Photo of a gateman hut at albert Dock, with the Museum of Liverpool in the background

Hartley Huts, Albert Dock

The Hartley huts are three squat buildings at the entrance to Canning Dock. They were built in 1844 for the ‘gatemen’, those charged with operating the gates to allow ships to enter and leave the docks, some of which would be on their way to the graving docks nearby.

The working life of a gateman was not glamorous, with the gates having to be operated whenever the tide was right – even if this was in the middle of the night. On the plus side, these substantial buildings were heated, and had gas lighting. They might even have been cosy! The position of these huts gave the team a panoramic view of boats approaching.

Standing on the quay of the dock

The architectural style used for the buildings was ‘cyclopean’, which was similar to that used in the construction of other parts of the dock quays. The most obvious place to look is in the wall of the very dock in which the huts stand. The technique uses large blocks interspersed with smaller ones, expertly cut so that they make an impressively smooth surface, each block keying tightly into the next. This is a key characteristic of Jesse Hartley’s architectural style.

Dock huts after their heyday

Along with much of Liverpool’s dock estate, the huts became surplus to requirements. They were empty for many years, though they were adopted as part of Liverpool Museum’s security team. In recent years they are again empty, but Liz Stewart, Lead Curator of Archaeology & Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool and currently Head of Liverpool Museum (interim, though congrats to Liz!) wants to see them put to better use.

Liz told Radio Merseyside’s Paul Salt that she hoped they could be used, for instance, as refreshment stalls. Not only would this add new services to visitors, it would also go some way towards making these inegral parts of the dock estate more accessible to the general public. This will be just part of a wider project to improve the whole area around the Museum of Liverpool.


This post takes its information from an interview with Liz Stewart, on the BBC Sounds website (accessed 4th april 2022):

Photograph of the Liverpool Castle Reconstruction, Rivington, Lancashire

Liverpool Castle

Liverpool Castle is one of Liverpool’s greatest lost landmarks, alongside the Customs House and the Sailors’ Home.

This page collects aspects of the castle’s history as I find it, updated from time to time. As such, it’s not yet a complete history in its own right.

See also: Liverpool Castle, and Leverhulme’s reconstruction

Reconstruction in three dimensions

This is very interesting: a virtual reconstruction of Liverpool Castle using the detailed plans by Cox (see image further down). Ignore the missing…. river, and er… town… and you get an evocative suggestion of what it might have looked like.

A Report on Liverpool Castle

The following information comes from the modern transcription of the report. This is available in the Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol 59 (1907):

‘Utter rwyne’

In June 1559 the castle’s condition was subject to an inspection. A report delivered in October of the same year. Francis Samwell, Ralph Assheton and John Bradill were the commissioners, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.

Early 20th century plan of Liverpool Castle
Plan of Liverpool Castle by E.W. Cox, from Wikipedia

Their report gives us a few interesting details about the town of ‘Litherpole’, such as that ‘honeste’ reports from the merchants claim the harbour can hold 300 sails’-worth ships at a time.

Their report did not start well, with reports that the towers and gatehouse were “in utter rwyne [ruin] and decay”. Nearly all the timber and lead had gone (presumably for use elsewhere). In fact, the lead had been missing for longer than living memory.

Rain fell freely through the slateless roof of the biggest tower, which was “a great pytie”. This caused damage to the remaining wood of the floors below. The report hoped that, with repairs, the Queen could once again stay in the castle when she came to inspect the wapentake court at West Derby. Though, considering the independent spirit of Liverpool’s burgeoning council, this might not have been incentive to carry out said repairs.

They also recommended the repair of the curtain wall. This would at least save the blushes of the town, “otherwyse it were a greate defacement”. On a more militant level, the castle was failing to supply its obvious defensive strength to the valuable harbour. This is the very reason it was placed on this promontory, overlooking the Pool.

Defence of the Mersey

However, they acknowledged that no ‘navye’ would be so foolish as to try invasion via the Mersey. The river is dangerous, and Wirral and Wales are nearby, ready to lend a hand in defence!

The commissioners also considered that the castle was good enough (perhaps following their repair suggestions) for the locals to hole up in until reinforcements arrived from the “verie populus” surrounding county.

The commissioners concluded by recommending to the Queen that she offer financial assistance for the repair of the castle. They suggested that £100 should do the trick, allowing for an 11 shilling upkeep each year from then on.

Further Reading

These references all relate to what we know of the original castle. (See also Lerpoole 1572 – Historic Liverpool)

Liverpool Castle, The Gatehouse Record,, accessed 28th September 2019

Liverpool Castle, Pastscape (Historic England),, accessed 28th September 2019

Gladstone Jr, R., 1907, A Report on Liverpool Castle, 2nd October 1559, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol 59,, accessed 28th September 2019

Engraving of Woolt Hall, Liverpool, by JP Neale

Woolton Hall

When William Brettagh (of Holt) died, he left a cottage that would later become Woolton Hall. It was bought by the Broughton family, who began to extend it, and bring it up to date. By 1700 it was a three-storey building.

Traces of an older building still survive in the south west corner. Samuel Derrick visited in 1760 and mentioned in his diary an “iron coloured stone” element “in appearance about 200 years old”. This could be a survival of the original cottage, usually thought lost (Lally & Gnosspelius, 1975: 28)

The north block of Woolton Hall was designed by the same (but unknown) architect as the south west front of Croxteth Hall. It was commissioned by Woolton Hall’s owner, Richard Molyneux, who was heir to the Croxteth estate. Similarities can be seen in the decoration. Gadroons (decorative details usually only seen on ecclesiastical monuments) are one unusual feature shared by the two buildings.

Robert Adam was commissioned to remodel the Hall in 1772 by its new owner, Nicholas Ashton. Ashton owned a saltworks at Dungeon in Speke, and the house was given a view over the River Weaver and towards the saltworks.

It’s of interest that Ashon was building himself a house in the style of generations of aristocracy. And yet he had built his fortune in industry – a very unaristocratic activity. He was the turning point between old forms of wealth and new ones, one foot in the former and another in the latter.

Later industrialists would make their fortune from the landscapes natural resources of Woolton: James Gore owned quarries and a building company; John Rushton supplied timber to the building trade; James Rose was a Garston miller who also owned Woolton windmill, quarries, a steam mill, and the house at Beechwood.

Woolton Hall was later used as a ‘hydropathic’ hotel, a school, and latterly had plans to be converted into flats. A catastrophic fire in 2019 may have damaged much of the still in place historic features and objects.

Image: Image extracted from page 242 of volume 2 of “Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. L.P”, by John Preston Neale. Original held and digitised by the British Library. (No known copyright, via

Further Reading

Urbex: Woolton Hall aka Wacky Tacky Manor aka Katie’s House, Liverpool – March & April 2014 (2 Visits) (accessed 7th June 2020)

Woolton Old School

Woolton Old School has a date stone showing 1610. There has been a suggestion that the last figure is the result of later restoration, but this can’t change the supposed date of building by much. A gift of £60 was given by Edward Norris in 1606 to pay for a master, so the institution was at least in the planning stage shortly before the date on the building.

The day-to-day expenses of the school were to be paid from the interest on this gift. Twenty years later it was worth £80, though the school Reeves had to be ordered by the Bishop of Chester to hand over the stock to the parish. The interest on the stock was supplemented by school fees.

The building is similar in age to the Old School at Walton. But the two buildings differ architecturally: Walton School has a double wall with ‘through’ stones to bind the two skins together, while Woolton School has a single layer of 11” thick stones. These stones are also very long, and would have taken at least two people to lift them into place. Walton’s stones could have been handled by an individual.

The gothic end-windows at Woolton are unusual for the date.

West Derby Castle

Edward the Confessor chose West Derby for his hunting lodge, and after the conquest West Derby was given to Roger of Poitou. The castle was probably built around 1100 by Roger, and was sited near St. Mary’s church in Meadow Lane.

The site may have been chosen because of its nearness to water (the Alt, and perhaps the stream which once flowed parallel with Meadow Lane). Coal was nearby (with outcrops at Croxteth) and there was plenty of woodland. The existing hunting lodge would also have been a factor. West Derby also stood on the crossroads of routes from Hale to Aughton and Liverpool to Warrington and Prescot.

Excavations at West Derby Castle

West Derby Castle was repaired in 1197 and 1202. Archaeological excavation in 1927 and 1956 revealed oak beams (probable cross-moat bridge supports), pottery, metal, leather, horn/bone. The later excavation also discovered the remains of a palisade.

In 2022 the Channel 4 programme The Great British Dig excavated a trial trench on the field in Meadow Lane that covers part of the site of the castle. They also excavated some smaller trenches in local residents’ back gardens. The archaeologists found pottery from the 12th to the 18th centuries (as well as more modern items like toy soldiers and a Second World War bullet case).

Eventually they excavated down to the moat itself, finding a sloping surface probably churned by later animals. They also found a loosely-built dry stone wall which may have been linked to post-castle farming. By measuring from one edge of the moat to the centre, and doubling the distance, they estimated it to have been around 9m (27 feet) wide. The excavation suggested it was no more than a metre (3 feet) or so deep. So while its defensive capability would have been less than imagined, the width would have been a fine reflective setting for a landmark castle like this.

The archaeologists also found the likely remains of the aforementioned stream, and the possible location for a water-powered mill that was known to have stood on the stream.

West Derby loses its prominence to Liverpool

In 1213 a garrison of 140 foot soldiers, ten knights and crossbowmen were posted at the castle. But by 1235 all garrisons had been moved to Liverpool castle. A 1326 document mentions the “site of a ruined castle in West Derby” (Cooper & Power, 1982: 41), and the castle had probably gone out of use entirely by 1297. It had lost its importance at the same time that Liverpool, with its own castle, had risen to prominence. The site was finally levelled in 1817.

Further Reading

Cooper, J.G., & Power, A.D., 1982, A History of West Derby, Causeway Press, Ormskirk

Droop, J P, Larkin, F C, ‘AAA’ in Excavations At West Derby Castle, Liverpool, , Vol. 15, (1928)

Eames, J.V.H., A Short report on the excavations at West Derby Castle, 1957, L’pool Univ School of Arch. (Pag 1-6)


The Great British Dig: History in your garden, series 2, episode 5, West Derby. Broadcast 26th January 2022 (accessed 27th January 2022)

West Derby Mill

Mill Lane (Mylngate in documents of 1444 and 1492) is aptly named as the site of the king’s windmill, first mentioned in 1461, along with a horse mill. This stood on the site of the recently built Marks and Spencer building.

The windmill was built on the end of one of the NW-SE ridges that strike across the landscape – a perfect place to catch the breeze! In the early medieval period a survey by Edward IV noted it was in good condition. At the same time, the house associated with the horse mill was ordered to be repaired.

Perry’s map of 1768 shows the mill, and it would have made a useful landmark for any land surveyors of the time. The map of Lord Molyneux’s estate (1769) also shows it. On very early (horse-drawn) cab routes the mill is quoted as a landmark stop on the route. This use continued until at least around 1825, according to directories of the time, though the mill itself had probably already been demolished by 1805.

A tithe barn, 45ft x 30ft, sat on the opposite corner to the windmill, and is now the site of the aptly named Jolly Miller pub. A large house, Barn Field, occupied the site before the pub was built in the 1920s. Another tithe barn stood where Aspes Road meets Finch Lane. This barn served Acker’s Mill.

There would have been other mills in the area, and a field near Meadow Lane was labelled as Milldam Hey on the tithe map.

West Derby Courthouse

The court house was, amongst other things, the place where local copyholders deposited a copy of their freehold lease in a secure chest, and had to renew it once a year. They were bound by the contract to keep their dwelling in good condition. Copyholders were generally “men of substance and employers of labour”.

The stocks which now sit next to the Yeoman’s House once stood at the north end of the court house, before the tram inspector’s hut was built (see below). The pound, the piece of land in which the stocks sit, was planted and arranged for Edward VII’s coronation in 1901.

The courthouse was scheduled for demolition in 1921, but interested locals leased the building from the then lord of the manor, the Marquis of Salisbury, for a nominal sum (2s 6d per annum). In 1933 the Marquis gave his freehold to the City of Liverpool. This early conservation campaign helped keep the historic environment of West Derby in the state that we find it today.

West Derby Chapel

West Derby Chapel was situated in the centre of the village, a space now occupied by a monument. It was first mentioned in the mid-14th Century, and mentioned again in Edward IV’s reign in relation to a repair, deemed important as the chapel was useful for holding the king’s court (and this was before a separate court house was built).

Already by 1650 the chapel was described as ‘ancient’, and documents refer to repairs and additions in 1680, 1719 (for aisles) and 1745-6 (stone pillars to support the steeple, and the repair of the steeple itself). The sundial, which now adorns the wall of St Mary’s Church, was added in 1793 after a complete rebuilding of the chapel the year before.

The chapels was made a parish church in 1844, but St James’ church was built in 1847 and took over the role. Dissatisfaction with St James’ set in early, and £500 was raised for a new church. The Earl of Sefton donated the site off Meadow Lane, and St. Mary’s was built.

The chapel was demolished in 1856, leading to the discovery of building stones which were shaped in a way which would have supported a thatched roof originally. The bell from the chapel was moved to the school in Meadow Lane; some of the wooden doors became part of the new church’s vestry; others were moved to Ivy Cottage in Almonds Green. The font was given to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Toxteth and the sundial spent some time at Moss House before being moved to the wall of St Mary’s, where it remains to this day.

The monument built on the site of the chapel’s altar was designed by Eden Nesfield, who was also the architect behind the cottages (1861-7) in front of St Mary’s church.

Photograph of Hale Lighthouse, likely taken in the early 20th century

Hale Lighthouse

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.

Engraving of Hale Hall by Neal, 1824

Hale Hall

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).

Hale Hall, in a Victorian photograph
Hale Hall, south Lancashire, in a photograph from the early 20th century

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.

Photograph of the Manor House, Hale
Hale Manor House, from a 19th century post card

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.

Allerton Hall

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 Hardman 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.

Yeoman’s House, West Derby Village

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:


Further Reading

Liverpool’s 400-year-old courthouse where you could be put in the stocks for not having a pig-ring – Liverpool Echo (accessed 18th Nov 2017)

Photograph of Speke Hall, Liverpool

Speke Hall and the Speke Estate

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

Phoograph of the courtyard at Speke Hall, Liverpool
The courtyard at Speke Hall, a significant part of the Tudor building of William Norris II

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.

Photograph of a farm building on Speke Hall estate
One of the buildings in the farm complex developed by Adelaide Watt in the 20th century

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.

Photograph of the Mersey Basin from the Speke Hall estate
The view from the Bund: Liverpool airport and the Mersey basin

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.



Speke Hall, Garden and Estate,, accessed 5th February 2016

My Home, by Tom Whatmore,, accessed 5th February 2016

Speke Hall, Merseyside,, accessed 5th February 2016

Speke Archive Online,, accessed 6th February 2016

Munitions Factories, Liverpool Museums,, accessed 6th February 2016


Cousens, B., 2009, Speke Hall Guide Book, The National Trust

Clarke Gardens Pillbox

Clarke Gardens Pillbox, Allerton

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.

Google Maps 3D view of Clarke Gardens Pillbox
Clarke Gardens Pillbox is the grey rectangular feature within the trees, with views down to the docks

Main image

Pillbox in the grounds of Allerton Hall, via Geograph, © Copyright JThomas and licensed under a Creative Commons Licence


C N Trueman “Fortress Britain” The History Learning Site, 20 Apr 2015. 16 Dec 2015., accessed 27th January 2016.

Downloads, Pillbox Study Group,

Blackburne Place ventilation shaft and the Wapping Tunnel

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

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.

Image: Martin Greaney


Wapping Tunnel, Wikipedia,, accessed 14th January 2016

Site Name: WAPPING TUNNEL , Subterranea Britannica,, accessed 14th January 2016

Extract from the 1890 Ordnance Survey Map of Edge Hill, Liverpool

Edge Hill – the First Ever Passenger Station

Edge Hill has had two stations. The earlier of these was the first passenger station in the world, along with Liverpool Street in Manchester.

The first of the two stations opened in 1830, and sat in a sandstone cutting with three tunnels at one end. The passenger terminal at Crown Street lay at the end of one of these tunnels, but was rarely used. At the other end of the station sat a stationary steam engine. This powered the system which brought trains up the hill from Wapping Dock station.

Edge Hill’s new station

The new Edge Hill station opened in 1836, further north-east than the original. A tunnel ran from here to the new Lime Street Station, which was built as a more central passenger terminus for Liverpool than the Crown Street one.

All that’s left on the ‘surface’ are the fascinating ruins of the Wapping cutting, and a small stretch of track which still sticks out into the green space between Overbury Street and Smithdown Lane. Below ground the new tunnel still takes passengers from the new Edge Hill Station to Lime Street. The tunnel and cutting now blaze an impressive streak across the inner city.

Photograph of Lewis's department store, Liverpool

Lewis’s Department Store

David Lewis founded a small shop selling men’s and boy’s clothing in 1856. The sale of women’s clothes began in 1864, and by the 1870s Lewis’s Department Store was in full swing. There were sections for shoes and tobacco in addition to clothing.

Branches were opened in other cities, beginning with Manchester in 1877. Birmingham, Sheffield and Leicester followed soon after.

The building burnt down in the infamous fire of 1886, and was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Nevertheless, it was rebuilt each time, and was refurbished in 1957. This version included the statue ‘Liverpool Resurgent’, symbolising the city’s renewed vigour following the horrors of the recent conflict.

Lewis’s Department Store – the fifth floor

The fifth floor of Lewis’s has taken on an almost mythical status. In the store’s heyday, the 1950s, the fifth floor was the place to dine in the self-service cafeteria or the Red Rose restaurant. You could also get your hair done in the salon.

A large mural decorated the walls, but this and the other features were hidden from the public in the 1980s. The floor was closed, and remained so until 2010 when it became the focus of an exhibition at the National Conservation Centre.

Tough times

Lewis’s went into administration in 1991, and all but the Liverpool store were sold off, the majority to competitor Owen Owen. The Liverpool branch continued to trade though, until it went into liquidation in 2007. Bought by Vergo Retail Ltd in the same year, it managed to soldier on until the lease on the iconic building came up for renewal. Due to development of the area, the company was no longer allowed to stay. Despite efforts at negotiation, it remains uncertain whether Lewis’s will have a place in the new Liverpool Central Village.

Recent development meant that the focus shifted to the waterfront and Liverpool One. Also in recent years the Big Dig cut off Lewis’s from its customers. It was no longer the highly fashionable place – complete with a lady behind a lectern to welcome you – to shop.

David Lewis’s shops

Drawing of Lewis's Original Department Store, 1869
Lewis’s Original Department Store (1869), by Lewis’s via Flickr

David Lewis opened his first small store on Ranelagh Street, Liverpool in 1856. It was a small, glass-fronted shop as shown in the drawing on the right.

It expanded piece by piece between 1910-12 into much larger premises, which were gutted by fire in 1888. The building was once again heavily damaged, this time by German bombs, during the Second World War. It is the 1957 building, complete with ‘Dickie Lewis’, which remains standing today. This has survived as part of the redevelopment of the area.

Gerald de Courcy Fraser designed the building in 1947 while, Fraser, Sons and Geary carried out construction. It is built from a steel frame with a Portland stone façade.

There are several classical influences in the building. Red granite columns are topped with Ionic capitals, while the columns on the fourth floor are Tuscan in style. A two-storey colonnade above the corner entrance have Doric-style half columns.

Liverpool Resurgent

The statue Liverpool Resurgent is accompanied by relief panels depicting scenes of childhood. The figures in the panels are modelled on the sculptor Jacob Epstein’s own children and grandchildren. These represent the younger generation which Liverpool was being rebuilt for.

The lifts, surprisingly, are one of the most interesting features of the Lewis’s Department Store. Some were still in place at least until work on Liverpool Central Village was begun. These lifts are original features of the building, and were operated by a member of staff through use of a lever. There were no controls for the customers! Both the fold-down seats and the lever mechanism are currently still in the building, and are mentioned in the listing description. The passenger lifts at the south east of the building still have ‘clocks’ with coloured lights. These indicated which member of staff was required on the shop floor.

In addition, parts of the original customer escalators survive to the fourth and fifth floors.

The rediscovered fifth floor has wood panelling, panelled doors and a tiled floor corridor. A ten foot high Festival of Britain mural on the eastern wall is made of hand painted and hand printed tiles. Another mural on the south wall shows geometric patterns and cutlery, probably designed by the same artist.

Further Reading

Lewis’s Fifth Floor: A Department Story by Stephen King

Lewis’s closure brings end to colourful history (Liverpool Echo)

Susan Lee on the reasons why Lewis’s department store in Liverpool is facing closure (Liverpool Echo)

Oldest department store to close (BBC News)

Lewis’s closes down the shutters after 154 years (BBC News)

Lewis’s Liverpool, exterior, 1931 (Liverpool Museums)

Lewis’s Department Store (Listed Buildings Online)

Lewis’s (Wikipedia)

Early 20th century plan of Liverpool Castle

Liverpool Castle, and Leverhulme’s reconstruction

The council pulled down Liverpool Castle itself in 1715 and St George’s Church built in its place. However in 1895 E.W. Cox drew a reconstruction for the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. In the first decade of the 20th Century the first Viscount Leverhulme built a reconstruction of the ruins of the castle in the village of Rivington near Chorley. Today it stands in Lever Park, a large area of woodland on the east bank of Rivington Reservoir.

Liverpool Castle reconstruction

The replica Liverpool Castle stands on high ground overlooking the reservoir. Though of course it can never quite match the shape of the landscape in medieval Liverpool, the lake acts as a stand-in for the Pool. (Compare this plan on Wikipedia with the satellite view on Google Maps). The position of the River Mersey itself would have been in a west to east direction, on the north side of the two most complete towers at Rivington.

The castle was incomplete by the time of Lord Leverhulme’s death in 1925. Work stopped, though the majority of the intended layout was in place. Today the castle has its fair share of graffiti, and evidence of fires and drinking are all around. However, it’s a great place to go to get a feel for one of Liverpool’s lost gems.