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Category: Landscapes

Landscapes are tricky things to understand. They’re made up of individual historical sites, as well as layers of history in their roads, buildings, and activities. These articles draw together all the elements of an specific area of Liverpool’s history, and tease out the trends seen over time.

Natural Merseyside

Every aspect of the landscape – every building, road, lake, stream and path – has been affected by what came before it. Roads avoid steep slopes and buildings prefer well-drained ground. Ancient field boundaries become fossilised into the pattern of streets. In turn the field boundaries would have been influenced by water courses, contours and vegetation. This process can be further traced back to the bedrock upon which everything has its foundations.

For this reason it’s important to study the anciently prehistoric landscape. How was it formed? What shape did it take? How have humans changed it to suit their needs, and what limitations did they bump up against? More importantly, which natural landscape features did they take advantage of? How is our historic landscape formed from the natural one?

The most obvious and important natural features in Liverpool’s history are of course the River Mersey and the Pool. And even though the Pool no longer exists, the street pattern today – Paradise Street and Whitechapel, and the streets leading up to them – remember the Pool and form a ghost outline of the channel which gave Liverpool its power.

As well as the water courses, hills also played a part in the city’s growth. The high ground on which the Victoria Monument now stands was the perfect spot on which to build Liverpool Castle. It provided firm foundations for the fortified building, and gave panoramic views of the town, the Mersey and across the Wirral and south Lancashire – a perfect lookout for the defence of the town. In addition, sandstone ridges run northwest-southeast across the county, and it was these drier areas (bogs and marshes were otherwise widespread) that attracted the earliest settlement, for example in West Derby, Everton and Childwall.

How the landscape was formed

The River Mersey, the sandstone ridges, and the Rivers Weaver, Alt and Dee and Fender, were all formed by glaciers marching their slow and painstaking way south from the mountainous regions of Scotland and the Lake District, and from the basin of the Irish Sea. This scouring of the landscape laid down the first formations which were to have so much effect on the history of Liverpool.

As the ice retreated and sea levels rose, the Mersey valley and those of the other rivers filled with water, eventually forming the landscape features we are familiar with today. At the same time, water flowed off the ridges and into the rivers, forming the Pool, the Osklesbrook (from where the name Otterspool originates) and myriad other streams used later to power mills on the river front.

From these subtle beginnings, the natural landscape set the scene for the first human settlements, which took advantage of freshwater fish and the game opportunities provided by the forests which grew in place of the glaciers. From there, Liverpool and the surrounding towns developed in tune with the lie of the land, and even today we can see the evidence of this strong influence.

Medieval Merseyside

Once the Romans left British shores, we start to see evidence of British and, later, Scandinavian settlements leaving traces in the historical and archaeological records.

Modern place names are the most frequent scraps of evidence for the medieval landscape, and we can use them to map the settlements of both ‘native’ and incoming people. The Scandinavians, coming from both the east and west, left us names such as Knowsley on one side of future Liverpool, and Toxteth and Irby on the other.

The British, meanwhile, could be found in between, at Bootle and Walton, although the latter references the walesc, or ‘foreigners’, which tells us that the place name itself comes from the Scandinavian point of view.

Despite their reputation, there is no evidence that the Vikings raided and pillaged their way into Merseyside. Those place names show that they largely stuck to the less fertile land – whatever land they could get their hands on which wasn’t already settled by the British. It may simply be that the sparseness of the population reduced the need for conflict, though no doubt some skirmishes did occur. That the place name ‘Raby’ indicates a boundary shows that the line between the two cultures was known, however easy it was to pass across it in both directions.

By the time of the Norman Conquest, England was divided into Hundreds. West Derby Hundred encompassed the lands on the east bank of the Mersey, including the future site of Liverpool, and a ‘wapentake’ or court was located here for local tribes to meet and pledge allegiance and cooperation.

This part of the country probably remained a landscape of scattered farmsteads, moss, marsh and bog until the 12th century, when King John took an interest in the Mersey’s strategic position.

Romano-British Merseyside

Finds from Meols demonstrate that trade contacts extended as far as the Mediterranean, with Roman, French and Carthaginian artefacts all making their way to north west Britain.

However, extensive Romanisation simply did not occur – items from the Roman Empire may have been used by the Iron Age Britons, but Roman culture found only part of the way into local lives.

The large scale and communal cattle corralling settlements were gone, replaced with much smaller, and probably privately used, Iron Age farmsteads.

Small amounts of coal, iron and lead from local sources would have been traded with Roman Deva (Chester), and the landscape would have been dotted with small farmsteads and settlements joined by trackways which snaked between clearings in the woodland and scrub wasteland.

Bronze Age Merseyside

In the Bronze Age, the climate on Merseyside deteriorated, sea levels rose, and sand and shingle ridges formed on the coast, now visible up to a kilometre (0.6 miles) inland. Some small-scale farming may have taken place, but people generally still led mobile existences.

Bronze Age settlement sites in Manchester and the Pennines raise the possibility that Merseysiders had contacts over as wide an area as they had had in the Neolithic.

Although both cereal cultivation and animal husbandry took place on Merseyside, the evidence is much stronger for animal farming. However, with Wales and the Wirral acting as a protective barrier against the worst of the Atlantic weather, the banks of the Mersey would have been warmer and drier in the Bronze Age than other parts of the region, and well suited to growing crops.

Neolithic Merseyside

Something of a ‘ritual landscape’ can be glimpsed in the locations of the Calder Stones – a former burial chamber – along with the Pikeloo Hill, the Rodger Stone and Robin Hood’s Stone. Only the first and last of these survive in any form, and away from their original position.

However, the area (now Allerton) must have had some significance to the Neolithic people of Merseyside, and it is a shame that more of these ancient remains have not survived. The standing stones of Robin Hood’s Stone and the Rodger Stone may have been way-markers on the route to the Calder Stones tomb. On a wider scale, the Calder Stones look like tombs in Ireland, Wales and Scotland – around the Irish Sea – proving that some cultural influence reached quite a distance.

Mesolithic Merseyside

With a variety of Mesolithic sites on Merseyside, ranging from flint scatters at Tarbock and Crosby, and Mesolithic settlements in Ditton Brook and Sefton, we’re left with the suggestion that the Mesolithic landscape consisted of a series of human settlements along the coast.

The settlements would have been visited regularly – perhaps seasonally – and returned to year after year. Until recently, the only evidence we had for Mesolithic human activity were flint scatters and footprints preserved in the sands on the Irish Sea coast at Formby. However, pioneering work in 2012 by Ron Cowell and the Environment Agency revealed structures dated to 5,800 BC at Lunt Meadows in Sefton.

The structures are thought to be houses, and if so are the first evidence that Mesolithic humans were not purely nomadic people, using little more than flimsy temporary ‘tents’ to live in. Settlements on Mesolithic Merseyside would vary in size, with larger camps acting as bases from which to spread out over the region for tasks like hunting, foraging, or butchery.

The Mesolithic landscape would have been covered in forest, with clearings created by humans burning the vegetation. This would have helped encourage biodiversity, and helped corral animals into a place where they could be killed and butchered. The trees were oak and hazel, developing new species around 5,000 BC. The land was marshy in places, though it would have been more open closer to the coast.

Ancient Crosses of Lancashire

The following are all extracts from The Ancient Crosses of Lancashire: the hundred of West Derby by Henry Taylor (1902).

Liverpool

In Baines’s Lancashire an old print is reproduced showing the village of Liverpool as it existed when both the castle (of which the Molyneux family were hereditary constables) and the embattled house of the Stanleys were still standing near the river. Between the retainers of these great families actual fighting took place in the streets in 1424. Owing to the rapid and enormous increase of this city almost all landmarks, including these buildings, have been swept away.* Liverpool, however, was not without the symbols at least of Christianity and peace and goodwill to men, for it had no less than five crosses. These are shown on an old map in the Binns collection at Liverpool. They were as follows:-

  • The High Cross, at the junction of Castle Street, High Street, Water Street, and Dale Street.
  • The White Cross, at the junction of Tithebarn Street, Oldhall Street, and Chapel Street.
  • The Red Cross, at the junction of Castle Street with Red Cross Street.
  • Towns-end Cross, at the junction of William Brown Street and Byrom Street, where the Technical Schools are now built.
  • S. Patrick’s Cross, at the junction of Tithebarn Street, Vauxhall Road, Marybone, and Hatton Garden.

The whole of these crosses have disappeared, but I give below all the information which I have been able to glean about them.

*It seems almost incredible that in the year 1565 the population was only about seven hundred.)

The history if the “Red Cross” is involved in some obscurity. On the map of Liverpool already referred to in the year 1539, the “Red Cross” is distincly marked in the position described above.

In Brookes History of Liverpool (published in 1853), the author states that a market for the sale of provisions, vegetables, butter, &t., was established early in the eighteenth century on the south side of S. George’s Church, where Alderman Tarleton afterwards erected an obelisk of red stone, which was called the “Red Cross” or “Tarleton’s Obelisk.” This fact, however, does not necessarily prove that a medieval cross did not stand on this site, for market crosses were rebuilt all over England many times over in the course of centuries.

The same author states that the “High Cross,” which was known to have stood at the junction of Castle Street, Water Street, and Dale Street, at the middle of the sixteenth century, for butcher’s meat, fish, and vegetables, was removed in the years 1673 to make way for the new town hall. Mr. Brooke tells us that a portion of the ancient cross called the “White Cross” was in existence within the memory of persons recently living, close to where the “White Cross” Market used to be held, and that the remains of “S. Patrick’s Cross” were not removed until a few years after the year 1775.

In an interesting article on “Lancashire Hearth Taxes” (Transactions of the Hsitoric Society, Lancashire and Cheshire, 1900) Mr. W. Ferguson Irvine says: “In 1701, the Earl of Macclesfield, who has superseded Lord Molyneux as constable of the castle, died, and the office, ins spite of Lord Molyneux’s claim to it as hereditary in his family, was given to Lord Rivers. The Corporation of Liverpool was at this time the tenant of the site…” One of the main objects of the application for the grant of the site of the castle was the scheme for making the new market there. The town suffered great inconvenience from the want of a proper market. the corn market was at the High Cross; the butchers occupied part of the area of the present exchange; the potato, shoe, and yarn market was at the White Cross, between Oldhall Street and High Street.

Mr. Irvine, in this article, quotes a letter written at that time about the markets, as follows: “I would propose, and I hope it will look faire, that the Butchers be at the new markett; the Butter, Cheese, and Poultry about the Change, as the Butchers were: The Corne markett as formerly, the Yarn markett, and the Pottatos at the White Cross.”

Some additional notes on the Liverpool crosses are given in the Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (1897), recording some discoveries recently made through the laying of electric wires. These notes are as follows:-

Almost at the centre of the street [the ancient High Street], and close to the surface, lay three large blocks of yellow stone about three feet long, two wide, and one thick, much worn and damaged. These lay exactly on the spot where the White Cross is known to have stood, and though they cannot be said with certainty to have belonged to its base, their position and character are suggestive.

The following notes occur in a paper contributed by Lieutenant-Colonel Fishwick, on “Lancashire in the Time of Charles II.,” to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. xxxiii.: “In 1654 the streets of Liverpool were first lighted, the order on the town books being ‘that two lanthorne’s with two candles burning every night in the dark moon be set out at the High Cross and at the White Cross, and places prepared to set them in every night till eight of the clock.’” *

*In Liverpool in the Reign of Charles II., by Sir Edward Moore, edited by W.F. Irvine, are several references to the various crosses and markets in the town, which would interest those who desire to follow up this subject; and similarly in The Moore Rental (Chetham Society, 1847).
There can be little doubt that religion was promoted and stimulated in Liverpool by the inmates of Birkenhead priory, and it may be that the erection of the some of the ancient crosses in that town is due to their piety. Dr. Halley writes:-

Liverpool was becoming at that time a place of some importance. As early as the reign of Henry II. its fishermen and traders had been incorporated, and in the time of Edward I. they were able to defray the expenses of sending two representatives to Parliament. In the reign of Edward III. the ancient chapel of St. Nicholas, an appurtenance of the Vicarage of Walton, was consecrated as a sanctuary, in and around which the inhabitants of the chapelry had the privilege of interring their dead…. Of the ecclesiastics residing near Liverpool the prior of Birkenhead was the most considerable. He claimed property in the ferry for carrying passengers and goods across the Mersey, and the monopoly of providing accommodation for them on his own side of the water….

The invention and general adoption of railways brought about an amazing change throughout the whole of the country towns of England. During the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth the Lancashire and Cheshire gentry, when the weather became dreary in the autumn and winter, and the roads impassable,* moved for a time into their town houses in Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Stockport, Preston, Lancaster, Ormskirk, and elsewhere. These towns were thus for a time the centres of social life, the market place and the market cross being places of resort for the discussion of foreign and domestic affairs. Note merely were punishments inflicted at the market cross, but “Notices” of every description were affixed to it. Thus, in Notes and Queries for January 12th 1901, we are informed that lists of those persons who took out certificates for hair powder (one guinea each) were to be fixed on the market cross and on the church or chapel.

* The following extract from Diary of Nicolas Blundell shows the terrible state of the roads at the beginning of the eighteenth century: “1724, Dec.8. – Fanny and I went to Wigan to be under Dr. Frans. Worthington, our health being very bad. The coach was overturned, and when we came neare Wigan it was laid fast the rode being so deep; we left it in the laine all night, and we went with our horses to Wigan, where we lodged at Kendall’s, the legs of man.”

Crosses in the Southern Part of the West Derby Hundred, Between Liverpool and Warrington

The ordnance maps show the sites or remains of no less than twenty ancient crosses in this part of Lancashire. Many have disappeared since the date of the 1848 survey. Some highly interesting notes by the Rev. Austin Powell concerning the crosses of this district appear in the volume for 1887 of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. This district (about ten miles from east to west and five from north to south) is a small oasis of old-world rural Lancashire hedged in by great manufacturing towns. The country is pretty and undulating, and contains several fine parks.

Plan of Port Sunlight from 1914

Port Sunlight: traces of nature in the man-made landscape

I visited Port Sunlight late last year. It was something I’d been meaning to do for ages, and it was a gorgeous day!

The reason it was (for want of a less pun-tastic phrase) right up my street is that Port Sunlight is a classic and easy-to-read ‘landscape’, in the sense that word is used on this blog: it was created in one quick phase, for one purpose, obliterating everything that came before it. And what’s more, it’s changed little since it was created.
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Liverpool’s Largest Landscape: Western Approaches

This blog often talks about the role played by Liverpool’s geography throughout history. From the location of the ancient Calderstones (wherever that might have been) to the collection of banking institutions on Castle Street, Liverpool Landscapes, Historic Liverpool and the book Liverpool: a landscape history have tried to communicate the importance of positioning to the development of the city. Read more

A photo of early morning sun among the woodland of Sefton park, Liverpool.

Woodland on Merseyside and the Mersey Forest

The year 2011 was declared as the International Year of Forests by the UN (see the Echo for some of Liverpool’s plans). The very modern Mersey Forest has seen 8 million new trees planted since 1994. But there’s a much longer and fascinating history of woodland and forest in this area.

The origins of the woodland

As the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat about 12 – 10,000 years ago the dry land left behind became tundra. Shrubs, moss and lichen only slowly populated this cold, dry landscape.

Only gradually did the first woodland – larger plants such as juniper, then birch, hazel, elm and oak – establish themselves. By around 5000 years ago more familiar woodland – oak and elm – had become permanent features of the landscape. It was around this time that humans made their first impacts on the natural environment.

Prehistoric woodland

The earliest periods of human activity in the north west of England are the Mesolithic and Neolithic (the middle and new stone ages). As the effects of melting ice had not fully taken effect, the sea was around 20m lower than it is today. If you’ve visited the Crosby coast you’ll know just how shallow the slope of the land is, and so the coast was 15-20km further out than it is now.

Not only humans and animals occupied the land, but also the trees of the widespread oak woodland. Sea level rose and the land was flooded. The waters submerged these trees and protected them beneath layers of water and silt. The petrified remains of tree stumps can therefore still be seen at low tide right across the coast from Anglesey to Southport.

As well as the drowned trees, areas further inland suffered from periodic flooding and water-logging, creating marshy ground, ponds and streams.

By the Neolithic, gaps appeared in the woodland, with humans felling trees. The cleared land was then used for their first attempts at farming.

Into the Bronze and Iron Ages (and the Roman period), wherever people settled they cleared the forest. The climate became colder and wetter again at the beginning of the Bronze Age, and so marshlands and bogs spread to replace tree cover.

Medieval Merseyside

Place names are one of the major sources of evidence for medieval settlement in the region. These rarely give clues about the woodland (they mostly talk of ‘British farm’, ‘boundary river’ and ‘settlement’). An exception is West Derby (deorby = enclosure with deer, or a hunting park). Also, we know that Edward the Confessor had a hunting lodge in the area (possibly on on Lodge Lane). This suggests that the landscape (perhaps for many miles beyond West Derby itself) was covered in trees and pasture. This made a suitable habitat for the deer.

It’s important at this point to define a special use of the word ‘Forest’. A Royal Forest was not just a collection of trees. It was a space likely enclosed by a pale, a large bank and ditch. The pale might even have a fence on top, and came with a whole host of regulations, privileges and restrictions on its use.

Roger of Poictou was one of William of Normandy’s allies in the invasion of 1066. William rewarded him with the Hundred of West Derby, bringing Toxteth, Croxteth and Smithdown into one royal forest. This cemented West Derby’s administrative importance, and paved the way for Liverpool’s birth two hundred years later.

Toxteth and its Park

Toxteth remained a fenced-off royal park for hundreds of years. In fact, the restrictions on building or farming in royal parks began to hinder 16th century Liverpool’s growth. James I eventually ‘disparked’ Toxteth in 1604, and entrepreneurial farmers rapidly took advantage. The farmers transformed the newly available land from tree-and-pasture to pastoral and arable.

While there was no longer much royal passion for hunting in Liverpool, the city grew rapidly in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Farming, industry and housing nibbled away at the edges of rural Lancashire. It was only in the late 19th Century that the city made efforts to preserve some of these green and pleasant areas. The rich merchants who lived in Toxteth wanted to escape the increasingly polluted city. Poorer workers in the inner city and inner suburbs (Kirkdale, Everton and eventually also Toxteth) could also benefit.

For this reason we have a string of parks around the old city boundary. Two of these – Princes and Sefton Parks – have remained undeveloped. They have remained so since the time they were part of Toxteth Park. However, whether any of the trees there today have such a long pedigree is questionable!

Woodland on Merseyside

We leave off where we came in: with the Mersey Forest. This modern project is the successor to the ‘green lungs’ of Liverpool. These were the parks (Sefton, Newsham, Stanley) opened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also restores some of the natural woodland which covered the area for millennia before Liverpool started to thrive.

The ancient woodland of this part of the world developed gradually after the last ice age. Prehistoric communities slowly cleared the woodland, using the land to farm and rear animals. This process was slow at first, of course. Eventually royal order fenced off a lot of the woodland, protecting it from change by royal order.

Over the past 200 years industrial and commercial concerns saw the clearance of almost all the woodland. The city’s benevolent (or self-interested) rich put new walls in place, protecting parks for all the city’s inhabitants. Still, the environment deteriorated in the face of human action until the later years of the 20th Century. Preservation of natural resources became a much more prominent concern, and in 1994 the Mersey Forest was created. The partnership billed the project as ‘woodlands on your doorstep’.

Mersey Forest

The project, via the Mersey Forest partnership, has had great success in regenerating woodland on Merseyside, as set out in their ‘5 Facts’:

  • Through community and partnership working, we have planted more than 8 million trees.
  • To date more than 6,000 hectares of new woodland and improved habitats have been achieved, an area 500 times the size of Wembley Stadium.
  • Since 1994, more than 70% of the woodlands in The Mersey Forest have been brought into management to secure their long-term future.
  • For every £1 invested in The Mersey Forest, £8 of outputs is generated, thanks to the way we maximise our funding.
  • 60% of people living in The Mersey Forest use their local woodlands – with nearly 20% visiting at least once a week.

Liverpool has a long forest history. It has made plans for Merseyside’s woodlands to continue to thrive for millennia more.

Image: Golden Park Woods (Early morning sun among the Oaks and Plane trees of Sefton park, Liverpool) by Ben Mitchell, released under a Creative Commons license.

Map of Toxteth, Liverpool, in the 1960s

Madryn Street: Ringo’s Birthplace and the Welsh Streets

The childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney are massively popular tourist attractions. George Harrison’s and Ringo’s homes (like 9 Madryn Street) don’t get so much as a blue plaque. But is Ringo’s birthplace really of any historical merit?

It depends on how you judge it, of course. Ringo only lived there for 5 months of his life (moving to Admiral Grove, and also spending time in the Children’s Hospital in Myrtle Street). It can hardly claim to have had any influence on his musical abilities.

The idea that a house should be preserved because of who was born there is a common one. These historic links indeed form the basis for many of the blue plaque schemes which operate across Britain. It also becomes a consideration in the listing process too, but rarely tips the balance on its own.

For a building to be listed requires that it has architectural importance, or uniqueness. If other buildings like it are rare, under threat or not often found in that part of the country, then the building may be listed.

It looks like none of this applies to 9 Madryn Street.

Madryn Street in context

And yet the streets around Madryn are of interest from a landscape history point of view. They are the ‘Welsh Streets’ and were built in the Victorian period.

Liverpool is well known for its Irish immigrants, and to some extent its Scottish. But the Welsh also left a legacy on Merseyside (and of course still do!). The Welsh communities produced a high proportion of builders, both in the brick-layer sense as well as construction companies. Madryn Street and the houses of the area were built by Welsh hands.

Welsh communities established themselves in Anfield and Kensington too. Look closely at the map of streets from Oxten Street to Arnot Street near Goodison Park, and from Makin Street to Nixon Street just across County Road (see map above). The initials spell out ‘Owen and William Owen’, the father and son who built those streets.

So while it will be a shame to lose Ringo’s birthplace, it will take more than this to destroy all traces of Welsh builders and the traces they left on Liverpool’s history.

Further Reading

The Liverpool Welsh, BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northeast/sites/history/pages/liverpool.shtml

Photograph of Knott's Hole

Knott’s Hole and the Garden Festival Site

Map of Knott's Hole, from the Ordnance Survey Edition of 1908
Knott’s Hole, from the Ordnance Survey Edition of 1908

The former site of Liverpool’s historic Garden Festival was in the news in February 2010. Work got under way to restore the parkland and kick-restart the building of flats on the site. But the site started life as Knott’s Hole, a little square bay surrounded by cliffs.

Knott’s Hole was a real beauty spot, later filled with rubbish and contaminated with oil. But something of a revival happened in the late 20th Century.

Perhaps the new developments will do more than previous ones to restore the pleasant air of Knott’s Hole. However, Liverpool lost a unique landscape lost long ago.

Knott’s Hole and Dingle Point in the middle of the 19th Century

The earliest Ordnance Survey maps for Liverpool are from around 1850. At this time the Dingle area was purely rural. Liverpool lay to the north west, but this was an area of large houses. The houses had vast gardens, babbling streams and a long beach close to hand.

The houses included West Dingle, the Priory and Dudley House, which sat back from Aigburth Road along narrow lanes. The beach known as Jericho Shore stretched from Knott’s Hole in the north west towards Garston in the south east. Knott’s Hole itself was a narrow bay or inlet next to where the Dingle flowed out to the Mersey. Steep rocky cliffs stood to either side were, with Dingle Point to the south west.

By the time of the next map, published in 1894, Herculaneum Dock had appeared to the north. This marked the continued expansion of the docklands across the Toxteth waterfront.

Terraced houses came along, to the north east of the docks. Two hospitals appeared just inside the County Borough Boundary.

The lanes down which the large houses sat developed into a more formal settlement. St. Michael’s Hamlet, including Alwyn Street, Allington Street, Belgrave Street and St. Michael’s Road, were all built up. The Jericho Shore remained a wide beach.

Urbanisation in the 20th Century

By 1928, increasing urbanisation of the area surrounded the dingle with allotments. The area had become quite an orderly part of the grounds of West Dingle, the large house on the hillside.

Dense terraced housing was filling in the gaps not already taken up by the large villas. Toxteth and Liverpool slowly encroached on the rural outskirts.

The 1928 map also shows the south pier at Dingle Point. It is this structure which heralds the start of a complete transformation of the landscape, and one which we still look upon today.

Photograph of a lorry reversing and dumping waste off the shore at Otterspool
Dumping household waste at Otterspool

The first development was an application to Liverpool City Council for the dumping of material dug from the Queensway Mersey Tunnel. The Council resurrected twenty-year-old plans to reclaim land from the river. In September 1929 dumping began of thousands of tonnes of rubble and household waste.

The concrete sea wall was complete by 1932, and the land behind it full by 1949.

After the War: Dingle from 1949

The 1949 map shows a handful of gas storage cylinders behind the pier. This area of the south docks was gradually becoming more and more industrialised What had once been a popular fishing destination now found its waters contaminated with oil. Fish stocks were disappearing.

Also by this time the houses on the hill had been demolished. The demolition of Dingle Head had happened before 1909.

Two OS maps of Dingle, the 1947 and the 1964 Editions
Dingle, 1947 (left) and 1964 (right)

More gas storage cylinders were built in the period up to 1960. Extensions to the promenade (which had opened in 1950) went northwards. The long beach of the Jericho Shore was reclaimed for building land.

The 1960 map shows the Otterspool river wall creeping northwards in preparation for the promenade extension. By 1964 the beach had totally disappeared, and the area was marked as Sand & Gravel.

By the late 1970s the sand and gravel too had gone, along with the gasometers. The railway remained, as did the pier, but nothing more than an embankment marked the area once covered with allotments and cut through with the channel of the Dingle. By the 1980s household waste formed the foundations of the whole area.

Unemployment, Riots, and a Garden Festival

This period was a low point in Liverpool’s history. The docks were falling empty as trade moved elsewhere. At the beginning of the 1980s the Toxteth riots drew the eyes of the country to the inner city’s social and economic problems.

For this reason Michael Heseltine, Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Minister for Merseyside’ ushered in another new use for the Dingle. The International Garden Festival took place in 1984. It was an attempt to showcase what Liverpool could do when it pooled its resources, and to spark regeneration in the area. The Garden Festival completely reshaped the landscape, whether or not it was an economic success.

The area recently landfilled was developed into extensive gardens. Where the shaded bay of Knott’s Hole once looked out on the Mersey, the Garden Festival Hall provided the focal point for the event amidst the lakes, statues and artworks. Then the Festival ended, and once again the Dingle waterfront fell into disrepair.

2000 Edition of the OS map showing the derelict International Garden Festival site
The derelict Garden Festival site in 2000

The years from 1984 until the turn of the Millennium were ones of little change. As planned, new housing replaced the dense terraces built in the early 20th Century. A new waterfront drive sped drivers from Garston to the city centre, past the high fences and trees of the former Garden Festival site.

In the mid 1990s Pleasure Island occupied the site, which meant a new use for the Hall and the Gardens themselves until the centre closed in 1999.

Campaigns have run to help preserve or save the Garden Festival site from ruin and unsympathetic development. Finally in recent months plans have been submitted and accepted to build new houses and, more importantly, parkland on the site. So perhaps what began history as a secluded beach surrounded by the genteel houses of the wealthy will enjoy new life in the 21st Century as a green space for the people of Liverpool to enjoy.

Further Reading

I used the following sources to research and write this article:

Yo Liverpool – a great source of photos from its members:

Otterspool, by Mike Royden