Edward Kemp was one of the mid-Victorian period’s most influential landscape gardeners and a respected author of several gardening publications. Despite this, details of his early life are sparse.
Born in 1817 in Streatham, then Surrey, he was the son and grandson of Nonconformist tailors. Growing up in an area still essentially rural, his interest in plants led him to train as a landscape gardener at the London Horticultural Society Gardens in Chiswick, Middlesex, before moving to Chatsworth, Derbyshire, to work under Joseph Paxton.
When Paxton was commissioned to design a park for Birkenhead, Wirral, the first publicly funded park in the world, Kemp was appointed to oversee its laying out, eventually being appointed its permanent superintendant. His writing combined with the growing reputation of Birkenhead Park brought him numerous private commissions. Despite this, Kemp remained firmly rooted in Birkenhead, remaining in the town for the rest of his life. In 1863, an assistant park superintendent was appointed and his role became that of ‘Consulting Superintendent’.
He never, however, severed his connection with the park, advising the authorities on park-related matters when well into his seventies and living in his house on its periphery until he died and was buried in Flaybrick, the cemetery he had laid out for the Birkenhead Commissioners some thirty years previously.
Image below: The creation of lakes in Birkenhead Park provided soil and rocks that were shaped into mounds which separated and concealed the curvaceous walks and carriage drive; from James C. Niven, ‘Birkenhead Park’, The Garden, 10 (1876), p. 551