All born-and-bred Liverpudlians (and many more people) will be aware that the city is made up of a collection of villages. The villages used to sit comfortably in their landscape, surrounded by fields, lanes, streams and hills. Over time, they were swallowed up by the emerging behemoth of Liverpool itself.
On August 23rd Liverpool celebrated 804 years as a town! OK, so it’s no ‘2007’, but it’s a good time to have a look back the best part of a millennium. There are quite a few things which were laid down in 1207, the evidence of which is still visible today.
This article was inspired by Celia Heritage’s recent article on parish churches. Her love of churches, in terms of history, began through researching family history and looking for ancestors’ gravestones.
What to look out for in a parish church
What to Look Out For in a Parish Church is the first article on the revamped Celia’s Blog. The article is a really interesting run-through of the oft-missed aspects of church architecture and archaeology and those features which any observant onlooker can spot.
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