Tentative Site: Birkenhead the People’s Park 

Widely acknowledged to be the earliest purpose-built and publicly funded public park

UK Tentative List

Birkenhead the People’s Park 

Birkenhead, the People’s Park is situated in the town of Birkenhead, in the Wirral Peninsula. In public use since 1845, it is widely acknowledged to be the earliest purpose-built and publicly funded public park.

The Park was laid out in response to, and anticipation of, a rapidly growing urban population during the Industrial Revolution. It formed a key component in a much wider town planning scheme for Birkenhead, and pre-dated most of the expansion of the ‘New Town’ itself. As a pioneer public ‘urban green space’, it provided an innovative and influential model for municipally funded urban parks throughout the world.

Designed in 1844 by Joseph Paxton in the style of the English Landscape School, Birkenhead Park’s undulating parkland consists of a combination of earthworks, substantial tree stands, lakes, sinuous paths, shrubs and grassland, as well as iconic buildings and structures. The core area of historic significance is bordered by Victorian villas, in line with the original plan. Aerial views reveal how the Park’s ‘organic’ shape breaks with the grid-iron of surrounding streets, creating the sense of a picturesque ‘natural’ landscape.

Birkenhead, the People’s Park embodies unprecedented social and political values: whilst parks had generally been private estates, Birkenhead Park was open for all people, regardless of their position in society. This ‘People’s Garden’ was so revolutionary it greatly inspired F. L. Olmsted, the co-designer of New York’s Central Park, when he visited the park in 1850. The ideas and principles which the creation of Birkenhead Park embodied were so revolutionary that Olmsted took them back across the Atlantic, applying them initially in his design for Central Park, and then subsequently for many other parks throughout the United States. Birkenhead Park provides a sense of countryside in an urban conurbation – a green oasis for everyone to enjoy. It still continues to serve the social purposes for which it was created, playing an essential role in supporting the health, wellbeing, and recreational needs of its local communities and visitors.

Images © Ron Thomas

Official website

Did you know..?

Although its official opening was postponed to coincide with the opening of the nearby Morpeth Dock complex, Birkenhead Park had actually been in public use since 1845. Its official opening on 5th April 1847 received significant national press coverage and attracted people from far afield. A special train was chartered from London so that visitors from the capital could attend the event.

Today, the Park’s Grand Entrance appears as a rather huge structure standing in isolation. However, this was not the original intention. Paxton’s plan envisaged large Victorian villas and terraces being built on either side of it. Unfortunately, these were not realised, largely due to a period of economic crisis in the second half of the 19th century, and the land was instead absorbed as additional parkland.

The Rockery is one of the original features of Birkenhead Park, being designed to give the illusion and feel of an alpine landscape. It was created using excavated rock from nearby Birkenhead docks. This stunning feature has withstood the test of time with many thousands of children having climbed over it in the past 175 years. One of them was Sandy Irvine who lived next to the Park at 56 Park Road South. In 1924, he took part in the British Everest Expedition, where he tragically disappeared attempting to reach the summit.


Location: The Wirral, North West England

Country: England, United Kingdom

Year of Inscription:

UNESCO Criteria: (i) it represents a masterpiece of human creative genius; (ii) it exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; (iv) it is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history

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For more information about Birkenhead the People’s Park , visit the website