Why is a road in a Bristol suburb named after a park in Liverpool?
I grew up in Crosby on Merseyside, so it’s always puzzled me how Sefton Park Road in Bristol got its name. Why would it be named after a Liverpool park? I live in the next road so I’m reminded of the question most days.
Thanks to the world wide web, it can be quite simple to find the answer to questions like this. So I did some searching, confident that all would be revealed. But my confidence was misplaced. It seemed that the question hadn’t been asked before. Or if it had, an answer hadn’t made its way onto the web. Frustrating, but it made the challenge more interesting.
So I thought I’d ask the question on Twitter – people are still better at generating ideas than search engines. And Twitter had an idea.
Stumble into Grace
A helpful person called @amias suggested that there was a connection to WG Grace, the Victorian cricketing legend. This seemed a possibility. The Bristol County Ground, home to Gloucestershire County Cricket, backs onto Sefton Park Road. In the 1890s when the road was built, Gloucestershire cricket was WG Grace.
And I knew that WG had lived within chucking distance of the County Ground in a house called Ashley Grange. Also a lot of the road names in the area have cricketing connections – Lancashire, Nottingham and Surrey Roads are all named after great cricketing counties.
So, armed with the WG Grace idea, I went back to searching online. The first thing I discovered was that Sefton Park in Liverpool is actually home to a cricket club, a club with a long history. And indeed the club’s website reports that in 1877 WG Grace captained a South of England cricket side against a local Sefton and District side.
Wow! So there was a real connection between Sefton Park in Liverpool and Ashley Down in Bristol, where the road is. Interesting.
But why Sefton Park? As I’ve said, lots of local roads have cricketing names. But, with respect to the Liverpool club, they seemed the odd one out amongst roads named after county sides.
A bit about WG Grace
At this point it might help to know a bit about WG Grace. He was the premier sporting hero of his day. At a time when professional football was in its infancy, cricket ruled. And WG Grace ruled cricket. He was described as arguably ‘the most famous man in England’.
In Gloucestershire, cricket was the Grace family. Grace’s father Henry founded Gloucestershire Cricket Club in the 1840s, and in 1889 WG bought the County Ground, home to Gloucestershire County Cricket.
So my theory at this point was that WG had the road named in memory of his performance at Sefton Park in Liverpool. Maybe he’d even owned the land that the roads were built on, which had given him a say in their naming?
The theory was slightly dented by the fact that WG Grace had performed much greater cricketing feats than beating a local Liverpool team. And indeed the club website records that the match winner was not WG, but a player called GF Grace. My theory was looking a bit flimsy.
A few days later I thought it might be useful to find out more about GF Grace, the Sefton Park matchwinner. And it turned out that he was actually WG’s younger brother George Frederick. Known to everyone as Fred, he was WG’s favourite.
Tragically, Fred died young. In 1880, three years after the Sefton Park game, he played in his first, and only, match for England. He caught a chill from standing in the damp field. The chill developed into pneumonia and he died aged just 29 years old. The match was against Australia at the Oval.
The Oval – that rang a bell. I’d read something about the Oval in my research.
Lancashire Road, Nottingham Road and Surrey Road – they aren’t the only roads in the area whose names have a cricketing origin.
Kennington Avenue, which runs parallel to Sefton Park Road. Kennington Avenue, which sandwiches the Gloucestershire Cricket ground with Sefton Park Road.
Kennington Avenue is named after the Kennington Oval!
Holy Moly! I felt a sudden moment of clarity, of revelation.
WG Grace didn’t name Sefton Park Road after his own sporting success in Liverpool. He’d named the two roads – Sefton Park and Kennington Avenue – in memory of his dead brother!
Sefton Park Road for the ground in Liverpool where Fred won the cricket match for the South of England team. And Kennington Avenue for the ground where his favourite brother caught his death of pneumonia three years later!
Making that connection felt quite intense. It was like seeing something that no-one had seen or known for 100 years. A piece of local history revealing itself before my eyes.
Fact or fiction?
Of course it might not be true! The facts seem to fit, but it’s just a theory.
Sefton Park Road and Kennington Road were built in 1893, I think.
Given the amount of cricketing street names in the area, it looks like Gloucestershire Cricket Club played a part in naming them. And WG Grace and his brothers were Gloucestershire Cricket Club at the time.
Anyway, it’s a good story. And the idea that WG Grace named the roads in memory of favourite brother makes me smile. So, if you do have evidence that it’s not true, maybe don’t tell me!
The road’s architect / builder / somebody had a Liverpool connection and a thing for Liverpool parks. This row of houses is on Stanley Road, a cul-de-sac off Sefton Park Road.
Sources and thanks
Dedicated to the memory of Colin Cushion, who loved cricket almost as much as Liverpool FC – no-one’s perfect. A lovely man who spent many a day watching Gloucestershire at the County Ground.
Thanks to all on Twitter who responded to my question.
@brizmiz for Stanley Park tip-off.
Know Your Place – a brilliant resource for historic maps of Bristol.
Alan Godfrey Maps – Historic Ordnance Survey maps.