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River Alt

Photograph of the River Alt, by Ian Greig

The River Alt flows north east through Lancashire and Merseyside. It rises in Huyton township at the Hag Plantation, and flows through Croxteth Park, West Derby and Maghull. It then flows out to the River Mersey between Crosby and Formby. St Helens Gutter, as the Alt is known between Aintree and Maghull, was once the name of the Milldam (water supply) of Sefton Mill. The Milldam was once located near Sefton parish church.

The river flows through a channel created around 14,000 years by glacial ice which crawled south from the Irish Sea basin. The ice moved up the Alt channel, across the slightly higher ground which now makes up the north side of the Mersey. It flowed back down towards the Cheshire Plain along the channel of Ditton Brook. As a result, Ditton Brook and the River Alt now flow back-to-back.

As the Alt flows towards the coast, it cuts a channel through a plain of alluvium (river or wind deposited sand), mudstone and sandstone. At its mouth are the wide beaches and quicksand of the west Lancashire coast.

River Alt archaeology

Along the banks of the River Alt are a string of settlements with names suggesting a Viking origin. Huyton, Croxteth, West Derby, Knowsley, Aintree, Maghull and Formby are the major examples. At one time, it may have been possible to bring boats as far as three miles inland up the Alt. If so, it would have been a convenient way for settlers to come inland to found new hamlets.

For generations, people have had to fight against the Alt flooding. The 1779 Alt Drainage Act tried to deal with this, straightening the winding, flood-prone course of the river. The word ‘Altmouth’ is shown on both Caxton’s and Speed’s maps, where the river empties into the Mersey. It has been suggested that this settlement was swept away by the unpredictable movements of the river. However, there was never a ‘village’ symbol shown on any maps, and no evidence for such a village exists. Indeed, the area is still generally known as Altmouth today.

Today the Alt valley is a protected nature reserve. Twenty miles of embankments protect the farmland which lies either side.

Image: SJ3898 : The River Alt from the aqueduct carrying the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, released under a Creative Commons license.

Further reading

River Alt – from Sea to Source, by Peter Sinclair (Youtube, accessed 19th November 2017)

12 responses to “River Alt”

  1. Larraine Leonard says:

    I spent many a day in the summer holidays trawling this little river. Never realised that it was so important. I thought it was just a little creek.

  2. Gerry Hill says:

    I can remember swimming in The River alt and running alongside it to get dry when I was a child. I would like to start a Friends ofRiver Alt Society and would welcome any volunteers or donations to get this project off the ground. Please feel free to contact me if you feel that our environment would benefit from this scheme.

  3. Jackie says:

    The River Alt exits at Hightown on Merseyside, which is now Sefton, Merseyside, not West Lancashire. There also has been found at Hightown evidence of Anglo Saxon dwellings which you can see at Museum of Liverpool.

    • Martin says:

      Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for highlighting the Hightown evidence in the Museum. Well worth a look!

      You’re right, Hightown is not West Lancashire, I was being a bit lazy really calling it the ‘west Lancashire’ coast. 😉

      Martin

  4. phil newton says:

    I ve just done a days trace walk of digs made since 1981 led by L/pool museum Archaeologist on the Alt from Huyton[Tarbock ] to Altcar with evidence of hunter gatherer settlement sites of 6K BC-most important in Europe.
    phil newton

  5. Mark Fethney says:

    Thanks, an interesting bit of history of my local river (Kirkby). Does anyone know if the river is navigable in an open 15ft canoe?

  6. Andy Bruce says:

    When we were kids (50yrs ago) the Alt was filthy and it was said that 3 sewerage farms emptied into it, don’t know how true that is, but it is nice to see it cleaner looking now.
    We used to cross it using one of those pipes that go over it near the old Roan. They were only just building the motorway then. If we had slipped off I dont know what we would have done. I remember that a dog jumped in once and died about a week later because of the poisons that it swallowed. Does anyone remember ‘the clondyke’ where the alt goes under the Leeds & Liverpool canal

  7. Mick Caddock says:

    Interesting stuff , Im also thinking id like to try and canoe down the Alt , I think its clear most of the way upto Altcar , anyone ever done this ???

  8. Clive says:

    I once floated with one or two friends on a rather large expanded polystyrene block, from the Cork Factory at Formby all the way to Hightown. We got off before the weir, of course. After that the Alt heads rapidly into the estuary with mud flats either side.

  9. VAL BROOKFIELD- BISHOP says:

    AROUND 1965 I WORKED AT THE MERSEY AND WEAVER RIVER AUTHORITY IN GREAT SANKEY AND THE RIVER ALT WAS UNDER THEIR AUTHORITY TO MAINTAIN WITH REGULAR ‘ENGINEER INSPECTION’. FOR THIS PURPOSE, ACCOM. WAS NEEDED AND I DESIGNED THE BACK TO BACK BUNGALOWS FOR THE SMALL SITE IN ORDER THAT PERSONNEL COULD ‘STAY OVER’ IF NECESSARY IN CASE OF PROBLEMS.
    DOES ANYONE KNOW IF SUCH BUNGALOWS ARE STILL THERE/ AS I AM NOW ALMOST 76, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM ANYONE WHO MAY KNOW OF SUCH HOUSING.

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