Walton Park Cemetery and Rice Lane City Farm, 19th February 2023

It’s been nearly eight years since we were last here, not sure why.  The land that is now Walton Park Cemetery was once the Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, then became the burial place of the poor who died in Liverpool and Walton Workhouse hospitals. It is consecrated ground, not available for development, so part of it is the city farm and the rest is recreational woodland.  Some old graves still line the two main paths.

The small birds were getting busy, including Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Long-tailed Tits, a Coal Tit and some Chaffinches feeding on the ground. Robins were singing and a Wren flashed across the path. Magpies flew between the distant trees and a Sparrowhawk cruised overhead. The woodland is mostly Oak and Ash with an understory of coppiced Hazel, Holly and Ivy. Bluebell leaves were pushing up everywhere and there were large patches of Snowdrops.

There was a row of very old gravestones laid flat next to the woodland path. The oldest commemorated “Henery son of Henery Tyrer died September ye 18th 1746”. The parents and another sister and brother are recorded as dying in 1758, 1766 and 1767.

The most famous grave is that of the socialist author Robert Tressell, who wrote The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists. He died of TB in 1911 and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave along with 12 others.  The location of his grave was re-discovered in the 1970s and is now marked with a large stone under an overhanging Hazel. Flowers and tubs of plants are still being left in his memory.

His grave is near to the back entrance gate on Hornby Road, opposite Liverpool prison, with the old Walton Gaol buildings standing like a castle keep beyond the modern prison walls.

Scattered in amongst the Victorian graves are some of the simple markers of fallen WWI soldiers put up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Unusually, there are also about a dozen Dutch War Graves from WWII, clustered in a neatly-mown area next to the farm pastures. They seem to have been naval labourers originating from the Far East (Indonesians?), and appear to have had only one name. A Commonwealth grave is there too, to a “fireman and trimmer” (= stoker) called Ali Mohamed, whose stone bears wonderful Arabic calligraphy.

Dutch war graves
CWGC gravestone, Muslim and Arabic.

There is a newly-planted orchard, and the labels on the saplings promise Pear, Apple, Cherry and Damson. When the sun came out around lunchtime we spotted a Red Admiral butterfly on the wing, which must have been tempted out of hibernation by the spell of warm weather. The rare-breed Ryeland sheep are all expecting lambs in April.

After lunch we went into the farmyard, observing their boot-disinfection measures to protect against bird flu. The poultry are all enclosed, as they were at Tam O’Shanter last week. They have some chickens, doves and Guinea Fowl as well as the sheep, pigs, a pony and a donkey. The two Saanen goats (sisters called Iris and Daffodil) have been given some old children’s playground equipment to climb on, and I wondered if this one was going to slide!

We left the farm and took the short footpath along the railway line to the residential street also called Walton Park, crossed Rice Lane and went into the little park on the corner of Evered Avenue by the old Library. A tree there was just bursting into flower. This must be Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera, which has the first white blossom of spring, blooming a couple of weeks before Blackthorn. Cherry Plum flowers have stalks (as these do) while Blackthorn flowers don’t, apparently. I have never inspected Blackthorn closely enough and I ought to do.

I heard last week that pundits think this will be an excellent spring for all types of blossom, as the weather conditions have been just right. The Quince bush in my front garden seems to be living up to those expectations.

Public transport details: Bus 21 (to Northwood) from Queen Square at 10.05, arriving Rice Lane / Rawcliffe Road at 10.25. We all returned on different buses from Rice Lane / Fazakerley Road at about 2.20

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