Wirral History - Birkenhead | Wallasey | Moreton | Upton | Bebington | Heswall | Bromborough | West Kirby

The History of Wirral - Liverpool City Region

The 1938 RMS Mauretania was one of many huge ships built in Birkenhead - Liverpool City Region

The Metropolitan Borough of Wirral is one of the six boroughs that make up the Liverpool City Region. Wirral was officially incorporated as a 'Metropolitan Borough' in 1974, after the merger of Birkenhead County Borough, Wallasey County Borough, Bebington Municipal Borough, the Hoylake Urban District and the Wirral Urban District.
The peninsula may have once been a part of Cheshire, but today, the origins of its inhabitants are for the most part from Liverpool. As early back as 1801, the population of the Wirral was a mere 10,000 people, today, that figure has increased 32-fold and it now stands at 320,000. This has been due to people leaving Liverpool in their droves and settling in the peninsula over the last couple of centuries. It's the reason for the incredible increase. While Liverpool's population declined in successive censuses over this period, the Wirral's population rose exponentially.


The History of Birkenhead Town

The name Birkenhead is believed to derive from the Old English word 'Bircen', meaning Birch Tree. At the beginning of the 19th century, the town had a meagre population of just over a hundred people. A series of developments saw the population rocket to over 111,000 by the turn of the 20th century. By 1951, the rapid rise in the town's population hadn't faltered, with a recorded increase bringing the total to 142,501.
These sudden changes were brought about by advances in trade, transport and infrastructure, such as the steam ferry service to Liverpool in 1817 and the introduction of shipbuilding in 1829. Birkenhead Park in the Liverpool City Region was a major influence on New York's Central Park The latter was introduced by the Laird family, first of whom was William. He established an iron works on the docks in 1824 for building railway stock. By the time his son John joined in 1828, the business had successfully built over 160 passenger coaches bound for India. In 1829, John realised that the techniques used to make boilers for locomotives could be applied to making ships. Under the new name of 'Cammell Laird', the company soon became a pre-eminent manufacturer of iron ships, making major advances in propulsion and establishing themselves as one of the most famous names in British shipbuilding. During the period between 1829 and 1947, over 1,100 vessels of all kinds were launched from the Cammell Laird slipways into the River Mersey. This massive increase in trade was a significant factor in the town's population increase. The building of both the Mersey Railway tunnel in 1886 and later the Queensway tunnel in 1934, further accelerated the growth of the town and the peninsula as a whole. With people arriving from neighbouring Liverpool in their droves at the promise of work and a new way of life.
Birkenhead was first incorporated as a Municipal Borough in 1877, before becoming a County Borough in 1888. The borough included the townships of Oxton, Bidston, Claughton with Grange, Tranmere and Rock Ferry. In 1928, the townships of Landican, Prenton and Thingwall were added. With Noctorum, Upton and Woodchurch added five years later.
Birkenhead lost its County Borough status in 1974, following the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.
As of 2014, Birkenhead and the rest of the Wirral officially became part of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.


The History of Wallasey Town

The name Wallasey comes from the Germanic word Walha, meaning 'Stranger or Foreigner', with the suffix 'ey' meaning an 'Island or Area of Dry Land'. One of the old names for Wallasey include 'Kirkby-in-Walea', which led to the 'West' being added to the name of West Kirby to help distinguish it from Wallasey. Like Birkenhead, the area was sparsely populated before the 19th century.
By the 1800's, affluent shipping merchants from Liverpool began moving to the seafront along Seacombe and Rock Point. The introduction of steam ferries across the River Mersey gave rise to more developments at Egremont, further increasing the population. Wallasey's New Brighton Tower in the Liverpool City Region was the tallest building in the UK Fort Perch Rock was built in 1829, later Liscard Hall in 1834. Increased trade on the River Mersey led to new docklands being constructed in the Wallasey Pool between 1842 and 1847.
New Brighton on the north eastern tip of the town was later developed as a popular seaside resort for Liverpool and other Lancashire industrial towns. Many of the large houses were converted to inexpensive hotels for visiting tourists, a pier was built in 1867 and a promenade stretching from New Brighton to Seacombe in the 1890s. New Brighton Pier was a 600 foot long structure built from iron, it had a Central Observation Tower, Shelters, Refreshment Rooms, a Saloon and an Orchestra.
The dock system between Wallasey and neighbouring Birkenhead was largely complete by 1877, followed by the new Mersey Railway tunnel to Liverpool in 1886. The town's population rapidly increased after this, concentrating particularly in the Liscard and Wallasey Village areas.
The popularity of New Brighton saw the building of Britain's tallest building, New Brighton Tower. It was built in 1900 and stood at 567 feet tall. Largely neglected during the First World War, it was demolished in 1921, however the large ballroom at its base remained intact until 1969.
Wallasey became a County Borough in 1913, with the areas of Moreton and Saughall Massie being added in 1928.
The Kingsway Tunnel linking Wallasey to Liverpool City Centre was was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1971. This brought further growth to the town, with the urbanisation of both Moreton and Leasowe. The latter being part of the Liverpool Masterplan, which saw an exodus from Liverpool to the new town areas of Kirkby, Skelmesdale and later Runcorn.
In 1974, Wallasey County Borough was dissolved following the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.


The History of Moreton Town

Wirral's Leasowe Lighthouse by Moreton in the Liverpool City Region The name Moreton was first recorded in 1278, it originates from the Anglo-Saxon words for a Marsh 'More' and a Settlement 'Tun'. Moreton Beach is part of the North Wirral Coastal Park, this is where Leasowe Lighthouse was built in 1763. The lighthouse was erected because of the difficult sandbanks just offshore and it is the oldest brick-built lighthouse in Britain.
The population of Moreton was less than 600 at the turn of the 20th century, increasing substantially as part of the Wallasey sprawl made up from Liverpool settlers. Along with Saughall Massie, it was annexed into the Wallasey County Borough in 1928.
On the 20th of July in 1962, Moreton witnessed the world's first commercial passenger and mail hovercraft service. The hovercraft was operated by British United Airways and set off from Leasowe embankment, to Rhyl in North Wales. The service proved to be quite troublesome and was cancelled less than 2 months later, mainly due to bad weather and technical difficulties.
When the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral was created in 1974, Moreton became independent from Wallasey again, following the dissolution of Wallasey County Borough.


The History of Upton Village

An image of the beautiful Upton Village in the Wirral

The name Upton is derived from the Old English words 'Upp' meaning Hill and 'Tun' meaning Settlement or Farm. Other earlier recordings of the name are 'Upton in Wyrhale (with Wyrhale meaning Wirral)' and 'Upton by Birkenhead'.
Like most towns and villages in the Wirral, Upton's expansion is attributed to people leaving Liverpool from the mid-19th century onwards.
However, what sets Upton apart from most other regions in the Wirral is its earlier history. Upton was the primary economic centre and somewhat of a metropolis of the Wirral. Up until 1620, it was the place of a popular weekly market and two annual fairs that were of considerable importance, with its five important local roads converging into the village's main thoroughfare.
At the time of the industrial development of Birkenhead, Upton became swallowed up by the sprawl. Today, most of the village has been rebuilt and little of that earlier period remain. Upton is also home to Arrowe Park Hospital, which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.


History of Bebington Town

Bebington Railway Station in the Wirral The name Bebington is from Anglo-Saxon origin and means the 'Village of Bebba', it is believed to have come from a Saxon Chief or Landowner who held land there.
At beginning of the 19th century, Bebington was a mere country hamlet with a population of less than 300. The village was ideally situated on the main road connecting Chester to Liverpool, via a ferry from Birkenhead. This brought significant trade for the small village, as up to 30 horse drawn coaches would pass by each day. However, the opening of both the 'Birkenhead to Chester Railway' in 1840 and the 'New Chester Road' four years later, meant Bebington lost its coaching traffic.
In 1937, Bebington became a Municipal Borough, which included the areas of Raby, Thornton Hough, Eastham, Brimstage and Bromborough.
In 1974, the Municipal Borough of Bebington was absorbed into the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.


History of Heswall Town

The former fishing village is now a large town Heswall is a conjoined name, with 'Hes' meaning Hazel and 'Wall' meaning Well. Various versions of the name can be found down the years, with it being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Eswelle, later Hestlewelle and Hesselwelle. At the turn of the 19th century, the population of Heswall stood at 168. Some forty years later, it had grown to 398. Improvements in infrastucture to the small fishing village, led to further growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As was the case with other towns and villages throughout the Wirral Peninsula, this was the result of wealthy shipping merchants leaving Liverpool to escape the confined spaces of the bustling city. The expansion of Heswall soon encompassed the nearby villages of Gayton, Pensby and Thingwall.
In 1909, The Liverpool Country Hospital for Children opened in Heswall, later becoming known as the Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital, before closing in 1985.


History of Bromborough Village

A depiction of the Battle of Brunanburh, known as the Birth of England is believed to be in Bromborough in the Liverpool City Region The village name is derived from the Old English word 'Brunanburh', meaning Brun's fort, with the name being changed to Bromborough around 1732.
Bromborough Village and its surroundings is widely acknowledged by many historians to be the place where the famous 'Battle of Brunanburh' took place. The battle in 937ce is said to be, 'The Greatest Single Battle in Anglo-Saxon History before the Battle of Hastings'.
The battle was fought between the Vikings raiders and their Scottish allies on one side, against the Anglo Saxons on the other side.
The epic battle confirmed England as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and has gone down in history as being the 'Birth of England'.
While other locations are the subject of much debate, the weight of academic opinion is based heavily on the Wirral.
A watermill was built at what was known as Spital Dam around the 11th century, this was probably the oldest mill on the Wirral and was still in use up until 1940. A windmill was also built nearby in 1787, before it was destroyed in about 1878 by gunpowder.
During the 1930's, Bromborough underwent extensive redevelopment, with Bromborough Hall among many buildings being demolished to make way for a new by-pass. By this time, the population of Bromborough Village was increasing inline with the rest of the eastern side of the Wirral Peninsula.


History of West Kirby Town

The old Lifeboat House from the slipway on Hilbre Island off West Kirby Like many other places in the Liverpool city region, the name West Kirby has its roots from the early Viking settlers to the region. The town's original name 'Kirkjubyr', meaning a Village with a Church. This was prefixed with 'West' in order to differentiate it from nearby Wallasey, which at the time was called 'Kirkby-in-Walea'. This was first recorded in 1285, as 'West Kyrkeby in Wirhale'.
The population of West Kirby was less than 150 people in 1801, rising modestly in 1851 to just under 450. The rise of Liverpool as an economic powerhouse and wealthy shipping merchants relocating to the Wirral, saw the population of West Kirby increase ten-fold some fifty years later, with the population rising to over 4,500 by the turn of the 20th century. This led to the expanding area encroaching on its northern neighbour, and by 1894, the 'Hoylake and West Kirby Civil Parish' was established.
A man-made saltwater lake was built in 1899, the 52 acre West Kirby Marine Lake was rebuilt in 1985 and has remained a top tourist destination for the town. The Hoylake and West Kirby Civil Parish was dissolved in 1974, in favour of the wider authority of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.


History of Eastham Village

An old bear pit at the former Zoo in Pleasure Gardens in Eastham The name Eastham is derived from its location, with 'East' referring to its position on the Wirral Peninsula and 'Ham' meaning Home.
Much of the land surrounding Eastham was owned by the famous Liverpool Stanley family. The village is cited as being one of the oldest on the Wirral and since the Middle Ages, an early ferry service operated between Eastham and Liverpool.
A new pier was built at the end of the 18th century, by this time as much as 40 coaches carrying passengers and goods were arriving each day to use the ferry service. In 1816, they replaced the sailing boats with Paddle steamers. Following a decline in the service after the creation of the Chester and Birkenhead railway in 1838, the owner of the ferry, Thomas Stanley, built the Eastham Ferry Hotel. Shortly after this, he built the Pleasure Gardens to attract more visitors. The gardens were beautifully landscaped with Water Fountains and various plant life like Azaleas, Ornamental Trees and Rhododendrons. Other attractions included an Open Air Stage, a Bandstand, Ballroom, Boating Lake, Tea Rooms, a Water Slide and a Zoo, with Antelope, Bears, Lions and Monkeys. Various entertainers like the famous French acrobatic tight-rope walker Charles Blondin performed there.
The Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894 by Queen Victoria, bringing added prosperity to the area. Three years later, a Jubilee Arch was built at the entrance to the Pleasure Gardens to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
In its heyday, Eastham Ferry was known as the 'Richmond of the Mersey', but its popularity declined during the 1920s and the last paddle steamer crossing took place in 1929. The Pleasure Gardens later fell into disrepair, soon after the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were both dismantled.
In 1970, the area was designated a Woodland & Country Park. Today, it is once more a popular place of recreation.