They’re the individual dots on the maps, and they’re the jigsaw pieces that make up the landscapes I describe. They might be buildings, monuments, historic details or survivals of street furniture from decades ago.
Below are all the articles on these features, arranged in reverse chronological order of when I published them.
The Allerton Oak is a 1000 year old sessile oak that stands in Calderstones Park. It’s surrounded by a double fence to protect its ancient structure, and metal crutches installed in 1907 hold up its branches.
Calderstones Park is in Allerton, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and has a long history of its own. A long standing legend about the Allerton Oak is that its spreading branches sheltered the medieval hundred court. It would have been similar to the court held in West Derby (whose courthouse is a remnant of this tradition), and was often held at a significant (not to mention recognisable) landmark. The Allerton Oak fits the bill, although Mike Royden has suggested that the meetings are more likely to have happened nearer to the Calder Stones. Given that a boundary dispute map from 1568 uses the Calder Stones as a boundary marker between Little Woolton, Allerton and Wavertree, the mound wouldn’t be the first prehistoric monument to act as a medieval court location in a place like this.
Allerton Oak legends
The tree’s history continues to inspire legends. When the Lottie Sleigh exploded in the Mersey on 15th Febuary 1864 (11 tonnes of gunpowder were on board) the blast shattered windows and put out gas lamps across Liverpool. Authorities in Chester rang up to ask what all the noise was about. It’s said that all the windows in Calderstones Manor were shattered, and that a massive split appeared in the tree.
The Oak is indeed split down the middle, and largely hollow, but no one can really say that this was caused by the Lottie Sleigh exploding. Nevertheless, this shows how local history stories interweave across centuries. No doubt the story also helped cement the Allerton Oak’s reputation as an indestructable plant.
During the Second World War, leaves, seedlings and acorns from the Oak were sent in cards to soldiers fighting on the front. Staff from the manor house sent the cards, reminding soliders that they were in the thoughts of people back home, and perhaps to let something of that tree’s long life rub off on the men in danger. The upshot of sending these seedlings abroad is that there are probably young descendents of the tree across Europe and maybe further afield.
A long past and a healthy future for the Allerton Oak
The Allerton Oak has stood tall for over 1000 years. The Liverpool Echo ran a story in the 1970s that suggested it would have rotted to death by 2020, but this report seems premature. The tree is 5.5 metres tall and produces 100,000 acorns every year, so it’s future seems assured.
Despite this, a tree this large puts a strain on itself. The 1907 crutches have kept it upright for over 1000 years but they are in need of replacement. There is an £80,000 project to replace these crutches with more modern support, and which can grow and adapt to the changing tree. There is also a sapling (‘Allerton Oak the Younger’) in the park itself, and Calderstones gardeners are busy protecting this next generation.
The Allerton Oak’s fame is spreading around the world, since it has twice won England’s Tree of the Year (2014, 2019) and is set to represent the country in the European Tree of the Year in 2020. Money raised through these competitions, plus other efforts, will go to helping maintain this ancient tree for many centuries to come.
The Calder Stones have a troubled history, even for a site that’s about 5000 years old. While it’s escaped complete destruction like many of its Irish Sea cousins, there are many of these Neolithic sites which aren’t doing too badly. Even those completely denuded of their turf, soil and/or cobble mound stand proud in fields across Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the chamber more or less intact.
The Calder Stones, on the other hand, have had the sand in their mound re-recycled for cement, and their stones (both the main stones and cobbles in the mound) crushed and used for road-building material. Then the remainder were torn from their original arrangement and turned into an aesthetically pleasing (to the owner at the time, Joseph Need Walker) ‘druidical’ circle.
Then in 1954 they were put on ‘display’ in a glass vestibule, the only remnants of the extensive glasshouses that once graced Calderstones Park. This protected them from the weather, but the enclosed glasshouse meant that their condition continued to deteriorate. Visitors could only look in through the scratched semi-opaque glass, and as a visitor attraction they were largely forgotten.
Letting silent stones speak again
One unexpected consolation prize after all this movement was that – so little being known about their original position and arrangement – there was very little further to lose in their conservation and re-presentation. All options could be put on the table.
The new home for the Calderstones opened in September 2019, and I visited in mid-October. How has the visitor experience changed? In a word, the new setting is unrecognisable compared to the old.
Whereas before the stones were locked away in a glass box, at least two metres from the viewer, you can now walk right up to them and between them.
The six surviving stones are arranged in two parallel rows. This is meant to be a nod to their original passage tomb shape, but as the relative positions of the stones are not known, the Reader Organisation and the rest of the team were free to choose the order. I’m not sure how it was decided, but if I hear about I’ll add it to this article.
It’s a great solution to the eternal archaeological reconstruction puzzle: do you pick a moment in history to reconstruct? And how do you represent the more recent history? When the Calder Stones were sat in a circle on Calderstones Road, that became part of their history, and is a point of interest to those who study the monument. To try to place the Stones in their ‘original’ configuration would not only be impossible as there are so few left, but it would be as arbitrary a choice as the circular layout.
The parallel rows acknowledge our lack of information, while reflecting the part of the history we do know. They also increase physical access to the Stones.
The new experience
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the Calder Stones is how close you can get. There are no barriers between you and the rock faces, just a narrow line of slate between the path and the stone.
It goes without saying: you shouldn’t be reaching out to touch them. But you can certainly examine the stones’ surfaces, and explore them from every angle. You could try shining a torch on them from a shallow angle to highlight the relief patterns. This required special event access before.
You can walk around both sides of nearly all of the stones (one is too close to the glass, so you’ll need to go outside), examine the sides and the tops. You can truly examine the rock art.
State of the rock art
And as it’s the rock art that raises this monument above many of its relatives, this proximity makes all the difference.
No longer is the monument a pile (or ring) of stones to be looked at, gazed upon. It’s a gallery of human actions – everything from the shapes of the stones themselves, through the prehistoric cup and spiral markings, and the feet (bare and shod) from anywhere between the Neolithic, Medieval or modern periods. And don’t forget the graffiti initials!
In some way this feels closer to how the builders could have experienced it: a journey from one stone to the next, glyphs passing the eye. You’re no longer looking at the monument, you’re reading it.
I’m not sure of the decision behind the stones’ order, but it seemed to me like the stones were placed with most of the art facing inwards. This again might reflect the chamber’s original arrangement, but in any case it makes it easy to take it in in one big sweep.
This freedom to explore the stones surface leads to a tantalising possibility: will I find some new art? It’s been done, and recently! Alas, it was not to be this time, but I’m sure it won’t stop me trying each time I visit.
Here are some of my favourite carvings on the stones (click for larger versions):
You can also more closely look at the sandstone itself, for its own sake. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, laid down at the base of an ancient sea. In south west Lancashire it’s especially red, and the ruddy layers can be seen on the edges of the stones.
It creates a link, a chain, between nature, the builders of this ancient structure and many of our buildings. Just take a look at the Anglican Cathedral, or St Peter’s Church in Woolton, nearby, and every garden wall for miles around. This is the living rock of Merseyside.
As soon as I posted a couple of pictures on Twitter, the archaeologist Mike Pitts noticed the blackboard imploring people not to touch the stones.
Putting up a sandwich board asking people not to touch suggests perhaps this wasn’t thought through. Ancient carvings were noticed at Calderstones long before they were spotted at Stonehenge, which was fenced in 1978 partly to protect them. And the Stonehenge stones are harder https://t.co/n4kGLzJKwJ
It’s vital point to raise. All heritage projects need to decide on how much access to give to visitors. Perfect conservation can always be guaranteed by completely removing visitors, and if you’re Stonehenge, complete destruction can be ensured by allowing everyone to do what they want!
At the Calder Stones, the Reader organisation have put the stones in a lockable enclosure, with close-up access to them only when the house is open (though they can be seen through the glass at all times). As I replied to Mike, there’s a certain level of trust on display. Coupled with the low level of visitors and the museum-like feel of the place, I think this trust will be repaid. The Stones will no doubt be closely monitored, as will visitor activity, and time will tell us the effects.
I’m so glad they did things this way.
Visiting the Calder Stones
Next to the Calder Stones is a small exhibition placing them in the context of world history. A time-line shows them being built before the Pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge in Britain. As it’s the Reader, we’re also shown when various writing scripts began their use.
Another room has an exhibition on the house and estate itself, and the aforementioned Walker family. There are replica newspapers from the time, another time-line, and a slideshow of Victorian images of Calderstones. Finally there’s a café for refreshments, and a whole park to explore!
The mansion house is open every day from 8:30am to 7pm, so go along when you can and enjoy a slice of Scouse prehistory!
Image: the Calder Stones in their new location, taken by the author.
The Duck Decoy at Hale is an impressive, complex monument, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It lies in the lowest part of the landscape, amongst streams and wetlands and close the the River Mersey itself.
This part of the manor of Hale was drained in the medieval period, with the idea of increasing the amount of land suitable to plough. The trade-off was a reduction in land that wetland wildfowl could use. To counter this, the duck decoy was built.
Hale Decoy was designed to look like the many other coverts that dotted the landscape. The lack of shelter for water birds would make it an attractive spot. A pond was dug in the centre to complete the picture.
The distinctive star shape comes from the five pipes which allowed the game keeper to approach the pond from whichever direction he needed to to keep downwind of the fowl. The pipes were lined with wicker arches, joined together by nets. With the help of his dog, and strategically placed screens, the keeper would scare the birds down the pipes, the netting decreasing in width. At the pipes’ tip, the netting would be small enough to make catching the birds easy.
It’s not certain when Hale Duck Decoy was built, but one clue may lie in a brick near the pond’s boat house. Upon the brick are the moulded figures: X63:RC, which has been interpreted as 1633 (the initials apparently standing for ‘Reign of Charles’. Several decoys were built on the east coast of England in the 17th century, so this date is not unlikely. There are also records of the decoy being repaired in 1754 by Colonel J Blackburne of Hale Hall. The sophistication of this particular decoy do argue for it being a later example.
In 1976 the Cheshire Conservation Trust and the Lancashire Trust for Nature Conservation took over the running of the decoy. This responsibility passed, in 2000, to Halton Borough Council. They managed it as a nature reserve, and in 2001 a group of organisations and individuals met to form the Friends of Pickerings Pasture and Hale Duck Decoy.
Since 2004 the Friends have used a Heritage Lottery grant to improve the visitor experience of Hale Decoy, and make further use of the game keeper’s cottage to help inform visitors about the monument.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Mark Adams of RSK Consulting spoke about his site at Mark Rake in Bromborough.
Mark dug on the site of the former Rectory Gardens, looking for the remains of a lost Anglo-Saxon sculpture. They were first found when the church was last rebuilt, in the mid-19th century. The story goes that builders crushed the remains for sand, possibly on the order of the rectory’s incumbent!
The old rectory gardens, Mark Rake
The excavation at Mark Rake happened in 2016, supported by Big Heritage. Big Heritage had a season of local test pitting as part of ‘Discovering Bromborough‘ back in 2013. Archaeologists found Mesolithic and Neolithic stone flakes, Roman coins and pottery.
The evidence suggested that nothing had been built on the site of Church Croft since at least the 1650s. Perhaps this lack of development would have led to the survival of very old archaeology.
When a new, smaller rectory replaced the old building, builders found fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculpture. The carvings have since disappeared, so the archaeologists wondered whether they could rediscover them. Their second aim was to look for settlement, from the Anglo-Saxon period or any other.
Looking for a sculpture
The archaeologists dismantled a wall dating from the time of the new rectory, but found no carvings. They then stripped an area for excavation, finding a series of perpendicular ditches. They found a Neolithic arrowhead and Neolithic carinated bowl fragments. These date from 4000 – 3000 BC, and were found in shallow scoops. Mark suspected a cremation, and so took the whole context as a sample. Human bone was indeed recovered from the sample.
Evidence of a settlement suggested a Bronze Age date. There was a ditch or a gully associated with a collared urn (typically Bronze Age).
More gullies dated from AD 650 – 850, encouraging the idea that an Anglo-Saxon sculpture could be on the cards. Environmental analysis discovered barley, rye, wheat and weed evidence.
Finally, on the very last day of the excavation, diggers found a piece of carved stone. Comparison with an old photo of the entire set of sculpture pieces showed that it was part of the collection found in the 19th century. Unfortunately none of the other pieces was found. Mark concluded that the rest had indeed, as the story tells, been ground up for building sand.
Excavating in Bromborough
Despite not finding the majority of the sculpture, Mark had found a few clues that would help future excavations. Although individual finds are interesting, it is the collection which is important. The assemblage of prehistoric finds in proximity to medieval ones is a pattern that Mark has seen elsewhere, and it’ll be interesting to see if, in future, finding medieval features can lead to prehistoric sites.
There are two other sites: All Saints Church, Childwall, and Overchurch in Sefton, which may yield such secrets in the future. They are ancient sites (All Saints has 14th century masonry in its walls) with very little development since their foundation. If the patterns that Mark sees on other Merseyside excavations are taken further, the prehistory of Merseyside is only just beginning to reveal itself.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Liz Stewart spoke about Pembroke Place, and the different projects which have been going on there. Galkoff’s Place featured prominently, as did court housing and the area’s ‘darker’ history.
The Pembroke Place project
Liz began her talk with an overview of the project she ran at Pembroke Place. Liverpool’s famous School of Tropical Medicine are landowners in the area, and have been a partner in the project. The centre of the project has been Galkoff’s butcher’s shop and Watkinson Terrace – a court house next door.
In 1835 a map by Gage documented the high density of residents in the area. Before this time the area had been a place of ‘goodly mansions’, but the owners of those had started moving out to the more salubrious outskirts of Liverpool. Their large houses were disappearing, slowly replaced with much smaller dwellings. However, some of these larger villas still stood to the east of Daulby Place when the smaller buildings appeared on the map.
Liverpool’s population in the 19th century
In the early 19th century 40% of the people of Liverpool lived in cellar dwellings. Even at the time, these conditions were known to be too poor for living, and enquiries were run at the time. In the early 20th century slum clearances finally began.
Pembroke Place once consisted of eight houses on it, around two courtyards. Today, only two of those eight houses remain, as back rooms to the shops fronting the street.
Archaeology at Pembroke Place
The Museum of Liverpool wrote a report on these houses, and collected information about the social context of the street. Social context drew on newspaper articles, which often referenced ‘Little Hell’, the area’s nickname. Anson Street was the centre of Little Hell, which had a reputation for high numbers of murders and brothels. This reputation was no doubt fuelled by the newspaper’s need to sell copies. Liz mentioned that the articles were misleading with their exaggerations.
The archaeologists, including Mark Adams, found structures belonging to the court houses. There was a light well as street level, letting sunlight into the lowest dwellings. There is evidence of the buildings’ alteration and adjustment, including around the light well. The finds were of surprisingly high quality, with bowls, a domino and a ceramic egg dug up. These show that, despite the conditions, people felt it important to surround themselves with ‘non-essentials’.
Court housing may be a familiar topic for Liverpudlians. But the evidence from the newspapers, and even the excavations, brought to light disturbing details of life in the courts. Even the census records tell of the living conditions.
There were indeed murders, including those of children, as well as other social ills. Should a museum talk about these? Is there a danger of treating the information like those Victorian newspapers did? Does a museum run the risk of accusations of exploitation?
The Museum of Liverpool conducted a survey, and 100% of people thought that a museum was an appropriate place to talk openly about ‘dark’ and troubling history. However, 90% thought that child murder was something to leave out, even from museums. This is likely related to the family audience museums attract.
The census reports show that, although court houses, these buildings did not house the poorest people. Residents had steady jobs, for example. But Liz admitted that there’s more work to do to establish anything for certain.
In answer to a question from the audience, Liz told us that there were several Jewish businesses in the area, as well as Galkoff’s, until the 1950s. At that point many of them moved into south Liverpool, around Wavertree and Childwall.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This session was slightly different, in that as well as a talk, Jeff Speakman showed attendees pottery excavated from Rainford. People were allowed to handle the pots, and questions were asked in a kind of interactive session.
Rainford, in north east Merseyside, was once a huge pottery and pipemaking centre, only declining in the early 20th century. ‘Faceted tygs‘ are one of the most distinctive types of pot, and the earliest drawing we have is from 1878.
Sam Rowe and a team of archaeologists have been excavating in Church Road, Rainford, to uncover details about the town’s pottery industry. Their ‘Site 10’ was the first pottery site excavated in north west England (with Melling coming second place).
The Golden Lion pub was itself a site of pipemaking.
In 1979 archaeologists excavated a site intended for a new clubhouse and changing rooms on the tennis courts. In 2011 test pitting produced a faceted cup, and in 2013 the Rainford Roots project began. Jeff noted that the test pits for Rainford Roots were incredibly densely packed with pottery sherds. Late 16th century wasters (misfired pots used for packing and protection in kilns) showed that this was definitely an industrial scale of pot making.
Infra red photographs showed field boundaries in the area, but the location of kilns was still uncertain. Three quarters of a tonne of pottery was excavated from the tennis court extension site, close to the earlier digs in the 1970s. Some pots were complete, and in the best condition Jeff has seen across the many sites he’s excavated over years.
Unique pottery from Rainford
Some unusual pieces came from Rainford. Sgraffito is a type of hand carved design where a design is scratched into the top one of two layers of glaze, giving a contrasting colour. A potentially controversial sgraffito item was found (see below). Tygs are three- (or more!) handled jugs made at a couple of sites in north west England (plus a single waster from Stoke). Rainford has a distinctive design which the archaeologists asked a modern potter to reproduce. The rather heavy version that came back was proof, as the potter admitted, that small hands (or a long tool) were needed to craft the fine bodied vessels found at Rainford. This could mean they were made by women or children.
Another unique feature are the handles. Even when the design of the pot itself is seen from other locations, the handles have a ‘twisted’ design, asymmetrical, which is unique to Rainford. This unusual type is found on pots of many different designs.
Other Rainford pottery types
As well as these highlights, the Rainford Roots team found other interesting pieces. There were one-off pieces found nowhere else, there were chafing dishes, salting pans, a possible alembic tray, hollow handles, decorated sherds, and some things that look like ‘melted’ pots. Some sherds have seed impressions on them, which probably came from seeds which were scattered on the floor of the space set aside for drying.
One interesting piece was one that Jeff saw as potentially idolatrous: it had a rough ‘face’ in the centre, which could be the face of Jesus (see second image in gallery on Liverpool Museum’s blog post). This would have been problematic in an era when the Protestant Reformation had blacklisted images of Jesus.
It’s hoped that makers marks will let archaeologists discover the identity of the potters. Clay pipes often have decoration on them, including makers marks but also other designs that still allow identification of their origin.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This talk was given by Vanessa Oakden, now Curator of Regional & Community Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, and formerly the Finds Liaison Officer for Liverpool, for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
This talk is centred on two community archaeology projects that Vanessa has been involved in: St Nicholas’ Church on the waterfront, and Lister Steps in Tue Brook. The projects aimed to teach volunteers some building recording skills, and preserve the buildings in question. The projects would put the buildings in their landscape context as well, and highlight some of the changes to the structures over time.
St Nicholas’s Church
There once was a small chapel on the banks of the Mersey, known as St Mary del Key (Quay), first mentioned in 1257. This was not a full parish church, but a chapel of ease within the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill. St Nicholas’s Church was built close by in 1355, taking over the role of St Mary’s. It was constructed over the course of a century, finally consecrated in 1361 when plague erupted in the city.
The church has been rebuilt several times, for example in 1952 after it had suffered heavy damage in the Blitz. Lots of older material is therefore still in situ, and the project rediscovered some of this. The fascinating thing about these remains is that they are not all aligned with the current building. They may be earlier, and unrelated to the building of the church itself.
Vanessa showed the Peters Painting which depicts the city in the 1680s. She said that the painting suggests these older walls may be part of warehouses just inland of the church (as it then stood). They could be Late Medieval, or even earlier.
Other parts of the section that the community archaeology group excavated showed the 19th century re-use of rubble from older versions of St Nick’s.
The old Lister Drive Library was one of the so-called ‘Carnegie libraries‘, the only one in Liverpool, and designed by Thomas Shelmerdine. It closed in 2006 because of the poor state of the building, thus putting it at even greater risk. It’s a Grade II listed building, and following a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid a project started to bring it back into community use.
Vanessa’s community archaeology project chose a small patch of the building’s outside, and looked at the graffiti there. This was a chance to practice archaeological drawing: teasing apart the layers of paint is much like excavation!
The group chose Heritage Open Day to ask local people to volunteer. It was a great success, and there are hopes to repeat it. Also, in the future Vanessa hopes to run an excavation in the grounds of the library. This will be backed up by social research – talking to locals about their knowledge of the building and the area.
Vanessa also gave a preview of work being done behind the scenes by Luke Daly-Groves. Luke is in the middle of a PhD in American history, but needed something unrelated to gain wider experience. He chose Roman archaeology, which Luke admits is not all that common in this part of the UK! He’ll be putting together an exhibition using finds from the Ochre Brook excavation of 2000.
A Roman tilery was discovered, stamped by one Aulus Viducus. A patera (a shallow bowl) which had been uncovered in Cheshire had been donated to the museum too.
The following post about Fort Crosby is based on a talk Alison Burns gave at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference, held in the Museum of Liverpool on 13th October 2018. Alison has also written about the Formby footprints (see the previous link for details).
New research is shedding light on a piece of Mersey defence which has a long history. Alison Burns has produced a booklet about Fort Crosby, with further detail coming from a desk-based assessment (a kind of investigation that uses documents, maps and other archival resources as opposed to excavation) by Mark Adams.
Defence of Mersey and country
The River Mersey has always been important for Britain’s defences. King John founded Liverpool itself partly because of his ambitions over in Ireland, the Mersey crossing at Hale Ford was important in the Civil War, and we all know about Western Approaches. But many installations have been built in the intervening period. Perch Rock, for example, built off the coast of New Brighton in 1826, defended the mouth of the Mersey and the Port of Liverpool. Its eighteen guns looked towards the Irish Sea in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
But in 1882 the whole of Britain’s coastal defences were reviewed by one Lord Morley. Morley found that the defence of Britain’s coasts was inadequate, and amongst other things recommended five batteries in the Mersey. These forts were to be at Liscard, North Shore, Seaforth, Crosby, plus the existing Perch Rock.
It took an incredibly long time to build Fort Crosby: starting in March 1906, work was only completed in October 1907.
From 1914 new troops used Crosby as a muster point, and they lived in the barracks at Sniggery. The fort itself had a surveillance role, as part of the Royal Observer Corps, as well as anti-shipping guns. In all it was a well-developed site, including practice trenches (visible in aerial photographs for years after) in preparation for the First World War.
Dragons’ teeth (anti-tank concrete pyramids) littered the foreshore, and barbed wire protected Formby. There was a starfish decoy (a mound of burning debris used to distract and blind bomber pilots) close by too. Starfish decoys were a slight concern, what with being built from large amounts of burning material so close to artillery and ammunition!
The Fort worked hand in hand with Maunsell Forts, stilted buildings out at sea giving another line of defence. There were three of these in the River Mersey.
After the Second World War
Fort Crosby acted as a prisoner of war camp (Camp 678), holding German and Italian prisoners from 1945 to 1950. They worked on farms and on renovations in the nearby communities. Bert Trautmann, a goalkeeper for Manchester City, became a local legend because of his time here. (One of Trautmann’s achievements was to break his neck during a game but to continue playing!) The prisoners also made toys for local children.
The Maunsell Towers were no longer of use after the war, and were demolished. Territorial Army personnel used the anti-shipping guns of Fort Crosby to destroy them. Lack of gun training meant this took a long time. Only one in ten shots hit their mark! (Incidentally, there is no record of the anti-shipping guns being used against the enemy at any time.)
Reclamation by nature
The area around the fort was not cleared immediately after it fell into disuse. Closure came in 1958, but full demolition and landscaping had to wait until 1968. During this time the buildings had been vandalised, and occasional finds surfaced, like parts of uniforms or rifles.
Eventually, the sand dunes and grasses reclaimed the land; today, only the footing for the guns, plus a sewage pipe and a trig point are visible. Today, rubble from city centre Blitz site clearances protects the coast from erosion, although the area will always be changing.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. It’s based on a talk given by Ron Cowell, who has excavated at Lunt Meadows for a few years now.
The project started in 2012, because the Environment Agency (EA) were working in this area between Maghull and Crosby to restore the reed beds. and ponds for conservation reasons.
The excavations looked at 12,000 year-old deposits around the River Alt, but showed the potential for other sites to be found in the area in the future. Marine clay sits on top of freshwater clay (showing a change in the environment over time), which in turn sits on top of the Mesolithic occupation layer. During the time people inhabited this area, the ground was initially drier than it would be later on.
The lack of drainage on this wet site has led to good preservation of artefacts and structural evidence. The archaeology is also deep enough that it’s not been damaged by ploughing.
The team found a floor surface surrounded by a ring of postholes. The small size of the holes suggests the poles (and hence the walls) were short, with any roof coming close to the ground. Stone tools were found too. These would have been used for building the shelter, gathering food, and making clothes. These people would not have farmed. The tools date different elements of the site to between 9,500 to 6,000 years ago, with repeat visits and re-use over this time.
The tools were made of flint from the local area, and chert. It became apparent that the chert was not from nearby. Another site excavated in the region, Greasby, brought up chert tools made of stone from North Wales, but this was different. Its appearance is more like that of chert from the Clitheroe area.
Hut circles in the landscape
It looks from the plans as if there are two hut circles, each with two ditches. Despite their closeness to each other, they might be as much as 200 years apart (9,300 and 9,100 years ago respectively), and were occupied by groups doing all kinds of different things. Their activities would have depended on the season, and the size of the groups would vary. Perhaps the different groups were related, a series of generations visiting the same site year after year (or decade after decade).
The area around the huts, now wetlands, would have been oak and hazel forest. Ron noted that the position of the trees was as much a part of the site as the placing of the huts. The Alt itself would have been further away from the site 9,000 years ago, although closer 7.500 years ago. It seems that no archaeology has been found from this period over 4m above sea level. This was the flood plain, and Mesolithic communities were intentionally building on the flood plain, and nowhere else.
One of the most interesting sets of finds represented what Ron called ‘formal symbolic acts’. Melon-sized granite boulders – the granite having sparkling mica pieces in – were deliberately placed in the ground. These large stones were stained red by sitting in iron rich soils, and this may have contributed to their importance to the Mesolithic people here. Next to these boulders – there were two similar ones on the site – were struck blue flints and a smaller pebble. There were two of these flint-pebble pairs at each granite boulder, placed on opposite sides of the central stone. What these arrangements might have ‘meant’ is unknown, but it shows that life was more than mere utilitarian survival. Time was spent on activities whose meaning we can’t intuit.
Later history of Lunt Meadows
The later phases of the site have been dated to 7,900 years ago. At this time a tree was deliberately set alight on the site. It’s trunk now lies on its side in the excavated area, and a white flint blade placed deliberately beneath it. The significance of the tree burning has been lost to us.
By around 7,500 years ago the oak and hazel forest was dying back due to a rising sea level and water table. The area became a fen and swamp, before settling into a reed swamp about 7,500 years ago. It’s this reed swamp landscape that the Environment Agency are restoring. Essentially, Lunt Meadows is once again a prehistoric wetland landscape!
Future of the project
Ron Cowell continues to excavate at Lunt Meadows, and in fact the archaeological site is now part of the nature reserve. The Environment Agency have agreed to incorporate the archaeology into their project, reflecting on and demonstrating how humans and nature can co-exist in a way that leaves both richer for it. It’s an active site with Key Stage 2 school children visiting regularly. The Stone Age is part of KS2 these days, so Lunt Meadows provides a great resource. The Young Archaeologist Club have also visited, and built a ‘Mesolithic’ hut with reeds that they had themselves cut.
A case is ready in the Museum of Liverpool to house objects from the excavation, and at the time of writing this should be ready for visitors at the end of October 2018.
An app (for phones and tablets) has been developed by a company called Inspyro, which takes advantage of new Augmented Reality (AR) technology. With the app installed, a person can explore the Lunt Meadows landscape by overlaying it on the scene in front of them (as seen through the camera on the device). This works best at the site itself, to recreate the Mesolithic landscape and walk among it. But the app also works on smaller scales – you can project a miniature Mesolithic world onto your tabletop! This app is still in production, and so the version you can install today will be getting updates and become more advanced as time goes on. You can already listen to Ron narrating the introduction, and look through a couple of different scenes.
Hale township occupies a spot at the widest part of the River Mersey. Because of this the water slows down significantly. So much so that, at times in the past, a sandbank could once be seen to poke above the level of the water. This, the so-called Hale Ford, was an important crossing point of the river, and was used for hundreds of years.
The crossing went from the end of Within Way due east towards Weston Point. We have records of one John, son of Peter Walley (or Wolley) of Runcorn who attempted the crossing in 1423. He was on horseback, and drove two more horses laden with fish from Formby. The two horses made it across the river, but John fell from his steed and was drowned.
The next day: “at the return tide the horse was found, as Dower of the Sea, and had upon him a good saddle, and four irons on his feet.”
‘Dower of the Sea’ was a term for one of the lord of the manor’s rights, whereby he could charge fines on anything which ran aground on his lands, or washed up. It’s interesting, and a little disturbing to read the emotionless description of the mere monetary value of the horse upon which John Walley died.
Hale Ford during the Civil War and beyond
During the Civil War Hale Ford was an important route from east to west. Prince Rupert crossed the Ford in 1643, with prisoners from his conquest of Bolton. Lord Molyneux fled across the Ford to Cheshire when ousted from his parish at Kirkham. The following year Rupert tried to cross again, but attacked government forced attacked him. Later in the same year he successfully crossed on his way from York to Chester.
Outside of war time, horses were taken across the Ford in the hunting season. Rev. Thomas Blackburne used it when he left Hale to live in Wrexham.
The ford was a dangerous route, however, never being completely dry. A ferry plied the same route, with part of the profits going to the lord of the manor. The two year absence of this ferry (for want of a boat!) led to losses of 20 shillings per annum that would otherwise have gone to the treasury.
Embanking the Mersey at Hale Point
The Mersey had always been dangerous at this point, and so at one time it was proposed to create an embankment along the shore. In 1817 Gregson mentions this project, which would stretch from Ditton near Hale to Garston or even Knott’s Hole at the Dingle:
Opposite the Dungeon two miles of land in breadth might be enclosed before the present salt works, where the river is fordable at low water.
Nothing came of this however, not least because previous attempts were washed away by the dangerous channel’s waters.
The end of Hale Ford
Use of Hale Ford lessened as the 19th century progressed, partly due to the opening of the Widnes Transporter Bridge. The Ford was becoming increasingly dangerous anyway, and less reliable. Once constructed on the Cheshire side, the Manchester Ship Canal made it impossible to cross the Mersey on foot.
The River Mersey at Hale Point can be dangerous, as the Hale Ford demonstrates. Conditions change with each tide, and formerly dry land can become swift and deep channels. The opposite is also true: hidden sandbanks can put paid to river trips heading to the manufacturing towns inland or the globally connected docks at Liverpool. Hale lighthouse goes some way to reducing the dangers.
A lighthouse was built on the southernmost reaches of Hale township in 1906. This lighthouse, which still stands today, replaced a shorter tower erected in 1838.
The Ireland-Blackburne family’s private bathing house already stood at Hale Point. So the building of the lighthouse saw the conversion of this bathing house for the original lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Hale lighthouse decommissioned
The decommissioning of Hale lighthouse, which is 45 feet tall, came in 1958. Fewer ships were travelling the Mersey as trade declined. Those ships that did head for inner Lancashire used the Manchester Ship Canal on the opposite bank. Today, buoys mark the channel for (mostly pleasure) boats to find safe passage. The demolition of the keeper’s cottage made way for a modern private bungalow.
Hale Hall was a quadrangular building, begun in the early 17th century, built of local stone with a red shale driveway. It was altered near the end of the century, and in 1806 John Blackburn added a large south front. This now matched and balanced the existing north front. John also added a lodge to the hall in 1876.
The Hall had a home farm, and kitchen gardens with walls of 3.5 – 4.5 metres height. The walls were built of hollow bricks to allow warm air from underground furnaces to spread through them. The warm walls were therefore a great home for soft fruits like nectarines that wouldn’t otherwise thrive. Later on, glasshouses widened the selection, as did an ice house.
The family at Hale Hall eventually, through marriage, became the Ireland-Blackburnes. A small museum within the house held, amongst other things, a coin collection as well as stuffed birds (the latter collected by Anne Blackburne).
In the 1930s Robert Ireland-Blackburne and his son Gilbert left Hale Hall and moved to Cheshire. The Fleetwood-Hesketh family of Meols bought the estate in 1947. They found the Hall to be in too poor a state for them to live in, so they moved into Parsonage House. After refurbishment and extensions, Parsonage House became known as the Manor House.
When the estate changed hands the new owners demolished the old north front of Hale Hall. Parts of Hale Park became farmland. At some point a fire destroyed the south front too, and Hale Hall fell into a ruinous state. It survived as little more than a playground for children until 1981, when it was finally demolished. (Thanks to Lyn McCulloch for this information.) Some stonework is still visible, even today. Stone window sills, stone lamp posts, pillars and even some of the original trees are still there amongst the woodlands.
Hale Manor House
The building now known as Hale Manor House started life as Parsonage House. As a parsonage, the house sits just across the road from St. Mary’s Church. It is a much smaller building than Hale Hall, but nevertheless the Fleetwood-Heskeths moved in here in 1947 because of the poor state of the Hall they would otherwise occupy.
The Rev. William Langford added the impressive west face to the house in the 18th century. His coat of arms and monogram sit carved in stone over the entrance. Later on, alterations to this part of the building reduced the storeys from three to two, so increasing the ceiling height of the rooms.
The impressive façade hides two gable ends. The south gable is smaller and older (17th century) while the north is larger and later. The back portion of the south gable still has three storeys, while the front portion, and the whole of the north gable, have two.
Perhaps the most significant of the merchant houses in the history of Allerton is Allerton Hall itself. The wealthy Lathom family built the first house on the site back in the reign of James I. They held the lands of the estate from the 15th to the 17th century, but had them taken from them when they joined the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War.
After the Lathoms, Richard Percival bought Allerton. He owned it from 1670 until 1736, when a James Hardman, Rochdale merchant, purchased the land.
The earliest parts of the current building were built by Harman when he moved in. They were built of sandstone, and are considered to be the earliest examples of Palladianism in Liverpool. This innovation contributed to the decision to list Allerton Hall.
William Roscoe in Allerton Hall
When John died in 1754, his brother James moved in. James’s wife Jane outlived him, and stayed in the hall until her own death in 1799. She had been friends with the famous abolitionist William Roscoe, who now bought the house and moved in.
Roscoe demolished the remaining 17th century parts of the building (which are understood to have been dangerously under-maintained), and added new rooms to balance the design.
Bankruptcy forced Roscoe to sell his share of the house, and this was bought by one of his political allies, Pattison Ellames.
Cotton and the American Civil War
In the 1860s Richard Wright rented Allerton Hall. Wright was a cotton merchant and ship owner with family ties to the Fraser, Trenholm & Co merchant company. Fraser, Trenholm were based in South Carolina and funded the Southern states in their war effort against the north. Many in Liverpool had sided with the South because of the merchants’ links with cotton trading, and Richard Wright was one of those. In July 1861 the Confederate flag was flown above Allerton Hall.
The Hall is given to the city
Later in its history, Allerton Hall was owned by Lawrence Richardson Baily, and then Thomas Clarke. Clarke’s widow eventually donated the house and land to the city of Liverpool in 1926, and this forms Clarke Gardens today. (See also: Clarke Gardens Pillbox.)
The Hall was used as the regional headquarters of the National Fire Service during the Second World War. A blockhouse in the grounds of the house is testament to this use.
Today, the Hall is listed as a Grade II* building, with the gate piers, walls and railings on Woolton Road listed in their own right. After damaging fires in 1994 and 1995, the house was renovated. It’s now the Pub in the Park, and the former hothouse is used by the pub for its dining room.
In 2007, Professor Stephen Harding and a team of archaeologists from the University of Nottingham brought attention to a possible Viking boat buried under the car park at the Railway Inn, Meols.
In 1938, workmen laying the car park first spotted the remains. But with the risk that an archaeological dig would delay building work, the find was kept secret. One of the workers, however, made a few notes, and in 1991 his son produced a report and a sketch. The report was brought to the attention of the current landlord, and so the Nottingham team was brought in, conducting a Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the location.
Viking boat survey
The survey seemed to show a ‘boat-shaped anomaly’ in the underlying clay. Further survey will assess the potential for an evaluation excavation.
The Viking boat find is particularly interesting from a landscape point of view. The pub is over a kilometre from the coast, and even further from the medieval shore. Professor Harding suggests that a flood may have washed the boat inland. Another possibility is that it sunk in one of the many marshes which covered the area at the time.
Old Norse field and track names are all over the area. It wasn’t unknown for the people of the time to drag their ships substantial distances inland if necessary.
Liverpool’s historic landscape influenced even this bit of history. The grenades were probably made at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) in Kirkby, on the site which later became the Kirkby Industrial Estate.
A similar factory was sited in Speke, as well as other locations around the country.
In the 1930s and 40s the outskirts of Liverpool were popular for this kind of development. The flat landscape provided room for expansion, and the population was increasing rapidly. Following slum clearances in the city centre, men and women had moved to the outskirts. They formed the workforce needed by the factories.
The government of the time judged these areas to be relatively ‘safe’. A huge area of the country , from Bristol to Linlithgow in Scotland, was a fitting place for these factories.
The areas were a good distance from centres of population, but had good road and rail links. Because of this it was easy to take the finished products to where they were needed.
Ridge and Furrow formations are possibly one of the best-known archaeological features which survive into the modern day. You can see these long, sinuous raises beds of earth across Britain. They survive particularly well in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire, as well as in other counties.
The remains of this farming technique are visible in two fields in West Derby, both on Eaton Road. The Walker Playing Fields near Kiln Hey are one location, while the Bill Shankly Playing fields on the corner with Barnfield Drive is the other.
They are best viewed in low sunlight, or after a light snowfall. Occasionally a lone golfer tees off from their slopes of a late summer evening!
Ridge and furrow in Liverpool
Ridge and furrow is a form of ploughing that first appears in Britain shortly after the Romans left, and lasted well into the 17th century.
In those times, groups of animals (oxen or, later, horses) pulled a single-sided plough which turned the soil over to one side. This side never altered, which is why the ridge of soil was able to build up.
Low sunlight shows off this great examples of well-preserved ridge and furrow above Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire
At the same time, the furrows were useful drainage channels. Crops like wheat were kept high and dry where they would otherwise have drowned. Rainwater would then have flowed down the furrows to a ditch at the bottom of the slope; ridge and furrow always ran up and down slope rather than across.
The ridges were an elongated reverse-S shape – largely straight with slight curves where the plough and animals turned. This helped the team to line up with the next furrow.
Each of the ridges which grew up became known as a land. Lands were a measure of area and value, such as when calculating the work a ploughman had done.
Survival of ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow lines could be built up to 6 feet in height in some places, and so they take a lot of punishment before they’re wiped from the landscape. Modern ploughing will quickly reduce the ridges to nothing. Where no ploughing has taken place since their formation, ridges can survive up to 2 or 3 feet (almost 1 metre).
The two fields we’re looking at here have remains around a foot tall in some cases. However, the ridge and furrow lies at the edges, as the fields are used for football. The sports fields themselves have been levelled.
What this tells us about West Derby
The moderate survival of this ridge and furrow in West Derby can be taken to mean many things.
Either this land went totally out of use once the open field system was no longer in operation. Or perhaps cattle or sheep were grazed here instead. Ridge and furrow survive fairly well when grazed instead of used for crops.
It’s also a fact that parts of south Lancashire were fairly waterlogged in their natural state. The land may simply have been unsuitable for crop growing.
Perhaps the local population fell to the extent that the number of fields needed for crops went down.
Main image: Ridge and furrow remains on the Walker Playing Fields, Eaton Road, West Derby.
The ‘Yeoman’s House’ (as it is known locally) dates from the 1580s, so is a cherished historical feature in the village of West Derby. Others include the similarly-aged courthouse across the road.
The stocks to one side, and the beautiful red brick cottages around the entrance to Croxteth Park add to the historic landscape. That’s not to mention the other monuments dotted around the area too, and the great history of West Derby in general.
Yeoman’s House photo gallery
The building was put up for sale in 2017, so new photos were taken by estate agents. The photos below are all from the estate agents who put the property on the market:
A question came in back in October 2016, looking for information on Paton Street in Kirkdale. I couldn’t find out any information on this myself, as there were few clues. However, Phil D came to the rescue recently with some aerial photos (truly a rarity!) and some maps to locate ourselves with. Go to the comment to see the original question, but the images that Phil sent me all here.
Paton Street was demolished in 1969. The in-laws of Pauline Evans, who lived there, had to move out when the demolition happened.
The photos show the classic grid of small Victorian streets, and the Hangsman pub (handily marked!). This building is still there, as the Brasenose Road Cafe. However, the housing has all disappeared, replaced with industrial units.
Following the curve of Princes Parade, on the north west side of Princes Dock, are a set of rails which are one of the few clues left to the presence of Liverpool Riverside Station.
Today the rails might look odd, as they are constructed like a tramway’s, with heavy stone setts bringing the level of the ground up around the top of the rails. The rails themselves, though you cannot necessarily see it, are heavier than normal tram rails, though they are the same shape, as they are built to carry much heavier loads. The rails were especially built for the network around the docks, owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and all the rails in the circuit are similar.
These are all clues to the unique history of Liverpool Riverside Station, and the unusual measures taken to keep it competitive.
Liverpool Riverside Station
Liverpool Riverside Station was a railway station owned by the administrators of the Liverpool dock estate, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB). It was opened on 12th June 1895, and provided a link for liner traffic (cargo, post, passengers) to get onto the intercity rail network without having to first navigate bustling Liverpool itself. The trains to Riverside came across the city using the Waterloo Tunnel from Edge Hill Station.
Before the station existed, anything or anyone disembarking from a liner at Princes Dock would be far from any of the main Liverpool rail terminals – Lime Street, Central and Exchange, for example. Until the late 19th century they were forced to make their own way across town, but with increasing competition for liner traffic with Southampton, a decision was made to remedy the situation, and Riverside was built right next to the landing stage.
In fact, passengers were protected from the elements right from the moment they left the ship, by a glazed roof over the roadway which ran between the station and the river, right up to the large, wide doorways flanked the station as it sat parallel to the waiting ships. Passengers were further treated to an immaculately-kept station with refreshments, booking facilities, and a waiting room all maintained to exacting standards within the two storey building. For more practical purposes, offices of the MDHB and customs facilities were also in that building.
The station did so well to improve the link between liner arrivals and the national rail network that it was chosen to serve arrivals soldiers from the US and the Empire during both world Wars. Nearly 2.5 million passed through its doors.
The landscape of Riverside Station
However, things were not perfect for Riverside Station. The route between Waterloo Goods Station and Riverside shared road space with other vehicles and foot traffic. Coupled with the tight curvature of the railway lines, this means that all of the MDHB lines were operated at walking pace. Between Waterloo and Riverside, a man walked in front of the rail vehicle with a red flag, ensuring the safety of other road users, while another man walked ahead of the train operating Annett’s keys to prepare the swing bridge and points. The steep ascent to back to Edge Hill just slowed journey times even more.
This wasn’t made any easier by the small locomotives in use. The ground around the docks was not strong enough to deal with mainline locomotives (this was, after all, reclaimed land), so at first the only engines light enough to service the Waterloo-Riverside route were LNWR Coal Tank locomotives. These small engines moved trains from the river to Edge Hill station, where carriages could be transferred to larger engines for the onward journey. The small tank engines were more able to take the tight curves than the larger main line trains would have been, but the incline to Edge Hill challenged them, and sometimes both the Webb engines were needed to force a single heavy train up the hill.
Plans were already in place by 1949 to strengthen the infrastructure of the area when a ship hit the landing stage and damaged the station. Once the works to repair the station and strengthen the land were complete, mainline locomotives could finally come all the way to Riverside Station. British Railways trains now ran on the MDHB lines.
Riverside Station’s days were numbered, however. The rise of air travel in the 1960s led to a decline in Atlantic liner traffic. Shipping in general was declining by this point too. In addition, the main line to London was electrified in the 1960s, but this did not extend past Edge Hill, and Riverside Station floundered in a technological backwater. The last train to use the station was carrying soldiers bound for Belfast in 1971, and the station building was demolished in 1990. The trackbed was used as a car park for a decade (and some parts still are), until dockland redevelopments brought buildings to the site in the early 21st century.
But some of the rails of the ‘Riverside Railway’ are still there today, and literally point the keen historian towards the site of one of Liverpool’s most important disappeared stations.
The Great Floating Landing-Stage at LiverpoolPhoto: Mersey Dock & Harbour Board, by Andy Dingley (scanner) – Scan from Harry Golding , ed. (1931) The Wonder Book of Engineering Wonders (2nd ed.), London: Ward, Lock & Co., and is Public Domain via Wikipedia
Plans were once put together to make West Derby a more peaceful village. Only a few clues now remain to those plans.
Martin’s Note: I’m indebted to the West Derby Society again for revealing this feature to me, in a post on their Facebook page back in December 2015.
Having been a political centre for many centuries, the history of West Derby is as a cross-roads for many journeys, and has had the shops, pubs, churches and schools which attract people on a regular basis.
West Derby Village was even once a tram terminus, and remains a busy thoroughfare to this day. And so it seems that, during Liverpool’s progressive and expansive decades – the 1920s and 1930s – the suggestion was made for a ‘by-pass’ (though not the type of multi-lane, multi-mile bypass we envisage these days!) to skirt around the village. It was hoped that this would make it a quieter, less congested place.
As the West Derby Society post shows, a map was drawn up by the city engineers in 1936, showing the proposed route. The road, marked on this map in red, would have taken Blackmoor Drive right through to Town Row (it currently stops short of Aysgarth Avenue).
From there the road would have created a fork in front of St. Paul’s Church, with Town Row heading one way and the new road heading more directly north. The plan shows the road joining up with South Parkside Drive, and running all the way through to Melwood Drive. It then joins Parkside Drive again on the north side of Croxteth Park before hitting Muirhead Avenue.
Apparently it was the Second World War which put the plans on hold, and they were never completed. Also, the Earl of Sefton was none too pleased about the prospect of having a road going through his park!
The landscape clues and remains
What immediately strikes you as you look at the map is the name Parkside Drive. We still have South Parkside Drive and Parkside Drive, so it’s no doubt that the road in its entirety would have been known as Parkside Drive. One of the most satisfying elements of this is that not only does it explain the two disconnected stretches of Parksides, but it also shows that an actual park-side road would have been in existence, earning the name more truly than the current pair, perhaps!
Looking at the near-contemporary Ordnance Survey map of 1937 raises a few interesting points too. Blackmoor Drive is in place by this date, stopping at the point that it does today. There is also a gap between the houses on Aysgarth Avenue which is wider at the spot where the by-pass would have been. Also, an area of Apsley Road is left without buildings. Were these merely accidents of development related to plot ownership, or where they deliberately kept undeveloped in case the road scheme went ahead?
Looking further north, at South Parkside Drive itself, it’s certain that the roads and houses were built with the full Parkside Drive in mind. South Parkside Drive extends up to the boundary of Croxteth Park, even where this prevented the building of two or three more houses. It’s this short stretch, and the Croxteth Park boundary wall, which are shown in the photograph at the top of this page.
So even today, with the bypass plans faded from living memory, there are still clues in the landscape – the street names and the oddly short ‘extra’ length of South Parkside Drive, which show what might have been.
Speke Hall is one of the most famous historical features on Merseyside. Its distinctive black and white appearance, highlighting its amazing timber structure, make it a memorable sight for visitors.
Speke Estate is centred on Speke Hall, and although much of that estate has been cut off from the Hall in the last 100 years, the landscape we see today has been shaped by the presence of the building.
Speke Hall’s owners
Long before our present Speke Hall was built, and at the time of the Norman Invasion (1066), Uctred, a Saxon, held the manor of Speke. But King William granted the lands, along with a vast tract of the hundred of West Derby, to Roger of Poitou, a prominent supporter.
By 1170 the manor was under the control of the powerful Molyneux family. The Speke estate itself was owned in two halves by the Hazelwall and Erneys families, and the Noreis (Norris) brothers, Alan and John, married into each.
John and his wife Nicola had a house in the Clough by 1314 (this is the first documentary mention of a home on the site), and Sir Henry Norris united the two halves of the estate alongside his wife Alice later in the 14th century.
Eventually the Norris family married into the Beauclerks, in whose hands the estate descended, until it was sold (the only time in its history) to the Watt family in 1795.
This was a low point in Speke Hall’s history, as the Watts bought an empty house, which had been neglected by its owners for some decades. The Watts left the house to tenants, for a while, but came back to Speke Hall in 1856 and began a restoration project to bring it back to its former glory. This was the first of several phases of restoration, which can be seen happening right up to the National Trust’s efforts today.
Adelaide Watt was the last owner of the house before the National Trust, and she inherited the estate well before she came of age at 21. Until that time it was leased to Frederick Leyland, manager of the Bibby Shipping Company. Bibby also put a lot of money into restoration and redecoration, and added many of the Arts and Crafts features that tourists see today, like the William Morris wallpapers in the Blue Drawing Room.
Adelaide Watt, when she came into full ownership of the Hall, set to developing the farm complex, even as the 20th Century was bringing with it drastic changes to the landscape in the form of industry and the aerodrome. She died in 1921, but having been determined to protect the house in the face of what she saw as the encroaching city, Speke Hall was passed on to the National Trust in 1942. The Hall had remained under the management of Thomas Watmore, Adelaide’s butler, and a number of house staff, in the intervening years.
Speke Hall was administered by Liverpool Corporation until 1986, at which point the National Trust took on full responsibility.
Speke Hall in its landscape
Speke Hall sits on a platform of red sandstone (like much of Liverpool), surrounded – originally on all sides – by a moat. The house is on the site formerly occupied by another building, of which little is known. The choice of spot is a strange one, and it’s not easy to understand why it was chosen for a house.
At the time this building was built, the fashion for defended houses was disappearing. Castles were almost completely obsolete, but many new dwellings were designed to look defended, or to have decorative stonework which was suggestive of defence, but which provided no real protection at all. However, the wattle and daub materials, and the timber frame of Speke Hall are out of character. Many of the Tudor houses known from other parts of the country are in towns, such as the Dutch House in Bristol or the Chester Rows just over the water. Speke Hall was a literal and figurative outlier.
The previous building on the site would have been Medieval, and the kitchen of the current Hall incorporates some of the features of this older structure. The moat surrounding the Hall was part of this older setting, and would have formed what is known as a Medieval Moated Site – a small yet defended rural house of a local landlord. Perhaps Speke Hall’s location was chosen simply because of the existence of this previous building in an attractive spot.
Speke Hall’s estate
The house sits on low, flat ground which slopes gently into the River Mersey. Originally the Hall would have had excellent views over the river and into North Wales, and the estate stretched right to the water’s edge. However, since the aerodrome, and later Liverpool Airport, were built the Hall has been cut off from the coast.
When the new Liverpool Airport was built in 1967 a large earthen bank, the Bund, was built between the Hall and the airport land to protect the structure from the noise and visual pollution. Even today you can see the taxiway which joins the sites of the current and former airport facilities, and the National Trust hopes to take this back into ownership and allow visitors to enjoy the whole of the land between Hall and Mersey.
The Forest and woodlands
On a wider scale, the Speke Estate was once part of the vast Lancashire forest. The local area was described in 1275 as ‘wood, plain and meadow’, and included areas of marsh too, with peat cutting taking place. The term ‘forest’ was more a reference to the laws which applied in the area; the amount of tree coverage would have been more patchy.
The Clough is an area of trees which still shelters the Hall from the weather, and has seen periods of felling (by the Air Ministry in the 1940s) and replanting (with beech and oak by the National Trust in recent years). Stockton’s Wood, named as ‘the heath called spekgreves’ in a deed of 1385, was probably used as cover for shooting parties.
How the topography has affected the landscape
The flat, open land close to the river has made it an attractive spot in the last 50 to 100 years for several very modern usages. The first aerodrome in Liverpool made use of the clear land for easy take off and landing, and an early air mail service to the Isle of Man and Ireland operated from here for some years.
The Air Ministry took over the aerodrome in the Second World War, and aeroplane parts were shipped in from America to the Liverpool docks, and stored on The Walk, just to the north east of the Hall.
In the build-up to the Second World War, Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) had come to Liverpool, with the Rootes factory at Speke producing Halifax bombers. The sites of these factories was later seen to be useful to emerging heavy industries, what with the flat land with room for expansion. The Ford factory at Halewood is perhaps just the most famous of the establishments which have inherited this function in Speke and the surrounding area.
At the same time, housing estates were created by Liverpool Corporation and City Council to house those evicted from the ‘slums’ cleared from the city centre in the 20th century. Huge numbers of houses could be built on the open landscape, and the new arrivals were conveniently located to work in the new factories.
And so Speke Hall and the estate have morphed from an attractive, out-of-town location for wealthy families and businessmen into an expanding residential and industrial area with close connections to the River Mersey, the railway, and the airport. The forethought of Adelaide Watt meant that Speke Hall itself, this outstanding example of Tudor architecture, remains intact and provides a haven for Scousers and visitors alike.
There is an octagonal pillbox in the grounds of Allerton Hall, seemingly ‘defending’ Springwood Avenue from an invisible army. While many no doubt pass it day to day without a second thought, a lot of people are puzzled as to why a pillbox is so far inland, and what feature of any importance is being defended.
Pillboxes in Liverpool during the Second World War
The early years of the Second World War were not good ones for Britain and her Allies. By 1940 a series of German invasions – of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France – had brought the enemy to the Channel coast of France. Following the retreat from Dunkirk an invasion of Britain looked imminent, and plans were laid to repel it.
The tactic used was to turn the home landscape into a ready-made battlefield, complete with anti-tank defences and machine gun positions. Although a linear defence along the coastline might seem the obvious choice, in practice it was imagined that the invaders would move quickly inland. Rather than try to hold them back, deep defences would slow the advance, and allow the enemy to pass by, all the better to attack them from the front and rear together! It would also let reinforcements arrive from around the country.
While earliest-built defences did indeed focus on the so-called ‘coastal crust’, as they developed, everything from machine gun emplacements and road blocks to pillboxes and concrete ‘dragons teeth‘ were to be found further and further inland.
The natural features of the landscape would also be taken advantage of. River channels, slopes and hills all affect how a moving army operates, and so the defenders can predict where a tank column is likely to rumble through. Areas can be flooded, roads blocked and obstacles (including mine fields) can be put in place.
18,000 pill boxes were built in the summer of 1940 alone – at the height of building, a pill box was built every 20 minutes.
The GHQ Line, and Stop Lines
Coastal defences started on the beach. Concertina barbed wire was laid as a first line, with mine fields positioned behind to deal with both vehicles and infantry. Behind this coastal crust were designated ‘stop lines’. The coasts which were most heavily defended in this way were the south and east coasts, naturally, with other lines along stretches of the Welsh and north-west English coasts, including Liverpool. The south and east of England also had stop lines further inland, further barriers allowing mobile defensive forces time to muster.
The length of the stop lines was reinforced with ‘island’ defences – heavily armoured clusters which could attack any army manoeuvring through the less-heavily militarised ‘seas’ between them. The idea was for the islands to funnel the enemy into predictable zones, ready for the defenders to deal with. These island defences were particularly used where there was sufficient local Home Guard units to man them.
In what way are Clarke Gardens a good spot for defence?
It’s hard to say for certain exactly why the grounds of Allerton Hall were a good place for a pillbox in 1940. No doubt the fact that this was land with no buildings on it played a part. It is also on a south west facing slope, and is not far from Garston Docks and a major railway junction (now Liverpool South Parkway Station).
The viewshed from this position would have favoured a machine gun emplacement, and any advancing German army would have no doubt come ashore at the docks to work its way inland towards other strategic positions.
The brilliant new 3D view available on Google Maps gives an indication of the type of view afforded from the Clarke Gardens Pillbox. The River Mersey and the Welsh Mountains are visible in the distance, and the eye is drawn all the way down the slopes to the shore and docks.
The Calder Stones name refers these days to a group of six megaliths which stand in a greenhousehave a new home in Calderstones Park. These are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber which once stood on the edge of the Harthill estate. The Harthill Estate later became Calderstones Park.
Before they were placed in the greenhouse in 1954, the stones stood in a circle at the entrance to the park. This was inside the roundabout on the junction between Druids Cross Road and Calderstones Road. Research by the Merseyside Archaeological Society suggests that the monument originally stood about 20 metres further west. The site is now occupied by modern flats.
The monument would originally have seen the stones built up into a ‘box’ shape. That stone box would have had a turf and soil mound piled on top. In appearance it would have looked similar to the mound at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey. That’s a passage tomb similar in size and date to the Calder Stones.
The demise of the Calder Stones mound was probably due to the taking of sand, and perhaps stone. These are both materials which are valued for building. Paintings show that the stones were already exposed by the 1840s. However, another image from 1825 seems to show the very last remains of the mound still visible.
Calder Stones: Meaning and use
It’s safe to say that no one really knows the full meaning or intention behind the building of the Calder Stones passage tomb. However, a look at the stones can tell us a little about it, and allow comparisons with other, better-understood sites.
The carvings on the stones are comparable with monuments all around the Irish Sea, from Scotland, Ireland and North Wales. Some say these stones are the most decorated of their kind, and one of the dagger shaped carvings even bears a resemblance to a tomb carving in Spain!
The megalithic building traditions started in the Mediterranean area. Those traditions then made their way up the Atlantic seaboard, becoming heavily associated with north west Europe.
Secondly, a look at the landscape in which the Calder Stones sit yields further clues. The monument’s original site, like many similar tombs, is towards the top of sloping ground. The spot itself is just shy of the summit. In the Neolithic period, the tomb may have been extremely easy to see from the well-used pathways of the valley floor.
A map used in a boundary dispute in 1568 shows at least three other monuments in the area. Robin Hood’s Stone, which still exists, and the Rodger Stone, which does not, are standing stones. (The third monument, the Pikeloo Hill, also no longer exists). Examples in other parts of Europe suggest that standing stones were in valley bottoms, or on trackways. People could have used the stones as marker points. Perhaps people were expected to take a moment to gaze uphill to where the ancestors were buried. Liverpool’s two standing stones may have played this role in the Calder Stones landscape.
The Calder Stones tomb was extremely long-lived, and may have been used for up to 800 years after it was raised. It may even be the case that this tomb was one of the last of its kind, still being visited as the Bronze Age began and new religious practices emerged.
The stones have been sitting in a greenhouse for some decades now. It has done nothing to help preserve them. The sandstone from which they are made is prone to flaking in an environment like this. Temperature can change often and humidity is high. Projects to investigate the ancient history of the area have included the Calder Stones in their plans. As this article was being written came news that the stones should be about to move to an open air site closer to their original location.
The Reader Organisation, a reading charity which currently runs its operations from the Calderstones Mansion, intends this as part of a £2 million project to create an International Centre for Reading.
As an archaeologist, I often bump into the border between the historical (especially the prehistorical) and the strange. By that I mean the paranormal, the unexplained or the mysterious. Ancient monuments like the Calder Stones are rife with legend and half-known stories. I have to admit that I love all that stuff!
But sometimes historical and archaeological knowledge is fascinatingly mysterious in its own right. For example, it has allowed John Reppion to write an incredibly comprehensive history of said Calder Stones.
The Calderstones of Liverpool collates the history, rather than prehistory, of the stones, from their earliest ‘written’ mention on a boundary dispute map of 1568 up to their relocation to the current glasshouse vestibule in the 1980s.
We also get details of associated monuments like Robin Hood’s Stone, also in Liverpool, and Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey, which share some important features with the Merseyside monument. Antiquarians linked them to Druids. They invented gory stories of blood running down the (in truth, natural) grooves on Robin Hood’s Stone.
Finally, John considers what might happen to the Stones in the near future. There’s a possible move from their present site, which he calls a potential “mixed blessing”. It’s certainly true that the Reader Organisation, who will be carrying out the move, have their work cut out to find the right solution. Luckily, they’re taking the time they need.
Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, Volume 13, 2010
Greaney, M., 2013, Liverpool: a landscape history, The History Press, Stroud, p17-20
This red brick and sandstone tower on Blackburne Place is a beautiful ventilation shaft for a railway which once ran beneath it, and could be seen as representing the tunnel and railway in a nutshell.
The tunnel itself, Wapping Tunnel, is partly bored through the local natural sandstone, with brick lining above, mirroring the architecture of the Blackburne Place building. The arches on the ventilation shaft are suggestive of the tunnel entrances which can be seen all along the line of the railway – the original Liverpool & Manchester Railway – particularly around Edge Hill Station and Chatsworth Drive.
The building was originally one of five, with only three others – between Crown Street and Smithdown Lane and on Grenville Street South, remaining. Two were demolished, once having stood on Great George Street and Myrtle Street respectively. The shaft building on Crown Street is of a simpler, brick-only octagonal design, while that near Grenville Street South is square like at Blackburne Place.
When Wapping Tunnel was being constructed, vertical shafts were dug and the excavation of the tunnel was begun at these spots, heading outwards in two directions with the intention of meeting up with the other pilot holes. After some controversy surrounding the original survey calculations the surveyor Charles Vignoles resigned and was replaced with Joseph Locke, who re-did the work.
It has been suggested that the ventilation shafts like that on Blackburne Place sit on the position of those original holes, with the buildings above ground being constructed over those holes first dug in 1826.
Wapping Tunnel, begun in 1826 and opened in 1830, was an impressive feat of engineering. No other tunnel had been dug under a city before, and the 22 feet by 16 feet dimensions of the tunnel were unlike anything attempted before.
What is more, the tunnel was on a 1:48 incline, meaning that locomotives built in its early years were not powerful enough to pull trains up to Edge Hill from the river front. To get around this problem, carts were pulled up via ropes (and, later, cables) by stationary steam engines located close to the Chatsworth Drive exit of the tunnel.
Within the tunnel itself are signal gongs, which were placed near the end of the tunnel to warn drivers that they were approaching the tunnel entrance. A small number of accidents had happened at tunnel entrances in the past where drivers had become disoriented. These gongs are still in place in brackets on the Wapping Tunnel’s wall.
When opened, the interior walls were whitewashed, and the length of the tunnel was gas-lit. Pedestrians were allowed to walk through the tunnel for several years, even after it became operational, though eventually it was realised just how dangerous this was!
As the southern docks declined in use with the development of ships too large to use them, the Wapping Tunnel railway became unviable, and closed to traffic in 1965.
Robin Hood’s Stone (or the Robin Hood Stone) is a Neolithic or Bronze Age standing stone currently to be found within a set of railings on the corner of Booker Avenue and Archerfield Road. It originally stood to the north east in the middle of a field known as Stone Hey, but was moved when the nearby houses were built in 1928.
Robin Hood’s Stone is a roughly rectangular stone around two metres high, just under a metre wide and half a metre thick. Deep grooves run down one of the larger faces, and these stop at what would have been the original ground level. Everything beyond the end of the grooves was buried when Robin Hood’s Stone was in Stone Hey.
After it was placed inside the railings, a bronze plaque was attached with some information about its origins:
“This Monolith known as Robin Hood’s Stone, stood in a field named the Stone Hey at a spot 280 feet bearing North from its present position, to which it was moved in August 1928. The arrow below indicates the direction of the original site. This side of the stone formerly faced South”.
Engraved at the base of the stone, as has been mentioned, are a collection of cup and ring marks. Marks like these, made of concentric carved rings with circular ‘cups’ at their centre, can be found across the west and north of Britain and in Ireland too.
Robin Hood’s Stone originally stood to the north east of its current site, in a field known appropriately as Stone Hey. ‘Hey’ is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and suggests an enclosure, possibly for animals. It’s been suggested that a farmer brought the stone to this field to let the grazing animals scratch themselves on it.
Although Robin Hood’s Stone may originally have been part of the Calderstones, we know that it has stood alone in this part of Liverpool since at least 1771, when Eye’s map of Liverpool shows the Stone Hey field name. So it’s sensible to suggest that, although the Stone itself is not marked on that map, it was in this field at that time.
A boundary dispute of 1568, which uses a number of ancient monuments as boundary markers, mentions that a stone was removed from the mound of the Calderstones in around 1550. This may or may not have been Robin Hood’s Stone, but the cup and ring markings near the base of the pillar date the stone to a similar era to the Calderstones.
So the movement of Robin Hood’s Stone could have taken it from the Calderstones mound itself, to Stone Hey (now the location of 11 Greenwood Road), and finally 280 feet south east to its present location on Booker Avenue in 1928.
The very name of the stone is a reference, of course, to the famed archer of Sherwood Forest, and this comes from the long grooves in the rock. Legend has it that these grooves were made by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads on the stone in the course of practising their aim. There’s no direct evidence for this, and the Robin Hood name is merely an extra layer in the mythology.
Another more gruesome legend suggests that the grooves are there as drains for the blood of the Druids’ human sacrifices! Needless to say this is a typical over-excited Victorian story, and quite far from the truth.
The mysterious carvings on the base of the monument, buried for so long in the ground at Stone Hey, have been seen by Alfred Watkins, inventor of ley lines, as a map of local leys. Considering Watkins ideas about the power of leys, it’s not entirely clear why you’d need a map of them…
Excavation and protection
Prior to its relocation to Booker Avenue, the Stone was excavated on October 29th 1910, which was when the carvings were rediscovered. These have since been compared to the carvings on the Calderstones, dating Robin Hood’s Stone to a similar date, the Neolithic.
In 1924 the Stone became a Scheduled Ancient Monument, but due to the threat posed by the new housing, it was relocated to its present site in August 1928 by the Liverpool Corporation and the Mersey Building Company. It was protected with the iron railings, and has stood in this state ever since.
In the woods above Woolton lie mysterious remains, amounting to little more than some dry stone walls, in a location reputed to have once held so much more.
Camp Hill is a name which suggests a settlement, if only temporary, with perhaps a military usage, and for years it has been assumed that the site was once the location of an Iron Age Hillfort. Hillforts have been defined as defended upland fortifications where high-ranking chieftains would gather their people around them and plot against their enemies, trade with allies, and swap war stories around the campfire, amidst much mead quaffing.
More recent research has cast doubt on these ideas, however. For a start, the archaeological evidence from the hillforts dotted around the country is extremely varied. Some forts had three or four huge ramparts, and were certainly heavily defended. There was even evidence (in the form of human bones with arrows embedded in them) of periods of violence at these sites. At the other end of the scale were smaller sites, with less evidence for defensible banks, and sometimes had very little evidence for any kind of activity in them at all. Shapes vary too. Even the period can’t be pinned down – some sites date from the late Bronze Age, though the majority can be placed in the Iron Age.
The upshot of this is that the vague phrase ‘hilltop enclosure’ is closer to the mark if you want to encompass all the sites that are known.
What are hilltop enclosures?
If these enclosures aren’t defended hillforts, then what were they for? Archaeologists have come up with some sophisticated and subtle theories which match the evidence which has come out of the ground.
Cattle corralling is one definite use, and some hilltop enclosures were used for human habitation as well. Religious and ceremonial activities were probably carried out too, at least at some of these hilltop sites.
And even if they weren’t defended, many of them would have been important symbols of power.
The landscape of Camp Hill
Like many similar sites, Camp Hill rises above the local area on a prominent stretch of high ground. Although there were other hills in the area, like Mossley Hill and other Merseyside uplands, for the locals of future Woolton, Camp Hill would have been of special importance, if only for its sheer presence.
Even if it was not inhabited, or defended, the hill would have acted as a recognisable landmark, a sign to returning travellers that they were home, and a reminder to visitors that a community who could build great monuments lived here. The number of hours work which needed to be put in to build such a monument was proof of the community’s ability to pull together for a common cause.
Further afield, links with neighbouring tribes may have been reinforced by the enclosure. It’s been shown that similar sites in Cheshire and Staffordshire, such as the well-known one at Beeston Castle (which has prehistoric origins), which were in use at the same time as Camp Hill, would often have been visible from each other. Vegetation or adverse weather conditions might have reduced this visibility, but it would have been easy to light a beacon, and at the very least remind your neighbours that you still existed in the gloom!
So whether or not the ‘camp’ was occupied for any stretch of time, it was an important monument and landmark in the most basic sense. You could compare it to Liverpool’s own St George’s Hall: it’s not only important when it is in use, but its very existence strengthens the community bonds of those who would pass it daily.
It’s been suggested that Camp Hill was built in around 150BC, during the Iron Age. The first modern evidence is in map form, as a ‘Camp’ is marked on the Yates and Perry map of 1768. It’s a rough, almost square enclosure on this map, and may not reflect any remains visible on the ground.
Excavations took place on the site in 1952 when a trial trench was dug in the area. Some small drystone walls were uncovered, but nothing was discovered which could date the remains with any certainty. The site is thought to be located near the Sunken Garden in Woolton Woods.
With this lack of firm evidence it’s possible that Camp Hill is nothing more than a legend based on local folklore. The site is on the edge of the large group of hilltop enclosures scattered across Cheshire and Staffordshire, so little research has been done on it.
Despite this, it’s worth keeping in mind that prehistoric Merseyside was more densely populated than is usually thought, and Camp Hill, if it existed, would have been part of a landscape which was incredibly important for locals while also sending out signals to fellow communities dozens of miles away.
Today: Woolton Woods
Today Camp Hill falls within Woolton Woods, a part of the Woolton Hall estate which was owned by the Ashton family from 1772. It passed through the Shand and Gaskell families until it was bought by the City of Liverpool in the 1920s, and is now a public park.
Since that time it has been laid out as gardens, more formal in feel than the other parks across the city. It’s possibly best known for the floral clock, and the tranquil and sheltered places it harbours.
In the Victorian period Liverpool was Britain’s second greatest port. So there are hundreds of remnants of Liverpool’s trading golden age dotted around the landscape. We’re all familiar with the scores of warehouses, docks and the odd road bridge seen around town. But there are also tiny details which have survived and which give clues to the city’s history. This crane, known as a teagle, is one such detail.
A teagle is a type of crane which was used to lower goods directly into the basement of warehouses. One such crane adorns the side of 11 Dale Street in Hackins Hey. It’s in its original location, and presents several clues as to the nature of the building before it became a shared business space.
The crane and the trapdoor
This type of crane is known as a teagle. The teagle was invented in 1835 by the company Frost and Stutt. It was driven by belts (as opposed to the inefficient steam-driven lifts in use at the time). In the Dale Street case the machinery may have been in the basement of the building. This was under the crane, in the same place that merchandise was stored.
There is an old (now semi-blocked) trapdoor leading into the basement, as you can see in the photo. It’s no coincidence that this is next to the crane. Goods would have been brought here from the ships it came in on. Next, workmen hoisted those goods down into the basement. It was stored here until it moved to its next destination, such as the markets of Liverpool and Lancashire.
So this little arrangement of crane and trapdoor shows that the building’s basement was once used as a warehouse. Yet it may have been that the ground floor and first floor were offices. These offices may have belonged to the company which was storing the goods, but as often as not it made sense for an office owner to lease out the space to one (or more) other companies.
Dale Street warehouses
Liverpool’s Victorian land values on Dale Street were, as now, extremely high. Renting out your basement to a company who could make use of it was an efficient use of real estate. It also helped a company pay the rates bills, or have a warehouse near the river without shelling out on an entire building. Sometimes an unlit cellar would do.
The iron crane shows a beautiful attention to detail, with a moulded point in the shape of a pineapple at the top. Perhaps this makes reference to Liverpool’s many exotic trade destinations, or the warehouse contents. Foliage-like designs on the two wheels complete the crane. It’s sturdily attached to the building itself by a heavy circle of metal and stout bolts. Despite this the crane arm itself is rather light and elegant.
11 Dale Street, Liverpool
We can see on the 1891 map of the area that the premises were known as Queen Buildings. The detailed 1:500 map marks the crane itself, as well as the trapdoor into the basement. It also shows the inebriating number of public houses (P.H.) in the area, but we won’t dwell on that right now!
And no doubt there are plenty of other cranes pock-marked about the city centre, from Kirkdale to Toxteth. After all, warehouses were spread right across that area. Let me know if you spot any more!
Image: The image of the crane is my own, and can be seen in my book, Liverpool: a landscape history, available signed from this site and (unsigned) from all good bookshops.
Liverpool has always been a trading port, and so it’s no surprise that features have come and gone in the landscape which sought to make this as easy and safe as possible.
Everton Beacon was one such feature, and took advantage of the natural rise in the ground to the north of Liverpool’s centre.
All the images we have of the Everton Beacon today are of a tower with two storeys (though some sources incorrectly state there to be three). It was built out of the classic Liverpool red-brown sandstone, probably from a source very close to the Beacon’s location. It was reported to be 25 feet tall and 6 feet square.
There was an earth-floored kitchen in the lower storey, with a fireplace in one corner. On the first floor was a living space and above that, on the roof, a cement and stone firebox in which could be set a blaze to make Everton Beacon more visible to vessels on the River Mersey. This may be why rumours have grown up around the Beacon to suggest that it was built to warn England of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
It’s been written that the Beacon was built in 1230 by Ranuf, Earl of Chester, but Robert Syers in his The history of Everton, including familiar dissertations on the people, and descriptive delineations of the several & separate properties of the township suggests that this is unlikely. Perhaps an earlier form of the Beacon was first erected then, replaced with the more recent version in later centuries.
Part of the reason to doubt a great age was the poor quality of the construction. Syers calls it poorly built and of little architectural merit. Towards the end of the building’s life it was in a very poor state, with a crack running right down its south side, and the whole thing laying “open, unwatched and unguarded” (and therefore uncared for).
Not just a beacon for guiding ships
Syers also tells us that marriages took place in Everton Beacon, the tower acting as a venue for those priests who were cast out of Liverpool during the Civil War for being on the wrong side. In Liverpool’s case the ‘wrong’ side was the King’s. This use of the tower puts its construction back at least to the 1640s or 1650s.
Other residents included a watch movement maker shortly after 1770, and a cobbler around 1783. Whether either of these lived here ‘officially’ (e.g. paid rent) is not known. The picture we get from these possibly unofficial residents is one of abandonment, both of the building and possibly the poor souls who found refuge here.
Syers also notes that it was most often frequented by ‘idlers and casual visitors’, who carved their names and initials into the soft stone walls. Apart from these occasional folk, the tower was open to the elements and the local cattle, who wandered in and out at will.
The End of Everton Beacon
Everton Beacon was poorly built, a useful pile of rock if nothing more. By the 18th Century it had dangerous cracks running down its walls and had been long neglected. One dark and stormy night in 1803, the flimsy structure was felled, perhaps by no more than a gust of wind, the last straw which broke its feeble back.
No obvious remains of the Beacon can be seen today, but its known that St. George’s Church in Everton was later built on or near the site, being the highest point of the hill. Recent map-based research by YO! Liverpool member ‘dazza’ suggests that in fact the site may be just to the south east of the church, raising the possibility that something of Everton Beacon’s foundations may be accessible to adventurous archaeologists.
http://www.yoliverpool.com/forum/showthread.php?108281-Everton-Beacon. Accessed 10th November 2015
Syers, Robert, 1830, The history of Everton, including familiar dissertations on the people, and descriptive delineations of the several & separate properties of the township, G & J Robinson, Liverpool.
Knotty Ash Village, and Springfield Park, are part of a historic area. They’re on the edge of West Derby and also on the main route between Liverpool and Prescot, and then on to Manchester. The old mail coaches would have flown past in their day, and the tram routes have left their mark in turn.
Today it’s a busy dual carriageway, which splits either side of the Village Hall and runs down one edge of Springfield Park. One particular detail led me to have a closer look at the old maps…
Springfield Park and Springfield House
Springfield Park was once the grounds of Springfield House, one of many expensive and out-of-town Victorian properties in the area. The park’s obelisk, a monument to Nelson, was intended as a gift to Liverpool from one of its residents. The man, a sugar merchant called Mr Downward, had his gift rejected (dismissed as a ‘half Nelson’ by some wag on the council). So he decided to put it up in his own back garden, this being the grounds of Springfield Park.
In 1907 the park was bought by the city council for £14,000, and it’s been a public space ever since.
The old maps
We can overlay the 1888 – 1913 Ordnance Survey with the modern satellite image (see above). This shows how the boundaries of Springfield House’s grounds match up well with Springfield Park. The Nelson Memorial is still in it’s original position, though its mark on the map is feint.
The northern lane of East Prescot Road is the newer one, cutting through the Park. The long driveway to the park almost matches the modern pathway, arcing all the way to the road. From there it crosses the northern carriageway to the southern (the original course of the Prescot road).
The image above shows the Google StreetView of this location for September 2008 (before the construction crew moved in). The Park entrance clearly inherited its placing from the original Springfield House entrance. The gap in the central reservation is a direct descendent of the House’s drive!
And by the looks of things, the new hospital will have an entrance on this site too. What a satisfying conclusion to this phase of the place’s landscape history!
The dock railway was built in Liverpool to solve a challenge which other cities did not face. With dock expansion, ships were docking further and further from the central business district. Places like Manchester and Bristol stood astride their rivers, and twice the mileage of docks fit in each mile of river than in Liverpool.
Therefore, much more than other places, railway transport became important to transporting goods. This could be from the outlying docks into town. Some went further, carrying on their journeys further into Britain, or onto new ships going elsewhere.
Dock railway remains
The remains of the dock railway are still embedded in parts of the docklands, even though the roads are now dedicated to other vehicles. It’s interesting to note that at one time the roads would have been shared between the locomotives on the one hand, and vehicles like trucks and horse-drawn carts on the other.
Even in the early 1960s steam engines could still be seen following a man with a flag near the Pier Head. But by then the increasing pressure from the motorcar was becoming too much. The main roads along the docklands – e.g. the Strand – were in need of modernisation to deal with the increased traffic.
Today, you can see the rails outside the Maritime Museum entrance, bounded by two sets of buffers. The rails run into a large iron-banded door to the north east side.