Exclusive – Festival Gardens Dragon Destroyed.


It’s the past shapes our present

It’s easy to forget that things happened before we as individuals existed; it doesn’t seem at all real. But when we hold that evidence in our hands or look around at the buildings, monuments or ways nature has been altered for the better by man; we can understand that we are part of an ongoing timeline of events.

Things that have been done for the benefit of the environment in which we live; should be looked after. When we destroy a means to keep a level of civility and beauty in which so many have toiled to attain, as a race we reverse our standing as the responsible guardians of the planet.

Our timeline should read: we came from disorder as primates to evolve society. We utilised fire, rock, art and speech to build society. We came to understand that through nurturing others and looking after the planet and it’s animals we could keep all that we’d gained.

Anything against this, no matter has small and insignificant it seems, is a violation of our potential.

You’ll see where all of this fits in later…


Background of the site from the 60s onwards

Redeveloped from a 230 acre major waste disposal site, the International Garden Festival 1984 was to be the genesis of Liverpool’s eventual cultural and commercial renaissance.

The festival itself was the brainchild of minister for Merseyside, Michael Heseltine. He was fighting against his own party the Conservatives, and their idea that Liverpool should go into “managed decline”. Later he masterminded the regeneration of the Albert Dock.


The International Garden Festival 1984 – Dragon Winner

It was 1983 when the BBC’S long-running Blue Peter tv series launched a grand competition in readiness for the event. The competition was to design a section of the Garden Festival site under the Blue Peter banner.

Eventually 19,940 entrants made designs for the Blue Peter area at the Festival Gardens, but it was the 13-year old Theodore Gayer-Anderson whose eye-catching 35-foot red dragon, boarders and landscaping that eventually succeeded in winning the competition.

He ventured north from his Cambridge home with his parents to see his garden and dragon sculpture brought to life, along with a large Blue Peter ship which all looked proudly over the river Mersey. On the 2nd May – the day of the opening of the festival, Theo was presented along with his designs to Queen Elizabeth II.

The festival eventually came to a close on the 14th of October 1984, having attracted 3,380,000 visitors.


Pleasure Island

From the late 80’s until 1996, the festival gardens site played host to Pleasure Island – an attraction that combined amongst other things a roller rink, the world’s largest indoor play structure and a science zone. The sculptures from the 1984 garden festival remained on-site, including the red dragon slide.

When Pleasure Island closed, the festival gardens site was allowed to grow wild as there was no-one to manage it’s upkeep. Some of the sculptures were then moved, including the red sitting bull and the yellow submarine. The red dragon however remained on site and was soon shrouded in greenery from the surrounding trees and plants.


Redevelopment and restoration

It wasn’t until 2009 that plans were again drawn up for the site, with developer Langtree buying the land with the plan of restoring half of the Garden Festival site to it’s 1984 state. The rest of the site would see a residential element added by the development company. The renovated Garden Festival site opened to the public in 2012 – a year later than scheduled. This was because the contractor appointed by Langtree – Mayfield Construction, fell into administration.

According to wikipedia, the following was brought back into use:

  • Two restored pagodas in the oriental gardens
  • The restored Moon Wall
  • New lakes, waterways and waterfalls
  • New pedestrian access point linking to the promenade
  • New secure parking area

The residential element which was supposed to take up the other half of the site did not come to see the light of day. It was in this half of the overall site that Theo Gayer-Anderson’s dragon was still situated.


Vandalism

As the years had gone by the residents of Liverpool heard word of the whereabouts of the dragon. Despite this area being fenced off, people made the pilgrimage to see it and to reminisce of the time they played on the slide.

This is how it remained, until a few weeks ago when it was discovered that the dragon slide had been burnt to the ground by vandals and a viral image went around the internet as proof.

Future Liverpool contacted Theodore Gayer-Anderson to tell him of the dragon’s fate, not knowing at the time how old he was when the garden and dragon was designed. He had this to say:

Dear Christopher,

Sad news indeed.

Thank you for going to all the trouble of contacting me, that was very kind.
Thirty three years is pretty good going, he must have been one of the last survivors from the original expo and I’m glad he has provided so many people with happy memories including yourself.
I designed the dragon when i was thirteen years old and have since become a sculptor, so if you ever need a bronze phoenix….

Thanks again for letting me know.
All the best,

Theo Gayer-Anderson


Conclusion

It’s very likely that the perpetrators don’t know what they’ve done, and the dragon slide should have been protected anyway. It is therefore the case that both the vandals and Liverpool city council are responsible for it’s loss, seeing as the council have been the land owners at the time this took place. Not only this, but other important pieces of the 1984 garden festival are suffering at the hands of bad management. We will be focussing on this in another article.


Garden Suburb project

We would ask that when the new development construction gets underway at this site, that the dragon is replaced for the children of the new garden suburb.

You can see proposals for the project here.

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  • RAYMOND HANNAWAY says:

    HELLO CHRISTOPHER. MY NAME IS RAY HANNAWAY FROM THE FRIENDS OF OTTERSPOOL PARK, AND I HAVE BEEN ON A CAMPAIGN TO SAVE AND RESTORE THE RED DRAGON AND RETURN IT BACK TO THE PARK. I WAS LOOKING AT THE PROPOSAL TO BUILDING A REPLICA IN MEMORY OF THIS ICONIC PIECE OF ART WHICH GIVE A GREAT DEAL OF PLEASURE TO HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN WAY BACK IN 1984 AND I WOULD LIKE IT TO CONTINUE FOR THE NEXT GENRETION

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Posted

17th May 2017 by Chris Gibson
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