Public Benches – Who Is Responsible?

Disclaimer

The following is an individual viewpoint expressed by a Society member and may not fully represent the collective views or opinions of The Wirral Society.

Photograph of The Pines, West Kirby Hill, Wirral
‘The Pines’ to locals – ‘Little Italy’ to one or two others…

The Wirral Peninsula is home to some stunning views; with two contrasting riversides to choose from, one an iconic reminder of the golden age of shipping, the other looking over to the hills to another country, it is hardly surprising that people want to sit and absorb the ambience when it is offered in abundance.

Over the years, memorial benches have sprung up at various Wirral viewpoints, often commemorating a lost loved ones favourite resting place. In particular, Caldy Hill in the West Kirby area (owned by the National Trust) has a number of benches positioned overlooking various picturesque views of the River Dee.

In particular, there is viewpoint at the top of a ridge above a road (Kings Drive) known to some locally as ‘The Pines’. Until the time of writing (end of August 2013), there were two benches installed at that point, overlooking the River Dee as it travels south-east towards Chester. Both benches have (had) memorial plaques attached to them, the one closest to the edge of the ridge being the only bench that still has an attached plaque.

As a regular dog walker in that area – and someone who has enjoyed this public open space since the early 1970’s – I can vouch that the place has remained pretty much untouched by vandals and generally respected, bar the odd case of juvenile arson in the hot summers of the past. It was also a favourite stopping point of my late Mum who said it reminded her of an Italian view she knew from her visits to Italy, from which, she renamed it ‘Little Italy’!

Image of Bench at 'The Pines' - Pulled out of its footings by vandals
Pulled out of its footings, hanging by a thread…

Unfortunately, whilst I was up there with my dogs during July, I noticed that the bench without its plaque had been pulled out of its footing holes, loosening the wooden joints that held its frame together leaving it in a state that rendered it easy pickings for firewood. Obviously the work of vandals, so after muttering a few un-publishable expletives, I grappled with the bench until its joints were back in place and the frame inserted into its footings. It was only a temporary job and would have needed a proper DIY type (not me!) to get it solidly set in place, but for now, it was at least useable.

Two Weeks Later…

Image of Destroyed Bench
That’s it then, they’ve gone and done it…ruined

It was a dismal sight as I entered the Kings Drive public access path to the hill, seeing half of what remained of the unmistakeable bench I had tried to fix earlier, lying next to the entrance gate to the woods. No doubt the evolutionally-challenged visitors had returned to finish their job, achieving who-knows-what in cave-dwellers status points? Walking a few more yards up the path that leads to ‘The Pines’, there was visible evidence of an attempt to make a fire; maybe they had been hunting and needed firewood to cook their catch?

Image of empty space where bench used to be
What, no bench Dad?

Viewing the new empty space at ‘The Pines’ invoked a few more of those un-publishable expletives to emanate from my irate mouth before I started to wonder, who exactly is responsible for these memorial benches? I am guessing it must have something to do with the National Trust, but I also suspect that the benches were probably installed and paid for by the relatives of the person they wanted to commemorate.

Now I don’t profess to have led an angelic childhood. Amongst the misdemeanours on my juvenile rap sheet you will find me jointly guilty of:

  • Aiding the setting of a fire in a public bin
  • Stealing Apples from trees on private property (AKA ‘Scrumping’)
  • Throwing water bombs at Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • The use of catapults in a public place resulting in the weapons being confiscated by the Police
  • Removing out-of-date yoghurts from a Hoylake supermarket bin and engaging in a public ‘yoghurt fight’

Not ever, did I or my accomplices consider trying to remove a public bench and setting fire to it. Maybe we weren’t hardcore enough; or perhaps we had evolved just that little bit further to understand where the line was?

Image of empty space at 'The Pines'
Missing something here…?

Whatever the reasoning behind the destruction of this public amenity by those of seemingly greater needs, the fact remains; there is now a piece of useful public furniture missing which not only provided a place of rest, but also commemorated a life once lived. My suspicions are that this bench was a privately funded venture (as many of the others on the hill will be) and unless the family who paid for it want to install a replacement, a new empty space will remain at that viewpoint. The National Trust will no doubt have more pressing matters for their funds and naturally I’d offer to build one; but I was too busy getting up to minor mischief than to learn my woodworking joints!

In the absence of any rich benefactors who have a few quid spare to donate for the benefit of the weary behinds of walkers, it seems there will be an empty space up on ‘The Pines’ for the foreseeable future.

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