The Mersey valley was created during the last ice age, when deep glaciers moved inland from what is now the Irish Sea, carving iceways later occupied by the Mersey, the Dee, the mid-Wirral channel and the Alt-Ditton valley. These iceways remained when the glaciers retreated, and the melt-water filled in the hollows creating the rivers we see today.
Origin of the name: Originally Old English Maeres-ea, meaning border river. This was most likely to refer to the border between the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.
Shape and Size
The River Mersey is 70 miles long, and begins in Stockport at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Goyt. In the centuries since it first gained its name, the Mersey has marked the boundary between counties: Lancashire historically lay to the north, with Cheshire to the south.
The course of the Mersey has been obliterated by the Manchester Ship Canal past Hollins Green to Rixton – the old river bed can be seen outside Irlam and at Warburton.
The Mersey has a large tidal range – 8.4m (27’6”) – a range only topped by the Severn in south-west England.
The Mersey ferries are Liverpool’s, perhaps the
world’s – most famous river crossing. The beginnings of this service lay in the priory at Birkenhead, and the monks who set up the service in the 13th Century, although services between Seacombe and the Pool are recorded in the Domesday Book (1086). In 1317 a royal license gave
permission to begin ferrying passengers from Woodside. Thus were created the three points between which most Mersey ferries travel to this day.
The other Liverpool to Wirral crossings of the Mersey are
underground. The Mersey Railway Tunnel opened in 1886, and was the first crossing. This created a rail link from Liverpool to Birkenhead, going through Hamilton Square and
Birkenhead Central to Green Lane. Eventually the Liverpool side was extended to join up with Central Station, at a lower underground platform in 1892. Although road tunnels had already been proposed by this point, the first of these to open was the Queensway Tunnel joining Liverpool with Birkenhead, opened in 1934. The Kingsway Tunnel
connected Liverpool to Wallasey by 1971.
From the 17th Century onwards, industry on the Mersey expanded at a greater and greater speed. Industry began as small scale yards and mills, but grew into massive industrial structures such as the Herculaneum pottery factory near the southern docks. Later, the river provided a perfect place for other industrial works to use the water for cooling, and large amounts of industrial waste were simply dumped straight into the Mersey. The banks of the Mersey also played a part: the relatively flat land to the east and west of the river meant that transport links were good. Coal came from Lancashire, salt from Cheshire and limestone from the Pennines, and Merseyside acted as magnet for many industries to gather. Liverpool, as a growing port, was also developing widespread rail and canal links to the industrial areas of north-west and central England, so encouraging further manufacturing plants to spring up in the banks.
Eventually, the Mersey became infamous as the most polluted river in Europe. More recently, however, efforts like the Mersey Basin Campaign have succeeded in cleaning up the river channel, and those species seen hundreds of years ago have returned to the Mersey, such as salmon, squid and cuttlefish.