Paxton 150 conference to look to past and future

The life and legacy of Victorian gardener Joseph Paxton still holds lessons for 21st-century parks management, audience members at the Paxton 150 conference will hear when the event opens.

People's Park, Halifax, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1856 and restored through HLF funding. Image: Jan Woudstra
People's Park, Halifax, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1856 and restored through HLF funding. Image: Jan Woudstra

This year is the 150th anniversary of the death of the gardener, famed for designing The Crystal Palace and for his work as head gardener at Chatsworth. Many gardens around the country also bear his stamp, and he was the founder of The Gardeners' Chronicle - which later became Horticulture Week.

The Paxton 150 conference, which takes place at the University of Sheffield on 11 - 12 September, has been organised in conjunction with the Landscape Institute and supported by the National Trust, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It will present research carried out over the last 20 years as part of Heritage Lottery Fund's programme of parks regeneration, and provide a forum to discuss the future of parks in the UK.

Conference organiser Dr Jan Woudstra said Paxton's work has particular relevance in today's financial climate because "he went through difficult times as well".

Paxton was responsible for the planning and construction of Birkenhead Park, the first park in England to be publicly funded. Paxton hired Edward Kemp as superintendent, but a lack of money meant he could not be paid, Woudstra explained.

"Kemp said he would remain there and do it for free as long as he could stay in his house and be in charge. But he needed income so he started his garden design practice." Disagreements eventually led to Kemp being turned out.

Paxton worked hard to improve the world, Woudstra said. "He wasn't just a narrow landscape designer - he looked at the issues from a much larger perspective. He had big plans for London, dealing with the pollution there and trying to create an environment without being choked by smoke."

Interest has come from all quarters, from local authorities and head gardeners to academics.

"One of our intentions was to get all these people together. We don't really talk to each other, there's so little communication between the different groups which is probably why so little research - which has often been done at great expense - has been shared."

Papers which are being presented at the conference for the first time, and others which couldn't be included, will be incorporated into a book due out around the end of 2016.

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