Incredible 'secret garden' watched over by vampires and cowboys

Gardeners Mark Mageer (left) and Alan Robertson look after McGoldrick Park.
-Credit: (Image: Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo)

In a leafy corner of Huyton there is a 'secret' flower garden filled with ancient artefacts and hidden stories.

The beautiful greenery of McGoldrick Park is all down to the wonderfully eccentric vision of two gardeners. Alan Robertson and Mark Mageer are both employed by Knowsley Council and have created an oasis of colour and tranquility for local residents to meet and relax.

However, there is also intrigue and mystery to be found in this garden with valuable curiosities potted throughout and all protected by a rolling cast of historical figures and mythological creatures.

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According to record, the site of McGoldrick Park in Huyton is first mentioned in 1491 in the Norris Deeds. The land was known as ‘Greate Maynes’ meaning ‘property of the Lord of the Manor’. The site was later owned by Lord Derby who held vast swathes of land including all of South Lancashire. However, a coin found by Mark dated 350 A.D. shows the park's history goes back thousands of years and the two amateur archaeologists are eager to discover as much as they can.

Alan and Mark are bona fide legends in the Huyton community and are on first name terms with almost everyone who walks into the park. Alan is 66 years old now and has worked in parks across Liverpool for the past 45 years. However, he credits his working relationship with Mark for giving him a new lease of life. Alan said: "I've always loved my job and I've been 'gardening' ever since I was a little child.

"Because I'm the older one, people think I've influenced and helped Mark, but the opposite is true. Mark's different way of looking at things has changed me more than I've changed him. He's still Mark, but I'm a different Alan."

Mark came to McGoldrick Park straight out of school and has worked with Alan ever since. He said: "I never liked being stuck inside and I like being out here and doing things. It's fun and a little mad sometimes but I really enjoy it and it's given me a lot of confidence."

It is the friendship between these two workmates which is at the heart of the garden's success. Alan and Mark are kindred spirits from two different generations with a mutual passion for green spaces. One example amongst many is the fact they use their own money to buy antiques and artefacts which they then plant around the garden to add layers of interest as people walk around.

It's clear they take huge pride in creating a community garden residents can be proud of, but they are also suckers for a good story and regularly conduct investigations on the things they dig up in the fields.

Bizarrely, one such find could make Alan and Mark the proud new owners of a paint factory in Widnes. Mark discovered a century old safe which had never been opened, but has now been cleaned and set on the garden path. Thanks to some ingenuity and perseverance, Mark was able to unlock the safe and found the deeds to a site in Widnes. They have handed these to a solicitor to conduct some further research.

Gardener Mark Mageer with recycled safe at McGoldrick Park.
Gardener Mark Mageer with recycled safe at McGoldrick Park. -Credit:Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo

Another discovery is related to the life and death of Sergeant William Edwards from Prescot who fought in the First World War. During one of Mark's frequent digging operations, he discovered the broken gravestone of Sergt. W. Edwards who was part of the South Lancashire Regiment. Why the gravestone was there is a cause of some mystery, but the working theory is it was removed and used for landfill in the 1950s.

The stone has now been pieced back together by Mark and proudly displayed in the entrance to the garden. It is complimented by a tribute - created by Alan and Mark - to commemorate the allied troops who lost their lives on D-Day.

Next month will mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the memorial serves as a space for people to come and pay their respects. Sadly, it includes two plates from Huyton's Cenotaph which were removed because the borough needed new plates to add the names of more fallen soldiers.

The area of the park in which Alan and Mark have set up the tribute is also used for other events throughout the year. They create a grotto at Christmas, an Easter egg hunt in April and a witches coven for Halloween. It means the park is beloved by families across Huyton as a place which stimulates the imagination and offers a portal into other worlds.

The effectiveness of their work can be seen by the positive interactions they have with the park's visitors as well as the green flag flying above their office. The Green Flag Award is the international benchmark standard for parks in the world and was awarded to McGoldrick Park thanks to the efforts of Alan and Mark.

The flower garden is certainly a jewel which Knowsley can be proud of and they are fortunate to have such well dedicated custodians in Alan and Mark. The beauty of the space is testament to their hard work and they watch over it with a protective eye. However, they are also happy to delegate security to other parties and rely on the support of their resident mannequin to watch over things.

Gardeners Mark Mageer (left) and Alan Robertson look after McGoldrick Park.
Gardeners Mark Mageer (left) and Alan Robertson look after McGoldrick Park. -Credit:Andrew Teebay Liverpool Echo

Depending on the season, Alan will dress up the mannequin in a range of different 'uniforms'. As they prepare for the build up to the D-Day commemoration, they have kitted out the mannequin in full military dress - a First World War uniform which Mark procured from one of his many antique shopping expeditions.

Other uniforms include a firefighter, a police officer, a cowboy and a vampire. Asked whether they're effective security guards, Alan joked: "Well, we've not had any trouble yet so they must be doing a good job."

They're no strangers to dressing up themselves and can be regularly seen sporting outlandish and light-hearted fancy dress. For example, after organising a gathering to commemorate VE Day, Alan and Mark dressed up as Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike from the iconic BBC comedy series, Dad's Army.

What the future holds for this park seems entirely dependent on the continued working bond shared by Alan and Mark who have become vital members of a close community. It is testament to Alan's commitment to McGoldrick Park that he is one year past his official retirement age.

When asked why he's still working, Alan said: : "Who'd give this up."

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