So another springtime reliably arrives in Walton Hall Park in North Liverpool. Nothing special, just an ordinary miracle? Well maybe not. For reasons we’ll be coming to back to, in 2015 this was looking like it could be one of the grand park’s final springtimes.
But to tell the full story of a day’s long and intensely photographed walk let’s begin in another park a couple of miles and most of my lifetime away.
Over there next to Diana Street, the place where I was born. Many of my baby days would be spent in here, the park at the end of the road.
We’ll be returning to the territorial greed of Premier League football clubs a little later.
We’ll be returning to them too.
“I stand in the window and marvel every other Saturday at the thousands of people walking down our street to get into the ground. Goodison would hold over 70,000 in those days and I can still remember the footsteps thundering past our front window and the roar of the place. My Dad rarely went there though because he supported Liverpool and taught me from very early on that I supported them too. I still do.”
With me is one of the ‘big girls’ from the house we shared. I wish I could tell you her name, but I don’t remember now.
Past the ground, telling the story of Everton.
And I did come to see them play often in those early days, Liverpool supporter or not, in days when football was accessible to the people who lived around the ground.
Even now, the only games I don’t want Everton to win are the ones against Liverpool.
And it has to be said they have behaved better than Liverpool in their both wanting new grounds. Liverpool dithered for years about moving to Stanley Park or expanding where they are. And so contributed greatly to the blighting of their neighbourhood. Everton, on the other hand simply said they wanted to find somewhere new.
In the later 1950s me and my family joined the exodus of many from the inner city and moved to the northern suburbs. Maghull, where we went, was a semi-rural sort of new town with lots of open space to grow up in. But I never lost my love and fascination for these streets I’m walking today. So as soon as my growing was done, I came back.
This is in 1975 and a big DHSS office stood where those new houses are.
The flat was from an estate agents called Thomas and Jones, but when the rent book turned up it said ‘Liver Housing Association.’ This in the days when many estate agents were taking advantage of the new 1974 Housing Act’s generous public funding and setting up their own housing associations. We knew about housing associations as my girlfriend worked in one, Liverpool Improved Houses – and I already knew I wanted to work in another, Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT). Both of these being ‘proper’ in our view. But more, much more on the history of social housing another day.
For now let’s look round my old neighbourhood.
And am surprised but nevertheless delighted to see that it now actually is a hotel where you can stay and seems to be thriving.
It always was called the ‘Top House’ by all of us who went there, though it used to say ‘The Walton’ outside.
Morning’s I’d go round to Pete’s for a lift in his battered but thrilling Lotus Cortina. Praying it wouldn’t be one of the days Pete would say ‘Let’s go on the bike!’ Wheeling out his tandem for us both to pedal for dear life from here to Falkner Square in Liverpool 8!
But now, let’s go over to the other park on this walk.
All my life I’ve needed a local park. To play in, to breathe in, to walk around and dream in. And in these middle 1970s it was this one, Walton Hall Park.
Though I always say I was born in Diana Street because that was where I first lived, my physical getting born happened in Walton Hospital. Sadly gone now, though the tower of the place remains.
While South Liverpool is often celebrated for its ring of great parks, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the North here also has the great open spaces of Newsham, Stanley and Walton Hall Parks. Together with the ‘new’ park at Everton.
Well it’s all about Everton FC you see. Another one of Liverpool’s football clubs thinking about moving onto another one of our parks. Having not moved to the King’s Dock and then not moved to Kirby Town Centre in the last decade or so, Everton have now been talking to Liverpool City Council about moving to a large part of here. Not all of here mind. But the rest would become housing and other new developments. So no Walton Hall Park any more.
There has been vigorous opposition and I’m not sure where things are up to. But it’s one of the reasons I’m taking this nostalgic walk. In case I wouldn’t be able to soon. The other reason is that the ‘vigorous opposition’ have asked me to. To take one of my gentle walks around and see what I think?
And I’m immediately thinking that things here are not as in other Liverpool parks.
Much of the park is completely without the careful planting I asked you to note back in Stanley Park. And there are no park benches. Not one. I looked hard because I wanted somewhere to sit and have my lunch.
And as I sat here to eat I thought some more about Walton Hall Park and what seems to be going on.
I don’t know this as a Council confirmed fact. Only with the evidence of my own eyes. Within the last month I have spent time walking and sitting in Greenback, Sefton, Princes, Calderstones, Newsham and Stanley Parks. And every one of them is looking more cherished and planted than this.
If people can’t sit in a place, then less people will come to it. If a park contains no planted up gardens, also less people will come to it. And if less people come to it, then someone soon will say ‘The people don’t want it.’ And then the plans of the authorities and the developers will be visited upon it it – like they may well have planned by their careful running down of the place in the first place.
I walk on.
Then, oh thank you, the promised ‘sunny interval’ happens and everything looks suddenly sunnier.
As I’ve walked around I’ve been noticing that, large as Walton Hall Park is, it’s surrounded by housing with many gates and pathways to get in.
So I wouldn’t say the densely populated area is over supplied with parks.
Next I find my memory wasn’t fooling me when I’d thought there was some sort of ‘animals place’ back in the 1970s.
Yes having had my first course on that collapsed piece of stone an hour or so back on the other side of the park, it’s now time for dessert.
Prepared for me by Sarah and carefully and separately packed so I could assemble it all here. Get me, gentrifying Walton Hall Park all on my own.
I could actually catch the 68 bus back home from here. But the walk’s not quite circular yet and therefore vaguely incomplete.
Crowded this particular Sunday afternoon with people watching Liverpool shockingly lose their FA Cup semi-final to Aston Villa.
I did come here when I lived nearby, of course I did. Though I never particularly took to the place. Always seemed a bit bleak in those days.
Apparently by Premier League standards these are reasonable?
A wonderful walk and a lovely day in the North Liverpool fields and streets where I come from. My once and always birthplace.