A “hidden oasis” with a ballroom built for Queen Victoria is still governed by a document dating back almost 200 years.
Only the odd siren cuts through the trees separating Fulwood Park from the hubbub of Aigburth Road, Jericho Lane and Riverside Drive. In an area of mostly Victorian terraced houses just south of Sefton Park, the half-mile stretch of private road starts at the Fulwood Arms pub, passing between two pillars by a gatehouse, and down the cul de sac home to some of the biggest houses in Liverpool, many hidden behind walls, gates and hedges.
With Otterspool Prom just across the road from a gate at the far end, Karen Amoudry, who grew up in Norfolk, described it as “the closest [she’ll] get to living in the country while living in the city”. The 45-year-old told the ECHO: “When you come around the corner at the top, it just feels like peace. You can’t hear the traffic or anything. All you can hear is the trees and the birds. ”
Houses stocked with sculptures, portraits and marble fireplaces were once home to wealthy merchants and cultural elites including Charles Groves, the musical director of Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Quentin Hughes, an architect who campaigned to save many of Liverpool’s historic building and helped the city achieve world heritage site status.
Properties also served as a children’s hospital, an old people’s home, and the French consulate, where Elsie Carney, a 75-year-old who lives next door, remembers fleets of cars arriving for meetings. One house even has a Japanese-style ballroom reportedly built to host Queen Victoria, or another senior royal, who never visited.
Elsie, who worked for the NHS and lived on Aigburth Road, “never knew this road was here” until she plus her builder husband “came for a little nose down the road” when their current house was up for auction 40 years ago. Then a two-bedroom house with a stable, it was “a wreck” before they renovated it.
The oldest houses, some of which are listed buildings, date back to 1840 when merchants William and Alexander Smith split Fulwood Farm, formed during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century, into smaller plots to sell. Four houses were built in the first decade with 29 constructed by 1894.
Since then, stables and coach houses have been converted into homes, mansions have been split into flats, and smaller, modern homes have been built in the gardens of grand villas. There are more cars on the street, and fewer kids out playing, than when Elsie has been raising her two.
But since the park’s creation, the particular Fulwood Park Proprietors Association has tried to preserve the street’s “quality”. Residents, that pay an annual fee associated with £250 towards maintenance, elect a board of trustees who maintain the road plus enforce the park’s founding agreement from 1840.
Properties must only be used as dwelling houses, new properties must be no more than two stories plus an attic, and residents get to vote on whether to approve development plans. They recently allowed the particular conversion of a Methodist old people’s home into five dwellings, with the developers paying £25, 000 to the trustees to allow the project along with stringent conditions.
Sitting at the dining table, watching two squirrels case each other beneath a mulberry tree in the garden of his 1970s home, the association’s secretary, Tim Ward, explained conversations around the agreement’s enforcement as “fantasy court rulings”. One person even made the “alarming” threat to “seek redress” if the association cut their hedge.
Some residents hinted at rumours of a suspicious death and organised crime inside Fulwood Park’s past, but the “controversies” handled by the Proprietors Association are related to ‘missing cat’ posters, dog dirt, “suspicious” people or “abandoned” cars on the street, requests to trim trees, non-payment of the annual fee and Airbnb.
Tim, who mends clocks in his spare time, files all the disputes, requests and complaints in a folder on his computer labelled “Issues”. The 77-year-old, who moved here from London after retiring from his civil service IT job, said: “There are hundreds of them. You wouldn’t believe a road is as complicated. Well, you would, of course , if you’ve seen EastEnders. ”
For regular occupants like Karen, who isn’t on the committee, life under the association isn’t noticeably different than on a street maintained by the council “because the road does get swept plus there are street lights”. But , she said: “If there’s a problem, the people we’re bringing it up with are our neighbours, who can see the problem for themselves.
“If someone said there aren’t enough street lights, we’d all have a think about it. For some things, there are ballots, like with the developer’s plan for the particular Methodist home, we all had to approve it. In that sense, it’s quite nice because you’ve got a bit more control over your environment and we’re not dependent on council budgets, or lack thereof. ”
The street still has three of its original villas, with a collection of more recent structures built in the last century, including a bungalow now derelict and overgrown. Five houses were built on “wasteland”, and another four two-story houses, each with its own private garden, were constructed at Fulwood Close, part way down the Park.
Karen uses her garden to grow raspberries and vegetables, while a neighbour keeps chickens along with bees producing honey with “amazingly different tastes” each season. Behind those is a communal garden where “kids are always running around with their dog”, an area Karen described as “a real sanity saver” during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Dogs are perhaps the most social aspect of life here. Karen said a neighbour, who else died last year, bought a dog after her husband associated with 50 years passed, walked down the street and said, “I’ve lived here 50 years and met people I didn’t know”.
The street has a fireworks party and it has run a bonfire night celebration a couple of times before stopping due to the damage it caused to the host’s lawn. The festivities three years ago even led to the fire brigade arriving in order to extinguish a burning log after a taxi toppled the particular wheelbarrow holding it.
Despite the space separating one house from the next, neighbours feel they can ask one another for help, according to Karen. She and a neighbour look after each other’s dogs when they’re away, and Karen let that neighbour stay with her for two weeks whilst they recuperated from a knee replacement surgery. Karen said: “This is the friendliest city I’ve ever been to. People are lovely. ”
Fulwood Park has an air of grandeur and wealth, with a flat sold for nearly £1m last year, and smaller two or three bed properties going for half that. Although the street is popular with barristers, business people and doctors, its residents also include people on benefits and people worried about the rising cost of living.
Karen, which worked at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Liverpool with her husband, pointed to the large rear windows flooding the living room with light as she said: “We’re going to be getting some very thick curtain shortly because it will save us a fortune on the electric which has just gone up again. It’s scary. ”
She knows she’s lucky these people “don’t have to worry about tightening our own belts too much” and they still have “frivolities” left to cut but she’s still anxious about rising energy bills.
The value of houses doesn’t necessarily reflect the circumstances of people living in them. Some of the properties were “derelict” whenever Emma’s engineer dad bought one there and did it up 46 years ago. By the early 1990s, “people were coming up from London trying to buy them, putting notes through the door saying, ‘We want to buy your own house'”. Prices have since continued to soar.
Emma, a primary school teacher, said she wouldn’t be able to buy the house if she hadn’t inherited it. The girl described the house as “lovely” but “totally impractical”, telling the ECHO: “It still makes me laugh when people walk in and gasp, ‘Oh my god, my whole house could fit in your hall’, and you just go, ‘Yeah, it costs a fortune to heat’. We just walk around in jumpers because we can’t heat it. ”
Tim said: “It’s wrong to assume that, if you live in Fulwood Park, you must have a lot of money, because that’s not really true. You might live in one of the stables, the coach houses, the flats or among the newbuilds. It’s a very nice street, it’s a lovely place to live. But it’s not uniformly Millionaires’ Row. ”