Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for BIRKENHEAD

BIRKENHEAD, a seaport town, a township, and seven chapelries, in the district of Wirrall, Cheshire. The town stands on the Mersey, opposite Liverpool, about a mile by water W of Liverpool, and 14¾ by railway NNW of Chester. The place was anciently called Bircheved, Birkete, Birket-wood, and Birkenhedde; and took its name from being engirt by forest. A Benedictine priory was founded at it, about the year 1170, by Hamon de Massey., baron of Dunham-Massey; sent its priors to sit in the parliaments of Chester as nobles of the palatinate; and, in 1282, acquired the right to maintain a ferry, still known as the Monks-ferry, across the Mersey to Lancashire. A fine crypt and some interesting ruins of the priory still exist. The greater part of the priory estate was bestowed by Henry VIII. on Ralph Worsley; and passed to successively the Powells, the Clevelands, and the Prices. In 1753, there were three ferry-boat houses, one at Woodside for Birkenhead, one at Seacombe, about a mile further down the river, and one at Rockferry, 1¼ mile further up; but these were only conveniences for the dwellers inland, and the travellers to Chester-Even so late as 1801, Birkenhead had only 110 inhabitants; and 20 years later, only 200. The first move towards a town, was the purchase, in 1824, by Mr. Laird, father of the celebrated shipbuilder, of several acres of land on the shore of the Wallasey Pool, an inlet from the Mersey. The pool and the land adjoining it were speedily seen to be excellently suited for docks; and measures were soon adopted for converting the place into a great port. The town, once begun, made astonishingly rapid progress; and, though it has suffered some checks, it now enjoys every prospect of a steady and accelerating increase.

Birkenhead is well aligned and well built; and it had the singular advantage of being all planned before the building operations for it were well begun. T.Thornburn, Esq., C.E., reported to us in 1865,-"Length of streets laid out, 54 miles; scavenged, 43; adopted, 40. Area of Birkenhead Park, 190½ acres; of which 99 are laid out in ornamental ground, lakes, and grass; 14½ occupied by roads and drives; and 77 laid out in building ground. Cost of land, £61,028; of formation, £78,654." Hamilton-square occupies 6 or 7 acres; is edificed with stone fronts; and presents a very grand appearance. The market house is one of the finest in England; cost £30,000, exclusive of the site; and is 430 feet long, and 131 wide. The post office is an ornamental edifice, in the Corinthian style. The free public library and the theatre were built in 1864; and the former is in the Florentine style. The working-man's hall was built in 1865, at a cost of from £4,000 to £5,000. A ragged school was then in contemplation; the sum of £7,000 having been given for it by Wm. Jackson, Esq., M. P. St. Mary's church is an elegant structure, in the decorated English style, built in 1819; and the churchyard includes the burial ground and ruins of the ancient priory. Holy Trinity is an edifice in the Norman style. St. Anne's, built of the red sandstone of the district, makes a fine appearance. St. James' is in the early English style, and is built of beautiful white Storeton stone. St. John's, in the decorated style, was built in 1845, and has a fine tower and spire. St. Paul's was built in 1863; and St. Peter's partly in 1868. Upwards of thirty non-established places of worship are within the town (including Claughton and Oxton); and some of them are very beautiful and ornamental structures. There are two Roman Catholic churches; the older one, a Grecian edifice; the other, opened in 1862, in the early French Gothic style, from designs by Pugin. There is also a convent, in the Italian style, built in 1863, at a cost of £10,000. St. Aidan's theological college, under the principal ship of the Rev. Dr. Baylee, forms a fine pile of Tudor architecture, with good internal arrangements; and furnishes about one in eighteen of the candidates for orders in the Established church. A courthouse, two banks, gasworks, waterworks, working-men's houses, an abbatoir, and an extensive new cemetery, also draw attention. A handsome infirmary, built at an expense of upwards of £5,000, and presented to the town by Mr. John Laird, M.P., was opened in 1863. A street railway runs from Woodsideferry by the Park to Oxton, a distance of about 3 miles; an outward railway, giving communication with the country, will be noticed in the next article; and other railways, from the docks to the West Cheshire line, from Hooton to Parkgate, and from Hooton to Queensferry, with branches to the Holyhead and to the Buckley, have been projected.

The harbour of Birkenhead is magnificent. The docks were commenced in 1844, on a vast plan which was approaching completion in 1869. The water area of them is 168 acres; the lineal quay space, about 10 miles; and the cost will be upwards of £3,000.000. The west float has a quayage of 2 miles, 210 yards; the east float, 1 mile, 1,506 yards; the Egerton dock, 754 yards; the Morpeth dock, 1,299 yards; the Morpeth basin, a tidal one; 752 yards; the low water basin, also a tidal one, 1,360 yards; and a dock, north of this, 482 yards. Two side basins and two large graving docks branch from the west float; a system of railways encompasses the east float; passages, ample and well-contrived, communicate among the docks; the passage from the river to the Morpeth dock is so contrived that it can be used as a graving dock; a system of sluices, for scouring away deposits, is connected with the low water basin; an extensive building contains the machinery for the sluices, and has a tower 200 feet high; and bridges, cranes, coal-hoists, sheds, warehouses, and other appliances are plentiful and well placed. A landing-stage, at Woodside ferry, 800 feet long and 80 feet wide, constructed in 1862, rests on pontoons similar to the Liverpool stages, rising and falling with the tide; is connected with the piers by two iron bridges; and gives every accommodation to passenger traffic. Another landing-stage, in the low water basin, 1,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, is of similar construction, and serves for vessels at all states of the tide. The cost of the dock-works in 1868 was £220,618.

The commerce of Birkenhead is, in all respects, a branch of that of Liverpool, and chiefly devoted to coal, guano, and grain. The Cunard Company recently obtained accommodation for their steamers in the harbour; and other sea-going steamship companies are expected to follow their example. Very extensive trade is carried on in shipbuilding and engineering. The works of the MessrsLaird Brothers employ from 3,000 to 4,000 men; and have paid £720,000 in wages in six years. The Canada works have paid £500,000 in eight. The Britannia works also are extensive; and have acquired their magnitude through the skill and enterprise of their proprietor James Taylor, Esq., the inventor of the steamlifts and the elephant. The town has a head post office,‡ a telegraph station, two banking offices, and fourteen chief inns; publishes three newspapers; and is a seat of petty sessions and a polling-place. Markets are held on Tuesdays and Saturdays; and fairs on the last Tuesday of Feb. and April, and on 3 July and 8 Oct.-Acres of the township, 1,265; of which 365 are water. Real property in 1860, £235,548; of which £64,601 are in railways. Pop. in 1841, 8,223; in 1861, 36,212. Houses, 4,669. The township, with Claughton, Oxton, Tranmere, and part of higher Bebington, was, in 1861, made a parliamentary borough, sending one member to parliament. Electors in 1866, 4,563. Pop., 51,649. Houses, 7,189.

The chapelries are St. Mary, St. James, Trinity, St. Anne, St. John, St. Paul, and St. Peter. The first is the oldest, and was formed out of Bidstone parish; the next four were formed out of the first; and St. Paul was formed out of Bebington. Trinity was constituted in 1841; St. Anne, in 1847; St. Paul, in 1858; St. John, in 1859; St. Peter, in 1867. There is also a Mariners' church.-All the livings are p. curacies in the diocese of Chester. Value of St. Mary, £153; of Trinity, £300; of St. Anne, £159;* of St. John, £300;* of St. Peter, £200; of the others, not reported. Patrons of St. John, the Church Patronage Society; of St. Anne, the Rev. A. Knox; of the others, Trustees.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a seaport town, a township, and seven chapelries"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Cheshire AncC
Place names: BIRCHEVED     |     BIRKENHEAD     |     BIRKENHEDDE     |     BIRKETE     |     BIRKET WOOD
Place: Birkenhead

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