visiting ships captains. Generous entertainers, the family often invited fifteen or twenty people to dinner. One of the guests remembered the grounds as "a garden of paradise" for children: here was a sundial set into the sloping lawn, a walk beside a sunken fence that looked out over fields, beehives, a rose garden, and behind the house a favourite large horse-chestnut tree...'



The writer, Duff Hart-Davis. The book, Audubon's Elephant, chronicling the story of American painter John James Audubon, who sailed from New Orleans to Liverpool in 1826, befriended the influential Rathbone family and eventually published his epic Birds of America, the most valuable natural history book ever printed (Liverpool Central Library has one of only 113 copies worldwide).

Greenbank, the Rathbone's historic home, still stands today amid University of Liverpool halls of residence in the park of the same name in south Liverpool. Like something from an Anne Rice novel, it features a fine entrance porch, Gothic windows in pointed arches and a two-storey, cast-iron veranda.

The Rathbones, famous philanthropists and social reformers, originally leased the estate from the Earls of Sefton, purchased it outright in 1809 and sold part of it to the Corporation for public use in 1897. The house itself was donated to the University in 1944 and has an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Today Rathbone Greenbank, incidentally, is an eminent company that manages ethical investments; Prime Minister David Cameron has Rathbone family connections, and his godfather was the late Tory MP 'Tim' Rathbone - a great grandson of William, the Liberal MP for Liverpool - for whom he was employed as a researcher in 1985; other clan members include Julian Rathbone, author of The Last Englishman, and the Sherlock Holmes actor Basil Rathbone.

While at Greenbank, Audubon painted a self-portrait and watercolour of a robin for Hannah Mary Rathbone, with whom he became besotted. Both pictures are now owned by the University and displayed in its fabulously refurbished Victoria Gallery & Museum. 'The place,' concludes Hart-Davies, 'retains an aura of calm and style that belongs to another age.'

Allerton Hall

Allerton Hall

In turn the Rathbones introduced Audubon to William Roscoe, the historian, poet and campaigner for the abolition of slavery. Roscoe, who subsequently arranged an exhibition of Audubon's paintings at the Royal Institution on Colquitt Street (between Bold Street and Duke Street), had his own bucolic retreat in nearby Allerton where Liverpool's 'merchant princes' built grand houses on estates modelled upon Roman landscaped gardens.

He bought Allerton Hall in 1799 but was forced to sell it 20 years later. The sandstone mansion was latterly owned by tobacco merchant Thomas Clarke (after whom the surrounding parklands are now named) then donated to the council in 1926. Today it's more commonly known as 'The Pub in the Park'. It has a cousin in Calderstones Park known as the Mansion House, built for the MacIver shipping family in 1828.

Also in this area: the splendid old colonnade of Allerton Manor, built for the ship-owning Fletchers and now in the middle of Allerton Golf Course; and the ruins of Allerton Tower, formerly the home of the Earles (railway pioneers) and designed by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, architect of St George's Hall. All that survives are some stables, a walled garden and an orangery - a sheltered place, like a greenhouse, for the cultivation of orange trees in cool climates).

Allerton Hall

Allerton Hall

In his 2004 book, Liverpool Walks Through History, author David Lewis calls Allerton Tower 'as melancholy as only a derelict building of such aristocratic uselessness can be... There is never anybody here; this is a lost park, a hidden landscape, and with the cedar trees against the blue sky on a hot day, the architect's vision of an Italian landscape is realised. It is made more surprising by the crisp hedges and careful landscaping maintained by the city council; it gives it an Alice-In-Wonderland quality, a slight madness'.

Upon their completion these mansions and many other large houses in Allerton and Woolton - a few still standing, most demolished - would've been set in open countryside. It's been said that this part of south Liverpool, in Victorian times, was one of the greatest examples of conspicuous wealth in Britain.

Together with great swathes like Stanley, Newsham and Sefton Parks - themselves paid for by selling off plots of surrounding land to rich merchants building new villas - the result is one million trees and over 2,500 acres of green and open spaces in a city on a windswept coast more associated with miles upon miles of docklands. Lucky Liverpool.

Sefton Park's Palm House

Sefton Park's Palm House

Park life...

Sefton Park's Palm House rises 82 feet from an octagonal base of red granite quarried from the Isle of Mull, while George Frampton's statue of Peter Pan, now back in the park after restoration, is a cast of the original in London's Kensington Park Gardens (there are two others in Canada and Australia).

Calderstones Park

Calderstones Park

Calderstones Park is home to Liverpool's oldest inhabitant: the 1,000-year-old Allerton Oak. The colossal figures either side of the entrance gates are Atlantes - carvings of the Titan in Greek mythology who held up the pillars of the universe - rescued from Browns Building on Water Street when it made way for the new Martins Bank headquarters in the 1930s.

Princes Park

Princes Park

The 'sunburst' gates at Princes Park were designed by James Pennethorne, architect of the ballroom at Buckingham Palace and the capital's Kennington, Victoria and Battersea Parks. Inside the park is a memorial to Judy, a donkey that died in 1926 after 21 years as 'the children's friend'.

Stanley Park, enjoying a renaissance with its own refurbished glasshouse, has a namesake in Vancouver - both after Lord Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby and Governor General of Canada.

JMU Garden, Maryland Street

JMU Garden, Maryland Street

Liverpool's urban oases...

JMU Garden, Maryland Street: where blackbirds swerve through bushes and students contemplate navels. The Guardian has hailed its 'rare serenity, with new and old buildings framed by mature ivy-clad trees, an old chapel and abandoned grotto'.

Falkner Square: one of the earliest public open spaces in the city and name-dropped in the London Evening Standard not so long ago as an area of 'grand classical early Victorian terraces which would not look out of the place in one of the country's spa towns'.

St James' Cemetery: in the shadow of the Anglican Cathedral, sited to spectacular effect in a disused quarry. Nearby St James Gardens is home to wild roses like the Burnet, Abyssinia, Damask, Tibetan and Old Blush.

St John's Gardens: the sloping terrace behind St George's Hall was laid out as terraced gardens on a former church site 100 years ago. There are several monuments to the city's great and good (among them William Gladstone) and many war memorials.

St Luke's Church

St Luke's Church

St Luke's: the 'Bombed-out Church' dominates the top of Bold Street. At the corner of Berry Street and Leece Street, it was completed in 1831 but damaged during the Second World War and now stands as a monument to peace.

Abercromby Square: slap-bang in Studentland, dating from 1800, named after Sir Ralf Abercromby (the general who defeated the French at Alexandria in Egypt) and formerly a private garden for the rich merchants who lived in the surrounding terraces.

Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas: because Nicholas is also the patron saint of seamen, it's also known as the Sailors Church. The Mersey used to reach its walls at high tide, and victims of the Plague were buried here in 1361 (but don't let that put you off your sandwiches).

Within these halls...

Knowsley: Liverpool's only genuine stately home, owned by the Stanleys (Earls of Derby) since 1385. Sits in 2,500 acres - concealed behind the country's longest parkland wall - and boasts an outstanding art collection, landscaped lake, working farm and, of course, safari park.

Childwall: built in the late 18th century upon the estate now known as Childwall Woods for the Gascoyne family of whom TV's Bamber was a descendant. Demolished in 1947, but look out for the old carriageway and sandstone steps.

Croxteth: ancenstral home of the Molyneux (Earls of Sefton), dating from 1575. The last lord died without heirs in 1972 and today it's managed by the council. Four main attractions: the Hall, Croxteth Home Farm, Victorian Walled Garden and 500-acre country park.

Broughton: off Yew Tree Lane, West Derby. Now a school, once the Gothic pile where, over a game of billiards, Gustav Schwabe (one of several Hamburg Jewish merchants who settled in Liverpool in the mid-1800s) and Thomas Ismay formed a shipping line that eventually became Cunard.

Speke: one of the best Tudor manors in Britain, a half-timbered house set in a wooded estate with fine gardens and panoramic views over the Mersey towards North Wales. Built between 1490 and 1612, formerly owned by the Norris family then sugar magnate Richard Watt.

Woolton: built for the Earls of Derby in the early 18th century, bought by the saltworks owner Nicholas Ashton (salt was Liverpool's first big export industry), then Colonel James Reynolds, then the council. Long gone, but the present Woolton Woods was part of the original estate.

'It's been said that this part of south Liverpool, in Victorian times, was one of the greatest examples of conspicuous wealth in Britain'


Old Dock: a different view
A painting. A mystery. A ping in the inbox
Learn more

Old Dock: it's about time
Happy 300th birthday to where it really all began
Learn more

Spain: art and soul
At the football, on the seafood, dodging conkers
Learn more

Somerset iron and the cinnamon river
The man who made the Shankly Gates, and other people
Learn more

All Play and No Work
Meaningfully employed - you're having a laugh
Learn more

Peel on wheels
Mind that cyclist - the Liverpool Waters juggernaut is picking up speed
Learn more

Walk on Water
Featuring winter sunsets and local wildlife
Learn more

Blue jays over Botetourt
After the tall ships, a tranquil bower of heritage in a busy American city
Learn more


All Play and No work

Peel on wheels

Walk on Water

Blue jays over Botetourt

Golden Virginia

Georgia on my mind

Strange Magic

Nurse Gosling's book of verse

Titanic 2.0

Love for sail

Bex maniacs

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Wings of desire

World cities works of art: some offcuts

World cities: some works of art

'I have no idea what other people do'

Raiders of the well looked-after Ark

Railroad blues

Blog on the grog

Did you hear that too?

A cherub astride a what?

A time to dance

Ghosts of Mount Urgull

Postcard from San Sebastian

El Camino, with knobs on

'Of the city, by the city, for the city'

Guggenheim Bilbao: as good as it gets?

Still small voice

On the waterfront

Raise the botanic

Old man of the sea

What a carve up

Gates to the city

Brand of hope and glory

Two of a kind

Kingdoms of Heaven

Green and serene

Seville for divvies

Ride a Black Swan

The pub on the beach

On Savannah and Charleston

Still chasing the birds

The Liverpolitan
Published at Brighter Design
Unit 26A, Britannia Pavilion,
Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AD

Copyright © 2011
All rights reserved.