The People’s Garden

A postcard of a drawing of Birkenhead Park representing a group of people in front of the park’s main gates i
Postcard from Glyn Holden’s collection

"all this magnificent pleasure-ground is entirely, unreservedly, and for ever the people's own"

F. L. Olmsted on his first visit to Birkenhead Park, 1850

When it officially opened in 1847, Birkenhead Park was the first park in Britain to be purpose-built for the entire population. It was funded by public money, and made freely accessible for everyone to enjoy – not just the wealthiest. In the rapidly growing industrial town, the idea of creating a park where the barriers of social class, age, colour and creed were non-existent, was a real innovation. So revolutionary that it became a pioneer in the development of public parks across the world.

The Opening of the Park

The park began to be visited extensively by the public from summer of 1845. However, its grand opening was delayed until Easter Monday, 5 April 1847, in order to maximise the impact of unveiling simultaneously both the park and the newly completed 'immense docks'.

The People's Garden

The term the 'People's Garden' was first used as early as 1850. It was coined by Frederick Law Olmsted – the American landscape architect, journalist, and social critic – on a visit to the park. He was amazed what he saw, stating that “the poorest British peasant is as free to enjoy it in all its parts as the British Queen.”

A Fortuitous Visit

In 1850, an American man called F. L. Olmsted visited the park following the recommendation of a local baker. The ideas and principles embodied in Birkenhead Park were so revolutionary that he took them back across the Atlantic, applying them initially in his design for Central Park New York, and then for many other parks across the United States.

A Public Park Pioneer

Birkenhead Park was designed as a place where the barriers of social class, age, and colour were non-existent. At the time, such an idea wasn’'t just innovative – it was revolutionary. The park offered a patch of natural beauty in the midst of an urban environment that the working classes could enjoy alongside the well-to-do.

Postcard from Glyn Holden’s collection

The People's Grand Tour of Europe

The Park's designer, Joseph Paxton, created a place which replicated the countryside, while at the same time incorporating an assortment of features such as lodges, bridges, and a boathouse. His idea was to create Birkenhead’'s equivalent of the 'Grand Tour', where visitors could imagine travelling through western Europe by simply strolling in the park.

During the Second World War, air raid shelters were built in the park to protect the population

A Community Asset

Birkenhead Park has been open to the public for almost two centuries and has seen more than its fair share of local history. It has adapted to every situation, from wars, to epidemics and pandemics, and social crisis. Throughout history, it has proved that it continues to serve the social purpose for which it was created.

Birkenhead Park 172nd anniversary © Ron Thomas

The People’s Garden Today

In 2022, we celebrate 175 years of Birkenhead Park being the People's Garden. That original vision of a public park that is free to use by all members of society, remains our guiding principle. Today, the park gates are open all year-round, welcoming everybody to the People's Garden, just as they have for the past two centuries.

Do you want to learn more about the park over the years?

Historical Timeline

Find out more about the park's history

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