Today, 12th April, one of Liverpool’s most mysterious doors opened to the public for the first time in several generations.
I have haunted Calderstones Park in South Liverpool for many years. Walking round and running along its pathways, taking children sledging on its snowy hills and reading and reflecting in its English and Japanese Gardens. For the past twelve years I’ve even had my own ‘memorial’ bench in the English Garden. So I feel a little like a member of the place.
But not all of it. Because right in the middle of Calderstones is the Mansion House. A leftover memory from long before Calderstones became a public park. A private space in a public place. Appearing to be occasionally used as overspill offices for City Council departments. But nothing to do with us, year on year, as generations grew up, used to this gap in our landscape.
Well the gap in our perceptions is about to be filled in. Our exclusion from the Calderstones Mansion House is about to end. Because this Friday and this Saturday, 12th And 13th April, the door will be opening to let us in.
This Friday and Saturday the Calderstones Mansion House comes back to life. And I’ve been inside to take a look at what’s happening and what might be happening soon.
My guide is Bridget Waters from The Reader Organisation. She lets me in and we go through to the sunny south-west facing front room, to drink tea and talk about the house and the future.
I’ve brought some maps with me, going back to the 1840s, and we trace how this band of solid merchant’s houses and surrounding estates dominated this area of Liverpool during the 19th century. Bridget fills in more detail:
“Once one of Liverpool’s most stunning Merchant Palaces, this important Mansion House and collection of other Grade II listed buildings was developed in 1828 by a lead shot manufacturer. Later passing into the possession of the MacIver family (owners of the world famous Cunard Line), the buildings were taken into Local Authority ownership in 1902.
During the Second World War, the Mansion House was used by the armed forces Holidays At Home scheme, designed to boost morale by providing short breaks away from the stress of war. A covered stage was added to the rear of The Mansion House, turning the enclosed garden behind into an outdoor theatre space, which was well used and loved by the local community until the 1970s when the theatre closed.”
Bridget also tells me they’ve recently been contacted by someone whose parents’ wedding reception was the last to be held here in 1970 – and someone else who had her 16th birthday party here in 1966.
First cup of tea finished, Bridget shows me round.
‘These will all be gone by the Open Days’ Bridget tells me, with a steely glint in her eyes. (And indeed they were.)
Then we get to the back of the stage she was talking about earlier.
Back inside and up the stairs.
Then down into the cellar.
Now I’ve shown you all these pictures not believing for a minute that all of these rooms, and the many more you haven’t seen, will be able to be opened on the Open Days. I know for a fact that Friday and Saturday will be about the ground floor spaces, and splendid they are. But I wanted to give you a hint of an idea of the extent and the quality of what is here, so you can help with imagining what it might be. Because that’s our next job, should you choose to join in.
Back in the sunny front room, with another cup of tea, Bridget tells me about The Reader Organisation, what they do and what their ideas are for here at Calderstones.
” Well obviously we’re about reading, in fact we’re about a Reading Revolution. Starting in Liverpool and Birkenhead ten years ago we’re now running our Get Into Reading groups throughout Britain, Northern Ireland and even internationally . In libraries, schools, children’s centres, prisons, health centres, community centres (including Homebaked Community Bakery in Anfield), anywhere we can to help people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities connect with great literature and each other. And it’s not just about the literature. We believe, and we’re backing it up with our research, that reading, especially aloud and in groups, is good for people’s well-being in all sorts of ways. Friendships, confidence, happiness and measurable life changes being brought about by people sitting in groups and reading together.”
I’ll write more about this when we revisit The Reader Organisation for the Open Days themselves. Plus you can come to the Open Days yourself and find out more, even participate in a ‘Get into reading’ session yourself. I know I will.
I’ll also tell you more about their Big Idea. Which is that the Calderstones Mansion and the other Grade II listed buildings around it be developed into the ‘International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing.’ This would provide reading activities, including an annual Literary Liverpool Festival. It would create jobs through social enterprise activities including residential reading events and the ‘Food for Thought’ bistro. And of course, it would celebrate the heritage of these beautiful buildings, re-opening The Garden Theatre and maybe even providing a decent home, at last, for our wonderful neolithic (as in, older than Stonehenge) Calderstones.
But what do you think? What do you want to happen at the buildings in Calderstone’s? That’s one of the reasons for these Open Days. To find out what we all think. As Jane Davis, founder and director of The Reader Organisation says:
“We understand that The Mansion House is a much loved Liverpool landmark – we love it too! Our vision is to create a space where everyone is welcome to read, learn, play, make new friends and find new opportunities.
We’re really looking forward to welcoming people into The Mansion House for the first time to connect with us at Calderstones. So from 10am to 3pm on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th April please come and talk to us and help create the future of the buildings in Calderstones together.
- Free shared reading taster sessions
- Free children’s Story Time sessions and fun craft activities
- Tea and cake
- Books and bric-a-brac stall
- Calderstones Memory Wall
- Lively conversations
- And live music on the forecourt, on Friday 12th April from 1pm to 2pm.”
And of course, for probably the first time in your life, you get into the house. And you wouldn’t want to miss that would you? See you there.
And so today the Mansion House opened.
And it will be open again tomorrow, Saturday, 10:00 ’til 3:00. Don’t miss this chance.
Hear The Reader Organisation talking about The Mansion House and the Open Days here on BBC Radio Merseyside:
The Reader Organisation emerged from a competitive process with Preferred Bidder Status for The Mansion House, Coach House and Stable Yard buildings from Liverpool City Council in January 2013. They are now working with Liverpool City Council and other partners to develop their plans and, following these Open Days, will begin running activities from The Mansion House in May.
You can get to Calderstones on the 86 and 86A bus to Mather Avenue or the 76 to Menlove Avenue. If driving there is a car park off Calderstones Road and another one off Yew Tree Road.
Any queries about the Open Days contact Sophie Povey at The Reader Organisation on 0151 207 7207 or at firstname.lastname@example.org