Walton-on-the-Hill has always been a very large township, containing some of the familiar suburbs in north Liverpool. At the north of the township is Warbreck, on the border with Aintree. The Guildhouses were also to the north. Spellow, Anfield, Walton Breck (also known as Cabbage Hall after an old pub) and Newsham run from the north west to south east.
The old village originally surrounded the church, and Rake and Cherry Lanes ran east to West Derby.
Origin of the name
Waleton, Domesday; Walton, 1246.
From Old English walla (Briton) and tun (settlement). The church at Walton (like that at Childwall) has a circular churchyard, suggesting it was part of a settlement in existence before the Norman Conquest (Cowell, 2002). It was certainly the mother church of a medieval parish. As such, it may have had its name changed to a ‘British’ one, perhaps through a grant of land from the church to someone else.
Historic Features in Walton
The principal road through the township is that running from Liverpool to Ormskirk, known as Rice Lane as it descends the hill.
The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway ran through the township, with Walton Junction station lying on the Liverpool to Preston route. The line to Bury and Manchester branched off, as did a smaller line to serve the docks. The London and North West Railway ran from Edge Hill to the docks, Walton and Spellow. The Cheshire Lines Committee Railway from Manchester to Southport ran through the district, with a station at Walton-on-the-Hill from 1870 (which closed in 1918), and a branch to the docks. A tunnel is the only remains of this line.
In 1905 the train lines were electrified.
By the end of the 19th Century, Walton was already expanding as a suburb. There was a large Welsh presence here, and Liverpool itself was often jokingly referred to as the Capital of Wales. The Welsh community was heavily involved in timber, slate and stone trades, and would often retire back to Wales.
Their involvement in such ‘home trades’ resulted in the spread of the ‘Welsh house’, a solid, quick-to-build six room house. A famous father and son partnership of William Owen Elias and son built many of the streets in Walton, and if you look to the names of the streets beginning at Oxton Street, opposite Goodison Park, the initials spell out the names of these two men, with the exception of the final N, a victim of more recent demolitions in the area. Between 1919 and 1939 council housing was built up in out of town areas, and Walton was one such district.
Walton-on-the-Hill was for a long time the centre of Christian organisation in this part of Lancashire. In fact, until 1699 Liverpool parish came under the control of Walton parish church before it was made independent.
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Walton Prison was built by the Liverpool Corporation, who had purchased land for it in May 1847. It was built between 1849 and 1854-5 by Messrs Furness & Company and John Weightman esq, and there is the possibility that many of the workmen were French prisoners of war.
The prison opened in 1855 with 300 cells alongside dwellings for a whole host of staff: governor, matron, chaplain, gatekeeper, turnkeys and more. Women were housed in addition to men until 1933, with facilities provided for the children of female prisoners. In a sign of those times, the women were employed in washing, cleaning and sewing for the staff. This may be even more ironic considering that there were Suffragettes amongst the inmates.
Hangings took place in front of large, sometimes noisy crowds who packed stalls like a theatre.
Walton Park Cemetery
Burial grounds in Walton were often co-opted for use by St. Nicholas’s church in central Liverpool when the pressure was high. For example, in 1361 an outbreak of plague meant that Liverpool itself quickly ran out of space its dead, and by the middle of the 19th century the growth of slums and the population explosion caused further problems.
Therefore in 1851 Walton Cemetery was laid out. There were both free and paid-for plots, with the latter placed closer to the footpaths and employing large monuments to the interred. These plots were, of course, only available to the richer members of society, like mayors and the governor of the local jail. In fact, the free plots were often shared between many people - what we might refer to now as paupers’s graves. All people buried on the same day would be placed in the same grave.
Robert Noonan (who, under the pen-name Tressell, wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) is buried in the cemetery, as he died while waiting in Liverpool for a ship to take him to Canada. His is a pauper’s grave, where he was buried alongside 12 others, although since it was rediscovered it has been marked with a memorial stone.
When St Peter’s in Church Street was demolished in September 1922, several of the graves were moved from there to Walton Cemetery, demonstrating the continued importance of this northern suburb to Liverpool’s spiritual make-up. In the 20th century Dutch war graves were added to the burial ground, tended to by the Fazakerley branch of the British Legion.
The Monkey House was a half-timbered building like the restaurant and concert hall which graced the centre of the park. Great effort went into these pieces of architecture, with cement moulding, red tile roofs and copper details. The restaurant block was built to a polygonal bandstand-like design, and included a restaurant, dining hall, cloak rooms, service apartment and a garden quadrangle for open air concerts.
The architect responsible was William Sugdens & Sons of Leek, with landscaping by John Shaw of Bowden in Cheshire. A number of companies came together to build the Gardens, including W. Rummage of 42 Old Broad Street, the Everton Quarry Company, Messrs Wards of Limerick Foundry, Tipton and Robert Hird of Shipley.
The only remains today are the gate house buildings which were used by the Dunlop factory. Until at least 1985 the wall of the elephant enclosure also still stood.
In 1834 the Poor Law Act united parishes (who had previously cared for the poor separately) into a Union. This prompted the need for a workhouse to deal with the area’s needy. The foundation stone for the Walton Workhouse was laid in 1864, and in the April of 1868 the institution was opened.
The workhouse taught sewing, knitting, weaving, woodwork and maintenance skills to both boys and girls (although the tuition was divided along traditional gender lines). There was a nursery for the youngest.
The food for the workhouse inmates was far from luxurious: bread, gruel, scouse, soup, potatoes, porridge, milk and broth were the norm. It would have been blind scouse (without meat) most times, with meat added perhaps once a week.
As well as teaching practical skills (and probably to help pass them on) the workhouse had its own blacksmith, cobbler, stables and joiner. As well as those, there were a laundry, gasworks, bakery, chapel and burial ground. It was a fairly self-contained community!
At its peak the workhouse admitted 90 people were weak, which goes to show the extent of the poverty problem in Victorian Liverpool
By 1930, however, times were changing, and the Poor Law Guardians who were responsible for the workhouses were abolished. Chronic illnesses such as tuberculosis were a more pressing problem than terrible poverty, underlined by the 1918 influenza pandemic, which affected staff as well as inmates. What by this time was known as the Walton Institution became Walton Hospital, and the current Walton Hospital still retains some of the buildings it inherited in the 1930s.
Progress continued under the eye of Dr. Henry McWilliam, who was Resident Assistant Medical Officer from 1913 until 1952, by which time he had become Medical Superintendant. He changed the working conditions of the Hospital, such as the introduction of the 112 hour fortnight for nurses, who until then had worked even longer hours than this.
Walton Hall and the Walton Family
The manor of Walton was given to Gilbert (or ‘Waldeve’) of Walton by King John in 1189, on the condition that he become the bailiff of West Derby. Thus began the family line of the Waltons.
Walton Hall Park is now the only remains of the Walton Hall estate, and the best known incarnation of Walton Hall is actually the second building to take the name. Parts of the previous version, dating to the 12th century, were found when the more recent hall was demolished in around 1900.
By the time the second hall was demolished, the Walton family had long died out, and the structure had been falling into disrepair for some time.
After the Walton line came to an end, the next record we have of the Hall is once it came under the ownership of one Robert Brere, who bequeathed it to his son.
In 1746 it was owned by the influential Fazakerley family, specifically Nicholas Fazakerley, an agent of John Atherton. The Athertons were the last family to live in Walton Hall, putting it up for sale and moving on in 1804.
Thomas Leyland, privateer, lottery winner, merchant, slave trader and mayor of Liverpool on three occasions, bought the hall from the Athertons. He had lived in Houghton Street and Duke Street previously, and clearly wanted a slice of the rural gentlemanly life!
In 1827 Thomas died, and he passed the house onto his nephew, Richard Bullin, who took on the Leyland surname at that time. Richard never married, and so his sister Dorothy inherited the Hall from him, before it passed into the family of John Naylor upon her death.
It was at this time that the building deteriorated, and a decision to demolish the house was made at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1907 a triangular plot of land, formerly part of the Walton Hall estate, was bought by the Corporation for use as a recreation ground. Then in 1913 a further 120 acres were purchased for £51,000 to create Walton Hall Park. The design of the park was done by H. Charlton Bradshaw, although the First World War meant that the space was requisitioned for a time as a munitions depot.
Finally, in 1924 the land reverted to the Corporation, and in 1934 Walton Hall Park officially opened to the public. On the 18th of July King George V conducted the opening ceremony, before moving along to open the Mersey Tunnel later the same day.
St Mary’s Church
The site of St. Mary’s Church, and it’s use as a religious centre, are both very old indeed. The circular shape of the churchyard, still evident on the 1893 Ordnance Survey map, suggests that it could be early medieval in date, or possibly pre-Christian. There have been suggestions made that there was even a henge (a roughly circular bank and ditch monument) here, but no firm evidence exists for such an ancient origin.
However, the shaft of a cross was discovered under the foundations of the building during some construction work, and so some medieval activity is certain.
A later episode in St. Mary’s history is its use for holding prisoners after the battle of Worcester (c.1651). Such was the damage caused by these prisoners that a tax on West Derby was requested in order to pay for the damage, though this request was turned down.
With all the evidence to hand, it looks like St Mary’s was first built in 800, with new buildings replacing the old in 1326, 1724 and 1941. In addition, the tower alone was rebuilt in 1829, and the churchyard was extended beyond those old circular boundaries in pieces up to 1958.
Landmarks and Trivia
Winestan held the manor of Walton when the Domesday Book was compiled.
Much of the terraced housing in Walton was built for workers on the railway.
In 1884 Northcote Road School was built opposite the York Villas. The school had originally occupied a building at 33 Rice Lane in 1885.
St Nathaniel’s Church, designed by Frank Rimmington, was to be built in the early part of the 20th century. The Second World War intervened, however, and only a church hall was put up, opening on the first day of October 1949.
There was a lime pit adjacent to what became the Dunlop factory site.
In the book Pictures and Thoughts on Walton’s Past History, ‘A Group of Locals’ report that the area around the workhouse was once covered in allotments, stables, orchards and a coaching inn. Quite a rural feel!
The Evered Avenue Library, funded by Andrew Carnegie, was opened in 1911 by the Earl of Derby.
Dunlop had its UK head office and a manufacturing plant in the Cavendish Drive area. This operated for much of the 20th century, despite a devastating fire in September 1980, but the building finally made way for a housing estate in 2004.
A rumour persists that there are tunnels running from the Jewish cemetery to the Littlewoods offices, and that caves stretch from Walton Hall Park to the church of St Mary’s.
Dairies were once a common feature of Walton, such as Heygarth’s and Williams’s.
Haggerston Road takes its name from Haggerston, a town in Northumberland. This town was once part of the Leyland estate (see Walton Hall and the Walton Family below).
A stone bridge was replaced with a box girder bridge when Walton Hall Avenue was expanded into a dual carriageway.
Walton became part of Liverpool in 1895.
Walton Grammar school was built in or before 1613.
Walton Town Hall was built in 1893, and nothing now remains of it except a part of the stone facing, which stands in one wall of the Queens Drive flyover.
Public Houses and Bars
The Brown Cow stood opposite the Town Hall on the corner of Rice Lane and Church Lane. The Rice Lane pub, named after the road, was demolished in 1968 to make way for the flyover, as were many other buildings. Standing opposite the Queens Drive Baths, the Herb Shop sold soft drinks like Vimto, Sarsparilla and Dandelion & Burdock.
Rice Lane gets its name from Rice House, belonging to the family of that name in the 18th century. William Rice was an “allottee of the common lands” in 1716.