A Day In The Park

Childhood Memories Of Life In Wallasey’s Green Oasis

Written by Margaret O’Reilly in 1990

My very earliest outdoor childhood memory is of an aviary full of parrots and cockatoos in Wallasey’s Central Park, and I sometimes wonder if I imagined the whole thing, because in the whole of my life I have never met another living soul who remembers it!

“Aviary? What Aviary?” people ask. But there was one, really there was, albeit in the less-frequented region of the park, the Canterbury Road end, and in 1920 or thereabouts my sister used to wheel me in my pushchair to visit it. By the time I was old enough to go to the park under my own steam, aviary and colourful occupants had been replaced by a flower-bed. But it really had existed.

The thing about Central Park was its space. There was plenty of room for children, many of whose homes, even in better-class areas of Wallasey, boasted only a backyard. The shore was good, but you were dependent on the rhythm of the tide, whereas Central Park afforded a whole day of unbroken freedom.

Most popular of its many attractions was the lake. Picturesquely sited in an oval of small tree-clad hills, it offered tadpoles in the spring and minnows in the summer, and a couple of hundred children could easily be accommodated, squatting purposefully round its shallow perimeter.

It was safer that it’s only rival, the Captain’s Pit in Hose Side Road, which had steep vertical sides. A child who fell in there – and I saw this happen several times – could never climb out unaided, and invariably panicked.

Armed with penny or twopenny nets and jam-jars with string handles, Wallasey’s young fisher-persons could pass a blissful morning at the park lake. As well as minnows or tadpoles, there were caddis-worms in their tubular homes made of scraps of this and that skillfully glued together. There was also a rarer fish, much bigger than a minnow, with a red stomach. For some reason these were known as ‘doctors’. I only once caught one, and the park-keeper took it away from me and threw it back in the water.

“It’ll only die if you take it home!” he said. Actually it mightn’t have. My mother had sunk a roasting tin in the garden for me, and many of my catches lived for quite a long time on a diet of bread-crumbs and minced beef.

Next in popularity to the lake came the playground, where various types of apparatus tested our agility. New kinds were added from time to time. There was no hooliganism. No gangs of teenage bullies threatened us. The park-keepers were too numerous and too vigilant for that. There was also, apart from the odd toffee paper, virtually no litter, and I remember no graffiti at all.

I can’t recall the exact year when a new playground was opened at the bottom of Wallacre Road, in Wallasey Village, Liscard, Egremont and Poulton children longed to sample to attractions, but wondered if the locals would resent us. Timidly, we ventured to find out.

We needn’t have worried. For the first few weeks it was intensely crowded, you had to wait your turn at everything, but no hostility was shown us. The apparatus was all new and exciting, and the change of scene exhilarated us, with its view across Bidston Moss. But presently the novelty wore off, and we returned to our familiar stamping-ground.

The art school, formerly Liscard Hall, residence of Sir John Tobin drew us to press our noses against the windows to view what lay within, but because of some trick of light we were rarely able to see anything but our own reflections. We never gave up trying, though!

Round the back of the school, hidden in the shrubbery, was the original coach-house. This was off limits, but we couldn't resist exploring the ramifications of sinister high-hedged paths, always with a wary eye open for the park-keepers.

Actually there were remarkably tolerant and helpful, and in the event of minor accidents could be seen escorting the injured party to Casualty at Victoria Central Hospital, conveniently sited next door.

Various large grassed areas were ideal for ball games or kite-flying, though personally I never got a kite into the air from the park, finding the Breck better for this purpose. On Saturdays you could usually find a football or hockey match going on somewhere in the park. Tennis courts and bowling greens did not interest us youngsters, but they were there, and beautifully kept up.
I never remember actually seeing the bandstand in use, but I suppose it must have been.

Fun in the park inevitably brought hunger pangs, and at this point I will let you into a secret which I concealed from my mother all through my youth! Two shops within handy reach of the park, one in Liscard Road, the other in Mill Lane, sold a highly desirable commodity known as ‘a pennorth of broken biscuits’. Now the purchase and consumption of this delicacy was considered by parents like mine to be decidedly infra dig, so it was with a delicious feeling of dare-devilish guilt that I searched the penny ‘poke’, as the triangular bad was called, for the unvarying treasure trove hidden among the predominating plain bit – one small piece of chocolate biscuit and half a custard cream! Forbidden fruit, and all the sweeter for that!

Many years later, I told my mother about the broken biscuits. She was amazed.

“But you could have taken some from home”, she pointed out, “we always had chocolate biscuits, and you never asked for custard creams!”

I couldn't make her understand the magic of that penny poke!

Once a year, on the day of the annual Gala in July, the park really came into its own! Heats for the various competitive sporting events were held at the schools during the preceding weeks, and on the day you were on the touchline cheering for your own team. Then there were the stalls, the coconut shies, the fairground, and over it all the haunting, unique sound, only heard in museums today, of the steam organs, It’s all pop now! But those old steam organs generated blood-stirring excitement, as also did the figures on the merry-go-rounds which moved in rigid time to the music – soldiers brandishing swords, fairies waving wands. There’s nothing like it nowadays.

Even then there was only one comparable sound, on a smaller scale – that of the band-organs which parked in side streets, each complete with a monkey trained to accept money and drop it into the organ-grinder’s hat. Dressed in a cap and jacket, the poor little things looked hot in summer, cold in winter and frightened all the time. The practice would be frowned on today.

Late at night, the Gala was finished off with a firework display, and that was the end for another year! As with Christmas, I used to wonder if the year would ever pass!

The schools went back on the Monday nearest to the 20th August. After that, the park was left to toddlers and their mums, and pensioners sitting in the rose-gardens under the Autumn sun, dreaming perhaps of their minnow and see-saw days!

A day in the park! The carefree pleasure of it is with me still!