Childwall, once a suburb, remains a green space within Liverpool. There is a surprising number of streams, wells and brooks, and a green, sometimes park-like appearance kept across centuries.
Allerton is a green and pleasant land of parks, mansions and ‘neatly-kept hedges’. Early maps show that it remained entirely rural until the middle of the 19th Century. The history of Allerton stretches all the way from Liverpool’s oldest prehistoric remains to Victorian merchant palaces. Read more
Bootle began its history as a large, well-defined village completely separate from Liverpool. But as the city expanded, Bootle found itself well-placed during the expansion in the Industrial Revolution. Read more
For much of its history, Aintree remained a tiny village, entirely separate from its neighbour Liverpool. It remained a village until the 20th Century, when it expanded rapidly, spurred by the race course, and the siting of new housing and industry Read more
In the 13th Century Fazakerley was one of the Walton town fields. It was a rural area dotted with farms and large houses until it began to industrialise in the 19th and 20th centuries..
Origin of the Name: Fazakerly, 1321; Phesacrelegh, 1333 (VCH Lancs, III). The name Read more
The history of Hale is closely related to its position on the River Mersey, and the crossing to Cheshire. Ram’s Brook has long formed the north boundary of the township. The landscape is flat, with Lombardy poplars in plantations and farms. Henry II placed part of the township within the Read more
Garston lies on the banks of the Mersey, to the south of Liverpool city centre, and Toxteth. The history of Garston is closely related to the docks and railway, and grew into an important industrial suburb of Liverpool. The Otterspool separates Garston from Toxteth. Two other brooks once flowed through the area, one of which Read more
The township of Halewood lies between the two rivers of the Ditton and the Ramsbrook. The Ditton was straightened from its natural course in the 19th century.
The fields along the footpath from Speke to Hale are known as Portway fields, and this is probably a reference to the ‘Portway’ occurring in the Much Woolton charters. Read more
Historically, Huyton and Roby had no clear boundary between them, but the boundary with Whiston was by a brook running through Tarbock to join Ditton Brook. The history of Huyton is closely conencted to that of Roby.
Names: Hitune, Domesday; Houton, 1258; Huton, 1278; Hyton and Huyton, 1292. The last form is the most common spelling from 1300. Rabil, Domesday; Rabi, 1292; Roby, 1332 and after.
The area around Huyton is fairly flat in the south, although the land is more undulating in the north. The Victoria County History called it a ‘pleasant residential area’. This comment was apparently to be borne out by the suburban expansion of the post-war period. Norris Green, Walton and Huyton were all areas of rapid expansion in the 1950s and 60s. In Huyton, however, an earlier phase of building had happened in the 1930s. In the 1960s it was realised that the first phase hadn’t been enough to cope with the growing population.
Historic Features in Huyton
Note on the text: as with many local history topics, my research on the history of Huyton is very dependent on one source. In the case of Huyton, this is the book Huyton & Roby: a history of two ownships by Alan King (see References section for full details). This is a brilliant book full of information – far more than I’ve needed to use here. I highly recommend that publication if you’re interested in the history of Huyton.
Landscape history of Huyton
We know that the whole of south west Lancashire was a mossy and boggy area 2000 years ago. This might be the reason why there is so little evidence for settlement in Britain’s earliest history.
A couple of small finds hint tantalisingly at what might have gone on in the area before Huyton was founded. The only prehistoric find is a Bronze Age arrowhead found in a garden in 1925. A hoard of Roman coins was found in Tarbock in 1838 (Green, F.)). Instead we’d have to look to the Chester-Warrington-Carlisle road for the nearest centre of activity from those times.
The founding of Huyton
‘Huy’ might have meant a landing place – where settlers alighted their boats – probably a spot on the River Alt. Green suggests it’s a name from the British languages spoke by people before the Viking and Norse influx. It’s not that this area was particularly good for defence, but putting your settlement on dry land was an essential first step in populating an area. The higher ground would have been the only real option.
Huyton was to be founded in the middle of the wetlands that previous communities had ignored. Even now, names in the local area remind us of the type of landscape that the first settlers would have encountered. Woolfall Heath and Page Moss are obvious references to damp areas, and Carr Lane takes part of its name from the Norse word kjarr, which means scrub or brushwood. Many places in Britain containing ‘carr’ in their name are in low-lying areas of lakes and mosslands (Green, F.). The first settlement was on raised drier land in the midst of this damp moss.
Frank Green suggests that the beginnings of the villages of Huyton and Roby can be traced back to the 10th century (AD 900 – 925). A Roby Road excavation in 1990 revealed two superimposed buildings and several rubbish pits containing 14th and 15th century pottery (Green, F.).
In contrast to Huyton, Roby is a Norse name. Liverpool history fans will recognise that the ‘by’ ending, like that of West Derby, refers to a settlement. The ‘ro’ element means ‘border’, so we know that the people who lived there thought of themselves as sitting on the edge of one land, looking across to another. This ‘other’ place might be as simple as the neighbouring parish of Childwall.
Raby on the Wirral has a similar name origin, though in their case it might be that this town was on the border between Norse settlements and British ones to the south. Comparing the place names is helpful in suggesting Huyton is the older settlement, because the Norse arrived in a land already populted by the British. Alison Cassidy suggests it could be as old as the 5th century (cited by Green, F.).
Huyton was worth 10 shillings at Domesday, an amount of money which suggests it was a relatively wealthy (or perhaps agriculturally productive) area compared to those nearby. West Derby was the only more valuable township in the region. Green suggests it shows Huyton was a thriving town even then.
Early history of Huyton
The two manors of Huyton and Roby were owned by different thegns before the Conquest. Dot held Huyton and Tarbock while Uctred held Knowsley and Roby (plus other places in the west, such as West Derby). As the parish Huyton now contains all four of these areas things must have changed hands later on (King, 1984: 9). An interesting difference between Huyton at Domesday and West Derby is the lack of woodland recorded at the former. This almost certainly suggests it was a less wooded area than West Derby and other parts of Lancashire. There were probably still copses and stands of trees dotted around the landscape.
Being an important centre from the medieval period, Huyton has seen a long continuous history since the 14th century. A fair was granted to Huyton in 1304, in an attempt to draw trade to the town and turn it into a regional centre. Robert de Lathom, part of the notable Huyton family, and who had been the man responsible for setting up the market, was probably trying to raise extra money, in the form of fees from stallholders.
It may even have been the case that the market was already in existence (Roby would have had to have been producing surplus produce to make it viable), with Robert trying to turn it into a revenue stream. Although it started well, the market went into decline, Green says because of population decline after the Plague (plus competition with Prescot, Warrington and Liverpool). It may have limped on for a while, being mentioned in legal documents (King, 1984: 16), but eventually stopped.
In 1372 Roby applied to become a borough, with all the benefits familiar to people studying Liverpool’s early history. However, this attempt came to nothing, and none of the burgage plots that would have been created can be seen in the landscape today (King, 1984: 19).
The crossroads at Roby are the oldest part of the built landscape, with Station Road (originally known as Twig Lane), Roby Road and Carr Lane leading away from it. There are also the remains of a village cross (possibly an old boundary stone (Green)), but little else surviving from this early period. The cross was erected in the village green in 1819 or 1820. The idea was allegedly to fill up the space used for cock-fighting and bull-baiting!
Huyton Hey, a farmhouse by 1907, and the adjacent site of a moated farmhouse, are two more of the oldest features.
Huyton church and parish
It’s likely that Huyton had a church before the Conquest (King, 1984: 9). We can say this because Knowsley, the main manor in the area, didn’t have a church. This is an odd situation, so there must already have been a church in the area. Huyton is the most likely place.
In the centuries after the Conquest, Huyton became the parish which covered the whole area. Robert de Lathom founded Burscough Priory and gave it Huyton Church as a money-earning endowment in around 1189-1191. This was more ceremonial than a truly profitable addition to their estate. The first canons for Burscough Priory probably came from Norton Priory (Runcorn), which was another Augustinian establishment, and the de Lathom grant of Huyton church is the first documentary evidence for a church in Huyton.
The parish of Huyton became part of Lancashire. This lent stability to the area, though its nearness to the royal hunting forest of Toxteth, Croxteth and Simonswood limited development and farming. Richard’s son Robert gave land in Roby to Burscough Priory, and Richard’s half-brother, Richard de Knowsley, gave the priory his mill pool at Woolfall (as well as the right to collect pig food – chestnuts, beech nuts and acorns – from trees in ‘the wood of Huyton’). The mill pool was only one of at least three other water features in the area, attesting to the watery nature of the landscape. The donors of these gifts would have expected returns in the form of benefits to their sould after death. King (1984: 13) notes that the priory’s grange (farm) was probably somewhere just west of Huyton church.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries had a knock-on effect for Huyton, as the sudden closing of Burscough Priory removed a source of building upkeep. A refusal to keep a church in repair brought fines, and this threat led to work being carried out in the years up to 1555.
Huyton and the Royal Hunting Forest
The royal hunting forest of south west Lancashire stretched from Toxteth, eastwards well towards Knowsley. Although both Huyton and Roby fell outside the forest itself, they were in the ‘purlieu’, which meant they were on the edges and subject to some of the special laws of the forest. It should be remembered that, despite the ‘forest’ name, a royal hunting forest needn’t be wooded in all places.
For example, it was illegal to block deer moving into or out of the forest, even if you just wanted to stop them eating your crops by building a fence! If you wanted to hunt smaller animals like rabbits and birds, you had to be given special permission.
Despite these rules, the forest court moved around the country (and so wasn’t frequent). King (1984: 14) notes that defendants might die before their hearing came around! So despite the importance of forest law to the king, enforcement was another matter, and forest law was already losing its force by the end of the 14th century.
Agricultural and Industrial Huyton
Medieval fields in Huyton
King has identified locations in Huyton’s medieval layout. The townfield (where most of the good land was divided between farmers) was where we now see Archway and Rupert Roads. It stretched from here across to the outside edge of Huyton with Roby Primary School. It extended as far as White Lodge Avenue and Salerno Drive around to Bluebell Lane. This is seen on the map of 1850 (see figure).
The townfield of Roby sat on the north side of the later railway between Grinton Lodge and Grinton Crescent. King acknowledges that this can’t have been its original shape.
Early industry in Huyton
Huyton quarry was notable a hundred years ago for the presence of coal shafts and ventilators. The Huyton Quarry mine was the closest of the south Lancashire coal mines to Liverpool. The coal measures worked by these mines were to the south east of the old village, and the area is still known as Huyton Quarry. In around 1830 wire drawing (for watchmaking) was present in Huyton. There was a brewery, as in many villages in the area.
Most of the industry in the region was expanding from the east. Liverpool itself was encroaching from the west (King, 1984: 39). The tithe map gives us some clues to the first phases of industrialisation. It records a marble works, a colliery tram road, Coal Pit Hey (a field with a clear industrial element) and Oil Mill Cottages.
On a slightly different note, there’s a Cookstool Pit Hey (on the 1848 maps labelled Cock Stool Pit), now probably lost under the railway. Aside from quarrying and coal mining, we see pottery (coarse earthenware), an ironworks, a blue works, electric lamp works and a chairmaking factory (History – Huyton). An important aspect of the Industrial Revolution was migration, and in the 19th century Welsh miners moved here to man the Cronton colliery, one part of the Lancashire coalfield (Wikipedia).
Having been mostly pastoral (grazing) farmland for centuries (Huyton – History), Huyton farming became more mixed in the 250 years up to 1850 (King, 1984: 31). Enclosure, which changed so much of Britain’s landscape, came early to the township. Almost all of Roby was enclosed by the end of the 16th century. The townfield (see above) survived in some shape until Huyton was fully built up.
Apart from the townfield, fields were very small, bounded by hedges, and collected into small farms. It was only in the final 50 year s of this period that a lot of these small farms came together to form larger ones.
King has looked at field names, and concludes that cattle (for milk and cheese) and pigs were the most common animals. Oats, barley and beans feature in field names too. Aside from crops and livestock, field names tell of clay, sand, moss, carr and green. Carr itself, as well as ‘slack’, another field name in the area, are words derived from Old Norse terms. There is Pincroft Croft on Lawton Road, marking the former place of an enclosure for stray animals (King, 1984: 32).
Coaches, turnpikes and trains
Roads and turnpikes
In the last 250 years transport has done as much as anything else to shape Huyton. For centuries one of the main routes into Liverpool went through the Huyton township (skirting Huyton and Roby villages to the north). What started out as a packhorse trail evolved into a major coaching route from Prescot. It was an important dry route through this marshy region. Coal from Prescot was an important part of the road’s use. This was part of the reason why it became a turnpike under an Act of April 26, 1726 (Timetoast). Charging tolls for its use paid for its upkeep. Later, in 1771, another Act turned Bluebell Lane into a turnpike (ibid).
Along with the main turnpike route, there were branches and barriers to prevent people getting around the tolls. One of the branches came through Roby village. The ‘Prescot Gate’ was near Whiteside’s or Lurdy’s Lane (near the former location of the Eagle and Child pub). King assumes that Lurdy’s Lane is Lordon Lane. Another toll gate was the Roby Gate at Widow Price’s barn, Roby Town End. This is close to the present Tollbar Cottage (which isn’t the original toll house, either having been rebuilt or extended since that time to a second storey). The Stop Gate was on Diana’s (later Dinas) Lane where it leaves Twig Lane, which stopped people getting around the Prescot Gate. The turnpike system lasted until the rise of the railways in the 1830s.
The railway in Huyton
The London and North West Railway ran through the centre of Huyton, and just to the east of the village a branch led to Prescot and St. Helens. On one of the key dates in rail history – the opening of the Liverpool-Manchester Railway – the Duke of Wellington (the Prime Minister no less!) alighted at Roby station. Roby was one of three stations in the township, the other two being Huyton Gate (now known simply as Huyton) and Huyton Quarry (now closed).
The opening of the railway, in many parts of the region, encouraged the wealthy to move further from their place of work. This took them away from the perceived dirt and grime of the city centres, and Huyton was one of the places they escaped to. When they moved in, they built big villas which survive in places to this day.
The railway embankment which runs from Broad Green to Roby was probably built from the material excavated by the digging of the cutting closer to Liverpool (King, 1984: 44). When the railway first opened, it met the road at a level crossing, but the growing traffic soon made this an inconvenience. Archway Road at Huyton and Bridge Road at Roby are the result of raising the rails onto the embankment. The tunnels are closer than they need to be, because each one connected two portions of land by their respective owners (King, 1984: 44).
Residents of Huyton and Roby
Huyton had changed only slowly up to the 19th century, but after the railway arrived it started to develop much faster. Naturally, the houses of this time gravitate around the station. King points out that this is a move away from the old centre of Huyton, which was St Michael’s Church (King, 1984: 49). The rise in population mean that Roby became a parish in 1853.
Villas of the industrialists
The Orchard saw the building of the biggest houses – large villas in their own grounds. Huyton Hall was the first to be built, along with Greenhill in the late 1850s. In contrast to the likes of Roby Hall, which was built by John Williamson, the mayor of Liverpool in 1761, these houses were occupied by merchants and industrialists – hop merchants, sugar magnates and owners of copper and paint works (ibid). As Huyton was away from the main built up area of Liverpool, quite a number of large houses had the space to grow up. The Hazels (or Red Hazels) and Hurst House were in the north east corner of the township; Wolfall Hall was on the north boundary, Dam House on the Roby border, and Huyton Hey just south of the station (Farrer & Brownbill, 1907).
King also identified Huyton Park as an area of development (1984: 50). He found that the population of these houses was particularly diverse for the time, with industrialists originally from places like Suffolk and Cumberland.
The first reference to a school in Huyton was in 1527, and a new school opened in the area in 1555. The new school was for the benefit of the children of this rural community, and paid for by local benefactors. Liverpool College for Girls opened in 1894, with the borders living in some of the outlying villas that Huyton’s rich early commuters had built for themselves in the 1850s. They were concentrated in ‘The Orchard’ and St Mary’s Road (History – Huyton).
Development of large villas came to a stop by 1891. Better road conditions were making rail travel (Huyton’s main attraction) less crucial. Liverpool suburbs like Allerton, Mossley Hill and Woolton were becoming popular with those wanting to escape the city centre. At the same time Huyton itself was becoming more industrialised (see above) and land was running out – farmers were less willing to sell the good agricultural land and a lot of other land was marshy (King, 1984: 52).
In 1901 Roby Hall Estate was given to the city of Liverpool as Bowring Park. The gift gave 100 acres of parkland to the citizens, as well as the mansion and some cottages. The Liverpool Mercury noted the beautiful flower displays in the park, and how old Roby Hall had been divided into houses for gardners (Liverpool Mercury, 1907).
Huyton completely changed its character as the 20th century progressed. The first new housing estate of this time, Huyton Farm Estate, began life when Liverpool Council bought land from Lord Derby in 1932 (King, 1984: 56). The Council then built three housing estates in the north west of the township. Fincham House Estate (1933) was influenced by garden cities, and the optimism of moving people out of the cities. Longview Estate was started by 1936 and Woolfall Heath Estate was begun in 1937, though the Second World War meant that this was never completed. Today you can see a change in the housing type on, for example, Beechburn Crescent, where 1930s houses give way to 1970s residences. The roads around here should have carried on to the north of Western Avenue, but the houses there were only recently started .
Longview and Woolfall Heath estates were also built at this time, along with a handful of other developments at the same time: St John’s Estate, Boundary House Farm Estate, Thingwall Farm Estate, Page Moss Estate, Sunnyside Estate, Bowring Park Estate and Belfield Estate. Diana’s Lane and Twig Lane were both constructed in 1936, and the west end of Diana’s Lane was straightened. Tarbock Road was widened in 1937-8.
These speedy developments (1236 houses in 1931, 8619 in 1938), as in many cases around Merseyside, didn’t go precisely to plan. Facilities were limited for the number of new arrivals. A plan for an ‘Outer Circle Road’ to use the route of Princess Drive and Kingsway was not put into effect before the War broke out in 1939.
To offset the lack of facilities, Jubilee Park was laid out as a modern recreation ground starting in 1937. Cricket and football pavilions, a bowling green, shop, cafe, stores, kitchen and toilets, mini golf, grass and hard tennis courts (five of each), bandstand, greenhouse, potting shed and lodge for a superintendent rounded out a well thought through park (King, 1984: 61). King George’s Playing Fields also had a good assortment of facilities, with space for football, hockey, tennis, bowls, playground, a pavilion, showers, dressing rooms and a caretaker’s flat (ibid).
Huyton houses in the Second World War
When the Second World War began, Huyton was thought to be far enough away from Liverpool to be safe from air raids. Because of this, no children were evacuated from the area (though air raid shelters were built) (Wikipedia). Despite this confidence, houses in Huyton were indeed damaged during the Blitz. It has often been alleged that the bombers were forbidden to come home with unused ammunition (and a lighter aircraft is more likely to make it home safely). Either way, scatters of explosives did fall in the area, damaging houses around Page Moss, Jeffrey’s Crescent, Coronation Drive and Reva Road in Swanside (History – Huyton).
An internment camp was built in the residential streets of Huyton. With all the new house-building, there were streets with enough empty houses to do this. These streets (in the Page Moss area, and on the King George V playing fields (History – Huyton)) were surrounded by a barbed wire fence. The camps played host to ‘enemy aliens’ (Germans and Austrians living in Britain) brought from across the country, as well as prisoners of war.
The variety of professions of these ‘aliens’ created a diverse population, and the men managed to entertain each other with talks and other events (King, 1984: 69). There were also houses used to base American servicemen. The intention had been to move the German internees to the Isle of Man, but after the sinking of the Arandora Star transport deportations were put on hold because of safety concerns in the Irish Sea (Wikipedia).
Post-war history of Huyton and the precinct
When peace came, the demand for houses across Britain became even greater, and Huyton responded to the demand. The estates built in the decade after 1945 included housing near the Hag plantation, Brookhouse Estate, Bloomfield estate, and St John’s Estate, all complete by mid-1950s. Mosscroft Farm Estate was begun in 1957 (King, 1984: 64).
As well as housing, the centre of Huyton village was developing as the population increased. New central buildings included the Huyton Suite (now known as the Venue) in 1975 and the central library in 1978 (History – Huyton). The completion of the west end of the M62 in 1976 meant houses in Roby were demolished, but the overall effect was to create a quieter Roby (King, 1984: 65).
Huyton had long positioned itself as independent from Liverpool, a city which otherwise would naturally have absorbed it. It’s partly for this reason that Huyton became part of Knowsley Borough Council in 1974 (when Merseyside was created next door).
Huyton was keen to become a centre in itself, out of the shadow of Liverpool. The plans to create a new town centre grew out of this ambition, and led to the demolition of almost the entire village in the years up to 1975. (Conservation Areas across Knowsley, including Huyton, have since been designated in the area to preserve what wasn’t lost in the 1970s).
The precinct was built around Derby Road and concentrated dozens of new shops, offices and flats, creating a centre of gravity for the surrounding area. The precinct also included new council offices, police, fire and ambulance, and was pedestrianised. Sherborne Square was created on the site of the former council offices, and Archway Road/Huyton Lane was widened and straightened (King, 1984: 55-68).
Huyton and Roby have enjoyed a long history. Their names reveal that they were founded long before William the Conqueror came to these shores. Ambitions to make them important boroughs with markets didn’t work out, but the independent spirit of the area has preserved its independence from Liverpool right into the 21st century.
The history of Huyton has depended on its location on the route between Liverpool and the wider hinterland. At first this was road-based, but technology moved on. The rail and later the motorway are just the most recent stages in this pattern.
Huyton is a modern town, but still has many clues to its older form. It has the large villas now used by educational institutes and the small cottages on Blue Bell Lane. If Huyton can maintain the balance between heritage and innovation, then it will have gained most from its long history.
Farrer, W., & Brownbill, J., 1907, The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, vol III
Green, F., Medieval Roby – From the 10th to the 14th Century, http://www.roydenhistory.co.uk/mrlhp/students/medievalroby/medievalroby.htm, accessed 29th April 2019
History – Huyton, http://archives.knowsley.gov.uk/huyton/history-of-huyton/, accessed 28th April 2019
King, A., 1984, Huyton & Roby: a history of two ownships, Department of Leisure Services, Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley Libraries Division
Time Toast, https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-huyton, accessed 27th April 2019
Bowring Estate the gift of Alderman W. B. BOWRING to the city. June 1907, http://www.old-merseytimes.co.uk/bowringpark.html, accessed 30th April 2019 (from Liverpool Mercury, June 15th, 1907)
Wikipedia, Huyton, accessed 27th April 2019
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Speke has always been a large township on the banks of the Mersey. Speke village itself never grew in size like the inner suburbs of Everton and Toxteth, but the large expanses of flat land attracted industry Read more
Toxteth has a very long history of its own. Entering history as two manors, the area became a hunting forest, and a Royal Park. For almost 400 years this prevented the area from changing or developing to any great extent, and the amount of agriculture that was allowed in the forest was very small.
In the 17th century, however, Toxteth’s park status was removed, and first farmers, then industrialists, moved in to take advantage of the newly available land. With industry came residential areas, and soon Toxteth was filling with the terraces it is still largely known for today. Many of these terraces were unfit for habitation, and slum clearance began before the 19th century was over. In the late 20th century, more clearances took place, and this area of land next to the Mersey began to enter a new age of redevelopment, although this was not also without its critics.
In this Article
- The Landscape
- The Prehistoric and Roman Eras
- The Medieval Period
- The End of the Park and the Rise of Agriculture
- The Rise of Industry
- New Liverpool
- Toxteth Terraces
- Residential Expansion (18th – 19th Century)
- 19th Century Growth and Expansion
- 20th Century Slum Clearance
Origins of the name
Stochestede, Dom. Bk.; Tokestat, 1207; Toxstake, 1228; Tokstad, 1257; Toxstath, 1297; Toxsteth, 1447. (VCH Lancs, III)
May be Old English: Stochestede (in the Domesday Book) means the stockaded place.
Alternative explanations claim the word to be a derivation of Toki’s Staith, meaning the landing place of a man named Toki. This version of the definition is less favoured than the other, however.
Historic Features in Toxteth
The landscape of Toxteth is undulating, rising to a peak at the north east, and there are three miles of waterfront. Toxteth lies to the south of Liverpool city centre, and before the Pool was filled in for the Old Dock travellers had to cross the Townsend Bridge, across the Moss Lake Brook, and past the Fall Well to get to the Park.
The flat areas between Parliament Street and Brownlow Hill are all that remains of the Moss Lake. The overflow from this lake, which powered a mill in the area, fed into a stream that flowed into the old Pool.
An important landmark in the area was the stream which flowed from the north east, divided into two and flowed into the Mersey in the form of the Dingle, at an inlet called Knott’s Hole, and the Otterspool, or Oskelbrook, a short distance further south.
Historically, the boundary of Toxteth Park ran from Queen’s Dock on the Mersey, down Parliament and Upper Parliament Streets, across the junction with Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane to Penny Lane, then Queen’s Drive and Aigburth Vale, before coming back to the Mersey at Otterspool.
Known as Osklebrok during the reign of King John, the Otterspool springs in Wavertree, and actually consists of two brooks. Otterspool was once quite a violent stream, falling 35 metres (120 feet) in just over 1km (1100 yards) many years ago. It was widened in the 19th Century for the lakes in Greenbank and Sefton Parks, and now runs under Aigburth Road at Vale and can be seen at gates of Otterspool Park.
Otterspool promenade was opened in 1950 using 30 million tonnes of rubbish and spoil from the Queensway Tunnel excavations. It was extended in 1984 with the 250 acre Garden Festival site, and is now part of the Sustrans cycle route.
The Dingle, once known as Dickenson’s Dingle, was a stream which flowed through St Michael’s Hamlet, and the area nearby keeps the name of the old stream.
As with the majority of Merseyside, very little is known of the Toxteth area before the Medieval period.
The Calder Stones are the oldest relics of human activity, and once formed a Neolithic burial mound in the vicinity of Calderstones Park, in the nearby township of Allerton. Another possible prehistoric monument is the Robin Hood Stone. Although its mythical connections are clear, this may be a standing stone, possibly existing in isolation or once part of the prehistoric landscape also occupied by the Calder Stones.
The remains of a Roman road were uncovered in the 19th century near St Mary’s in Grassendale, with the route also picked up close to the river in Otterspool some time later. However, very little Roman activity is known from the area west of the road running from Chester up through Warrington and towards Carlisle. The discovery of a small number of Roman coins attests to contact between Roman and local people, but more than that we cannot say.
By the time of the 10th Century AD, the township of Toxteth was divided into two manors, owned by the Saxon thegnes Bernulf and Stainulf. Toxteth was recorded in Domesday as just one of a handful of coastal settlements on the banks of the Mersey, along with the manor of Smithdown (Smeedon) inland, and Garston (Gerstun) to the south. The area was part of the Hundred of West Derby, given to Roger of Poictou by William the Conqueror for his loyalty in the invasion of 1066.
King John, increasing his holdings in the area after founding the borough of Liverpool, decided to take Toxteth back into Crown hands, and by 1212 we find that Richard, son of Thurstan, had been given Thingwall in an exchange with the King, who took Toxteth and incorporated it into his hunting forest, alongside Croxteth and Simonswood. It was John who enlarged Toxteth by adding Smithdown manor to it.
By the 14th century the park was fenced around as a Royal Park. The Park had two lodges – Upper and Lower – the first of which sat at what is now the junction between Sefton Park Road and Ullet Road (the entrance to Sefton Park). The Lower Lodge may have survived, in small pieces, near Jericho Farm, Fulwood Park, into the 20th century, and may have stood on the site of Otterspool Station.
The main entrance way to the park from the north, and Liverpool, was Park Road.
The land remained as a Royal hunting forest for around 300 years.
In 1316 the land was offered to Whalley Abbey, in order that they build a monastery there. The offer was never taken up, however, and the land is recorded as being in the possession of Liverpool Castle in 1327, and in the hands of the Molyneux family by 1346.
At the end of the 16th century, actions were taken with the aim of dis-parking Toxteth. This would have allowed the locals to graze their animals on the land, a practise which already took place to some extent. Eventually, in 1604, Toxteth was indeed disparked by James I, although the bounding wall was still in existence as late as 1671. The disparking began the first major change in the landscape since the hunting forest was created in the 14th century. The conversion to arable and pasture land progressed rapidly.
The 17th century saw a number of settlers being attracted to the area to take advantage of the new farmland, from both Liverpool itself and beyond. The land was broken up into farms, and one of the most notable communities moved into the area: the Puritans. They settled in the area around Otterspool, dubbing the stream the ‘Little Jordan’, and the area the ‘Holy Land’, a name which is still often used. The Puritans built the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth (right) in the 1610s, appointing the 15 year old Richard Mather as the master of the attached school in 1611, and preacher in 1618.
By 1800 there were four farms on land leased from Lord Molyneux: Jericho and the Three Sixes in Fulwood Park, Parr’s on Mill Street, and Rimmer’s in Dingle Lane. As exploitation of the old Park went on, this number increased and the landscape took on a much more agricultural appearance.
Small scale industry was also a growing feature by the 17th Century.
Mather’s Dam was originally the site of a water mill on the east side of Warwick Street. This reservoir formed from a stream at the top of Upper Warwick Street, which ran across the road and down the slope to the River Mersey. The whole area here was laid out for houses once the stream ran dry in the 18th century, although the water remained standing for some years afterwards. The land between Warwick Street and Northill Street remained on a lease with the mill, but when this burned down in 1866, speculative builders moved in to develop the area.
Jackson’s Dam, sited on the shore line on what is now Sefton Street, occupied the area from the bottom of Warwick Street, across Northumberland Street. The complex included a tide mill and reservoirs. By the second half of the 18th century, industry had become the dominant feature of the landscape.
At the end of the 19th Century, the stream feeding the mill at Otterspool was beginning to run dry. Around 1772 Charles Roe leased land nearby from the Earl of Sefton and built a small copper works. At this time there were only a few scattered residences on the road from Liverpool to Aigburth. A year later Yates and Perry’s map shows seven large villas at the junction of Lodge Lane and Ullet Lane, as well as a large barn and a number of outbuildings associated with Lodge Farm. By the end of the decade requests were being made for a timber yard on Lord Sefton’s land, a sign of the future importance of the timber trade in this part of the city.
Even in the following decade the former Toxteth Park itself was still exclusively rural, although the creeping urbanisation in the north was catching up with the boundary. Even by 1775 Old Park Road, Smithdown Lane, Lodge Lane and the eastern extent of Ullet Road were the only streets in the area.
In 1771 the farm of Thomas Turner was laid out for streets by the Earl of Sefton, and an Act of Parliament was obtained by the Earl for the granting out of building leases. This made it possible for a Liverpool-born builder, Cuthbert Bisbrown, who lived in Paradise Street to plan ‘New Liverpool’, a town to be built on Sefton’s lands to the south of the city.
This ambitious scheme was in competition with the cities of Bath and Edinburgh, which were both creating impressive Georgian landscapes at this time. The end result was the area known as Harrington, named after Isabella, the first Countess Sefton, and daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harrington. Unfortunately, finance at the time of the American War of Independence was scarce, and Bisbrown was bankrupt by February 1776.
The main streets created in the area were well built and wide, but Cuthbert’s plans never addressed the infilling of the area, which was packed with poorly built and dense blocks of dingy courts and back-to-backs. As many people as possible were crammed into the space, with no thought beyond the profit of the builders, and some of the buildings had walls of half a brick thickness.
In 1794 the land occupied by Charles Roe’s copper works was bought and converted into a pottery. In another two years this had become the Herculaneum Pottery Company of Worthington, Humble, Holland and others.
Although the pottery industry had declined in Liverpool at this time, the landscape around Toxteth provided water transport for the raw materials and products, as well as a market for the goods, and the factory did well. The surrounding district was developed to the advantage of the factory, including workshops surrounding the main site and a hamlet for the workers. The employees themselves were transported en masse from Staffordshire, well known for its expertise in the craft. The incomers were escorted into the area in November 1796, to the sound of band music and great celebration.
By 1811 there was still little further south than Northumberland Road, although the most rapid expansion in the wider region occurred in Toxteth Park, and Everton to the north, while other areas were losing population. The growing areas were Welsh heartlands in the city, attesting to the importance of this group to the growing Merseyside, and Toxteth was also becoming known as a ‘Sailortown’.
Industrial expansion kept pace with the development of Toxteth, and in 1810 the Mersey Forge was founded on Grafton Street, near flour mills standing further inland. The forge later expanded into the Mersey Steel and Iron Company, and stood near the present Toxteth docklands. Brooke and Owen’s brewery in Blair Street, only built in 1794, was dismantled in 1826 and the area covered with further terraces and courts.
The Toxteth docklands themselves were expanding in the area. Queen’s Dock was constructed in 1796. Brunswick in 1811 and Coburg Docks were built in 1840, both for the expanding timber trade. Toxteth, Harrington and Herculaneum Docks were built on or near the site of the former Herculaneum Pottery, which was dismantled in 1833. Also on the riverside were shipbuilding yards, and a ferry terminal. From 1825-35 ropewalks were established in Lodge Lane.
The timber trade was certainly beginning to dominate the area, with large timber yards along Grafton and Caryl Street. Up to 1823 few buildings could be found south of Hill Street, but the construction of Brunswick Dock (1830), changed all this. By 1835 buildings had spring up as far as Northumberland Street, with few gaps left. By the end of the next decade the street had been extended as far as Wellington Road, and Mill Street was also lined with buildings. Park Road south of the Peacock Tavern (1812), Chester Street (1815) and Windsor Street (1823) were all created in this period. The population was by now growing rapidly and more densely, fuelled by the expanding timber trade and dock expansion.
What Picton termed “pioneer cottages” had been built on the west side of Park Road by 1803; otherwise the area had consisted of green fields and stone walls.
Larger Georgian and Victorian houses were built along Princes Road, Princes Avenue (the Boulevard) and the Georgian Quarter in Canning over the coming decades. As William Leece mentions in a comment on this site: “the expansion of the city to the south of Upper Parliament Street and east of Mill Street seems to have paused for for several years before resuming in the 1850s and 60s. The road from what is now the Rialto to Princes Park (ie Princes Avenue etc) was laid out in the 1840s, but its character looks to have been semi-rural in the early days” (see comment on the Liverpool History Map page). Mill Street is first mentioned in the Directory of this year. Parliament Street, which got its name from an Act of Parliament granted to the Earl of Sefton for its laying out, had only four houses on it in 1790, and 21 residents. Up until 1807 the street terminated at a quarry on St. James Walk, where a windmill stood. In this year it was extended until it reached boundary with West Derby. However, growth in this area remained slow, and little more was built on it until the first years of the nineteenth century.
In 1822 the area of Windsor was laid out: the area enclosed by Parliament Street, Lodge Lane, Crown Street, and Upper Stanhope Street (now Beaumont Street) began to be developed. Lands west of this, known as the Parliament Fields and belonging to the Earl of Sefton, had demanded high prices and so avoided development as late as 1875.
Park Hill Road was opened up in 1824, and South Hill Road soon afterwards. In the beginning, these were lined with the large villas of wealthy residents, but later these were replaced with rows of smaller terraces. In 1826 Upper Stanhope Street, Upper Hill Street, Chester Street and Windsor Street were purchased from Lord Sefton by the Wesleyans, and laid out Wesley, Fletcher, Clarke and Newton Streets, and a Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1827. Park Street was laid out for houses in 1826, and John Hughes purchased yet more land from Lord Sefton, before laying it out for residential streets. Land between Princes Road and Warwick Street was first built on in 1830, and nearly covered as far as Upper Hill Street within twenty years. From Upper Hill Street to Upper Warwick Street followed between 1864 to 1868.
During the 1840s dense housing communities expanded at an incredible rate. Back-to-back terraces accounted for 65-70% of the total housing in Liverpool in the 1840s. The population never increased by less than 60% in each census between 1801 and 1851: in 1844 Irish migrants arrived in great numbers, fleeing the Potato Famine, and the building of the Greek Church on the corner of Princes Road in 1870 attested to the growing importance of the Greek community in Liverpool.
This massive growth in Toxteth was by no means an unusual trend. Liverpool itself was expanding as a city, and the municipal boundary took in the northern portion of the Park in 1835, along with Kirkdale, Everton and parts of West Derby. In 1895 the remaining portion became part of the city. All in all the landscape of Toxteth’s slums reflected that of any maritime town of this time concerned with commerce.
Former industrial areas were soon also given over to residential areas. Between 1849 and 1865, land south of the Welsh Congregational Church (land bought by Hughes) was converted from quarries to terraces. In 1860, land adjacent to the Liverpool and Harrington Waterworks (built in 1846) was laid out for housing, although land was slow to be built upon here. The roads were appropriately named after rivers.
Toxteth continued to grow rapidly in the middle of the nineteenth century. Princes Road was laid out around 1846, soon after Princes Park, with Croxteth Road at around the same time. Green Heys Road was constructed in 1850, Grove Park commenced as a cul-de-sac in 1852, and Bentley Road appeared in 1862. Snowdon, Danube and Avon Street had appeared a year earlier. Northumberland and Park Street were built up around 1850, and Haslow Street in 1866 (then known as Egerton Street). The area from Park Street to Wellington Road was gradually built upon from 1850-70, close to one of the last windmills to stand in the area. To cope with the expanding population, 30 acres were set aside for Toxteth Cemetery in 1856, later enlarged to 40 acres.
However, not all the areas in Toxteth were crowding as fast as others. By 1875, from the bottom of Wellington Street and west of Grafton Street only ten cottages could be seen, and these the remnants of the Herculaneum Pottery hamlet. The area between South Hill Street and Dingle Lane were not yet built on densely: a scattering of large villas occupied the land, their gardens opening onto South Hill Grove, at the time a “verdant pasture”. The western part of this tract of land was in fact still occupied by the estate of Park Hill House. The house at this time lay on the boundary between Liverpool and Toxteth, between the rural and the commercial. Dingle was known to be “one of the most lovely bits of scenery in the neighbourhood”.
North Street (now Northill Street), High Park Street and South Street were only finally filling in by 1875 after standing empty for a time. Apart from a small number of good houses at the bottom of Upper Parliament Street, the area here was still vacant. In fact, towards the end of the nineteenth century, Toxteth, along with Everton and parts of West Derby, was losing population to other areas of Liverpool.
The cemetery was not the only open space in this part of the town. From 1864, over the next eight years, Liverpool Corporation created almost 500 acres of parkland for public use. Princes Park, laid out in 1843, was soon encircled by the large villas of the wealthy, first built on the east side. The Dingle was widened for the lake, and a red granite obelisk was erected to Richard Vaughan Yates, who had purchased the land for the park, in 1858. Otterspool was widened for the boating lakes in Sefton Park (created 1865) and Greenbank Park. Today the brook can be seen as it emerges from under Aigburth Road at the gates of Otterspool Park.
Transport became an issue for many cities in England while the inner city areas were growing with the Industrial Revolution. In 1869 the first horse-drawn tramway took passengers from the Dingle to Liverpool Town Hall. The Liverpool Overhead Railway had its southern terminus at Dingle. There were railway stations at St. James, St. Michael’s and Sefton Park.
A ferry had been proposed as early as 1775, at around the time Bisbrown was planning New Liverpool, and a tavern and landing stage were built. The tavern was known as the Tall House, due to its loftiness and isolation in this undeveloped part of the region. Unfortunately, the scheme was before its time, and was eventually abandoned. The ferry station was used as a ‘Ladies’ School’, later a tavern itself, and was demolished in 1844. In later years a ferry service began between the shore near the Tall House, taking passengers towards New Ferry.
The rapid expansion of Liverpool took its toll on the urban landscape. In 1955 the Medical Officer of Health estimated that there were 88,000 unfit dwellings in the city (45% of the total housing stock). Ten years later little had been done to tackle the problem, and the number was still 78,000. 33,000 of these houses were in Toxteth, Abercromby and Everton, and a massive programme of slum clearance was initiated. Rows and rows of uniform terraces were demolished, and replaced with high and low rise flats, new houses and maisonettes. Many people moved or were forced away from the area. 42 square miles of Liverpool were affected by the clearances, and 88 action areas were identified across Toxteth, Abercromby, Everton and Kirkdale.
Other regeneration projects began in the post-War era. Otterspool promenade was opened to the public in July 1950, constructed of 30 million tonnes of landfill and upcast from the Queensway tunnel.
However, unemployment had been increasing in the area due to containerisation of the docks. Tension existed between the black community and the local police force, and following a similar period of civil unrest in Brixton earlier that year, the Toxteth Riots broke out in July 1981.
In the wake of the violence, the Merseyside Development Corporation was formed in 1981 challenged with building the Garden Festival site: “a test of the continental model as a vehicle for the investment in resources targeting inner city development”. A certain amount of optimism gripped those in Liverpool, but many were sceptical of the new developments. 180 new homes were built on the Garden Festival site, but the New Heartlands Project, a scheme set up to administer the urban regeneration, soon became a “euphemism for ripping the heart out of the city”.
Nevertheless, in the quarter century up to 2000 a strategy based on tourism, leisure, housing and tertiary sector employment meant that the landscape along the shore, and indeed inland, was altering in a way never seen in this part of the city since the massive expansion in terraces, parkland and factories in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Many of the best resources for Toxteth history are the usual suspects:
- Toxteth on Wikipedia – brings together the history with the politics, geography and regeneration of the area. Also includes a list of ‘Notable Residents’.
- Township of Toxteth Park – part of the Victoria County History of Lancashire (1907) is available in full on the British History website.
- The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth – a reprint of a Victorian history from ‘ancient times’ up to about 1905. Enjoyable mostly for the romanticism of its approach to medieval history, and loose standards when declaring bits of old stone as ‘doubtless the remains of King John’s hunting lodge’.
- The Transit of Venus (left) – a biography of Jeremiah Horrocks’s short life. Horrocks was the first to predict the transit of Venus across the Sun, and although little known, made great progress in the field of astronomy.
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