The Transition Period
1800 - 1850
During the nineteenth century Wallasey's growth was principally based upon the growth of Liverpool as the commercial and industrial centre of north of England. The influence of people from Liverpool had yet been unfelt at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Wirral, generally speaking, was very thinly peopled; few townships having more than 250 people per 1000 acres. This was partly the result of its relative isolation, owing to the marshes of the Growy and Broxton Valleys at the southern end of the peninsula, and partly because of the large proportion of thinly soiled sandstone upland forming mainly heaths. The people were almost wholly agriculturalists and the only township of any importance was that of Neston with Parkgate (105 people per 100 acres) which combined with its local agriculture and coal mining the three-fold character of a market-town, a port with a small trade especially with Ireland, and a sea-side resort.
Burdett's Map, c1797, showing unenclosed Common Land
Wallasey in 1811
Situated at the north-east extremity of the Wirral lies Wallasey which was still further isolated by its position and above all, by the presence of Wallasey Pool and the marshes on its southern and westerly borders. There was also a lack of any important roads to and from Wallasey. Consequently, its population had remained very small totaling in 1801 some 663 in all as compared with 355 in 1545, and 345 in 1663. The Township of Liscard contained 23 people per 100 acres and the Township of Poulton-cum-Seacombe and Wallasey 21 and 17 respectively. At the time of the 1811 Census the population of the Parish had increased to 943 made up of 440 in Wallasey. 239 in Liscard, and 214 in Poulton-cum-Seacombe. As in the Wirral, the inhabitants were mainly engaged in agriculture although certain other activities were carried on such as fishing.
The settlements in the Wallasey area at this time consisted of the four villages or hamlets of Wallasey, Liscard, Poulton and Seacombe, the sites of which were partly controlled by relief and partly by their position in relation to the Mersey crossing and that across the Wallasey Pool. These villages had slowly grown up on the elevated eastern part of the Parish where, in general, the low plateau was favoured by :-
a relatively dry site, especially when the villages were
on the sandstone outcrop uncovered by glacial drift as
in the case of Wallasey Village and Poulton;
the open heath character favoured building;
the relief and the bordering marshlands and Wallasey
Pool afforded protection from land invaders;
water supply - Wells and springs in the sandstone
provided clear and pure water in contrast with the
polluted, standing water of the "Moss" or marshes;
proximity to the clayey lowlands of the "Moss" or
Wallasey Pasture that provided land for pasture,
whilst the lighter soils at the junction of the clay and
the sand gave soil suitable for arable farming.
The Townships of Wallasey
In 1811 Wallasey Village consisted of some 94 families totaling 440 people who lived in 68 houses. Most of these house or cottages were situated on either side of a long straggling street which began just before Wallasey Church at the junction with School Lane, and extended northwards to Green Lane; others bordered School Lane. Nearly all these Cottages or small farmsteads, nestling at the foot of the Parish Church or the lower slope of St. Hilary's ridge at an average elevation of about 45 feet, were sufficiently high up to avoid the flooding of the "Moss" in heavy rains and high tides. The houses were largely made from the local sandstone, usually of squared blocks of the yellow-grey Keuper Basement Beds obtained nearly in the Brake or Breck or Breck Quarry, laid in courses and with slated roofs. Several of these can still be seen today. In addition, there were several picturesque snow-white cottages with roofs of straw thatch. These represented an older type of house that was constructed by setting up "crucks", which were roughly hewn tree trunks or large boughs leaning against each other to meet at the top, a cross-piece supporting them half-way up, thus forming something like a capital "A". These crucks, placed about sixteen feet apart, and connected by the ridge pieces, purlins and numerous braces, formed the skeleton of a dwelling, which was completed by filling in the sides with "cob". i.e, clay with straw trodden into it, or else with rough masonry or brick-work, and roofing with thatch. This kind of cottage was generally long and low. often of only one storey, though an upper room under the high-pitched roof was not uncommon. One of these types of old cottages existed in Liscard Village, opposite the Post Office, known as Egerton Cottages.
The Inns of the Village were both of sandstone construction, namely, the Old Cheshire Cheese at the foot of St. Hilary Brow and the Black Horse (1722) which took its name from a certain horse famous in the annals of the Wallasey Races. Both of these Inns, of course, are now reconstructed.
This settlement in Wallasey Village dates back to very early times and reference is made to it in Domesday (1086). Its name is probably derived from "Wealas-ey", the island of the Welshmen or strangers, in that, by its inaccessibility, it formed a refuge for the early inhabitants from the invading Saxons. The village grew up in close proximity to the Parish Church of St. Hilary which stands on the crest of the ridge just to the east. The earliest church was probably of wood or of wattle and daub and the Scandinavian name of the parish Kirby would imply that it existed at the time of the Norse invasion in the 16th century. Remains of a Norman Church of the 11th and 12th centuries have been traced and later, in 1520, the sandstone tower that stands today in the churchyard, was built in very late Perpendicular style, embattled, with gargoyles, and corner buttresses, and coarse three-light belfry windows. With the exception of this tower the Church, was pulled down in 1760 and re-built, remaining with certain additions until destroyed by fire on 1st February, 1857. Close to the Church were the refectory, built of stone in 1672 and still standing, and the old Wallasey Hall, built by W. Meols in 1602 and demolished about the middle of last century.
Adjoining the houses on either side of Wallasey Village, were the barns and shippons standing usually in a yard, beyond which on the western side, the small crofts or closes were separated by the lower part of School Lane or the "Gutter", from the meadows that sloped down to a small stream draining southwards to Wallasey Pool. Beyond this stream, and extending to the western and northern limits of the Parish were the open, unenclosed lands called the Wallasey Leasowe and Wallasey Pasture lying north and south respectively of an ancient boundary fence, in which most of the land-holders had common rights. Running westwards across the Leasowe and providing the main land outlet was a narrow lane (Green Lane) which led to the extreme westerly part of Wallasey Parish where stood the New Hall or as it was better known, Leasowe Castle. The tower of this Hall or Castle was probably built by the 5th Earl of Derby in 1593, possibly in connection with the horse-racing on the Wallasey shore but more likely as a refuge or protection (the walls are over three feet thick) which the disturbed conditions of his time made desirable. It was also in an excellent position for watching the sport of hawking, standing in the midst of an extensive open plain. Several additions were made during the early part of the 17th Century but following upon the suppression of "wordly sports and pastimes" by the Puritans of the Commonwealth period it probably was deserted and became known as Mockbeggar Hall. At the end of the century it was used as a farm house and during the 18th Century it was occupied by various people including Mr. Egerton (1772-1786) and Robert Harrison who sold it in 1802 to Mrs. Boode when it was first called Leasowe Castle. Its subsequent history can be summarised as follows :-
1825 converted into a hotel by Sir Edward Cust,
husband of Mrs. Boode's daughter. Unsuccessful.
1843-79 Sir Edward Cust lived there at spasmodic intervals. Additions and improvements made including the panelling of the library with bog oak from the submerged forest, the panelling of the dining-room with oak from the Star Chamber at Westminster, and the construction of the so-called Battle staircase.
1895 Again converted into a hotel by a private Company.
1910 Purchased by the Trustees of the Railwaymen's Convalescent Homes and opened as such in 1911 remaining so until the First World War when it housed German prisoners
1970 Opened as a restaurant and hotel
The northern margin of the Leasowe passed into the belt of sand hills which extended eastward into the waste lands in the Township of Liscard, known as Liscard Common.
East of Wallasey Village, extending approximately from Back Lane or Middle Lane (now St. George's Road) to the LIscard Boundary and bounded southwards by the ancient road heading from Wallasey Village to Liscard Common and Village (now Wallasey Road) were the old enclosed lands made up of the arable fields running up the hillside in long, narrow strips to Top Lane (now Claremount Road) and still further eastwards, more narrow and irregularly shaped patches of land in the old Town Fields. In the Tithe Maps of Wallasey in 1841 these are shown practically unchanged.
South of Wallasey Church, and bordering along the crest if the ridge the eastern side of the old road leading to the village of Poulton (now Breck Road) was the narrow strip of open waste land known as Wallasey Brake or Breck which contained the main quarry for the local stone. Between 1752 and 1814 the Wallasey inhabitants had been encroaching upon this open land but it was not until the latter date that the formal enclosure took place. In the Breck stood Wallasey School, the predecessor of the Grammar School in Withens Lane which later moved to Moreton and is the present Wallasey School. In some form a grammar school has existed from as early as 1654, it not earlier. After existing for over a century (1856-1799) the original school, probably under the same roof as the Church, was pulled down and the new one on the Breck constructed by public subscription. Close to the school stood Wallasey Mill, high up on the hill and so exposed to the full force of the prevailing westerly winds. This was built of stone in 1765, on or near the site of an earlier mill.
The inhabitants of Wallasey Village and Township, as already mentioned, were mainly engaged in agricultural pursuits. According to the 1811 Census 65 out of the total 94 families were dependant on agriculture, 16 on trade, manufactures and handicrafts, and the remainder on other unspecified occupations. There can, however, be little doubt that these occupations were supplemented on a considerable scale by the villainous practices of wrecking and smuggling which were favoured by the position of Wallasey in regard to the shipping pf the Mersey and the difficulties of navigation owing to the presence of numerous sand-banks at the entrance to the river. James Stonehouse, writing in 1863 states:
"Wirral at that time and the middle of last century was a desperate region, the inhabitants were nearly all wreckers and smugglers. They ostensibly carried on the trade and celling of fisherman, farm labourers, and small farmers, but they were deeply saturated with the sin of covetousness and many a fierce fire has been lighted on the Wirral shore on stormy nights to lure the good ship on the Burbo or Hoyle Banks, there to beat, strain and throb until her timbers parted and her planks were floating in confusion on the stormy waves". ------
Smuggling, too, was very rampant especially in brandy, gin, rum, salt and tobacco but this was carried on chiefly in the Township of Liscard where suitable landing and hiding places were to be found at Mother Redcap's, the Magazines, and the Red Noses
The Township of
This Township, the smallest of the three in the Parish, lay to the south of those of Wallasey and Liscard. Its eastern border was the River Mersey and to the south and south-west was Wallasey Pool. Unlike the other Townships it had two distinct settlements, Poulton Village in the west and Seacombe Village in the south-east. Both were small hamlets with a total number of inhabited houses given as 38 in 1811. The combined population was 214 comprising some 42 families of which 15 were engaged in agricultural, only 4 in trade, manufacturers, and handicrafts, with the remaining 23 devoted to other activities. Here then, in contrast to Wallasey and Liscard, agriculture was not the outstanding occupation although very important. From the position of the two hamlets it is very probable that the greater part of the 23 families engaged in unspecified activities, were concerned with fishing or with the ferries across the Mersey and Wallasey Pool.
Old Pool Inn and Pinfold
Poulton Village, taking its name from the "Ton" or hamlet, on the "Pool", had grown up near the ferry across the Pool. In the Vyner Map of Poulton, circa 1665, this ferry is shown as being situated at the end of Limekiln Lane near the western side of Hooks Common but it is possible that an earlier ferry existed inland nearer the head of the Pool by Poulton Common (close the site of Poulton Bridge). This would probably be a ferry about high water and a ford when the tide was out. Neither of these ferries ia shown on the Enclosure Map of 1823 but an embankment is marked running from the Common probably on the site of the earlier ferry. This was erected about 1809 by Robert Vyner, Lord of the Manor of Wallasey, to connect his lands in Bidston with those in Poulton. The Village itself, a little away from the Pool to avoid flooding and standing on the Keuper Sandstone (Basement Beds) outcrop at an elevation of about 40 to 50 feet, was at the junction of Rake Lane (now Breck Road), Mill Lane, the ancient road leading to Seacombe (now Poulton Road), and Limekiln Lane. In the Village were several stone-built cottages or houses including one that stands today, the oldest, apart from Leasowe Castle. >>>
This is 'Bird's House' and is situated at the junction of Poulton Bridge Road and Limekiln Lane, which has the date and initials as seen in the picture on the left. The initials stood for William Bird (with a difference of opinion that the date is either 1621, 1627 or 1697) and it was carved on the front door lintel. William was a yeoman who lived here, but it is hard to say which member of the family built the house. Richard Bird's son was born on 3rd September 1577 and another William Bird on 8th November 1599. Woods & Brown book, 'The Rise And Progress of Wallasey', believe the date to be 1697. They point out that the accounts of for the Church warden at St. Hilary's Church for the year 1658 are signed by William Bird. Close at hand were the old circular-walled pinfold which housed stray cattle and the old Pool Inn, situated a little south of the rebuilt one which in turn was closed in 2010 and soon after demolished. The outstanding buildings, however, were Poulton Hall, a large four-square brick-built house that replaced the old Hall about 1790-1800, and Poulton Manor House, another fine brick house built about the same time. No mill is shown on the 1823 map but the Vyner Map (1665) marks one at the bottom of Mill Lane close to the present St. Luke's Church. This unlike the Wallasey Breck Mill (100 feet above sea-level) was at a relatively low level (about 50 feet) but as the low-lying Bidston and Wallasey marshes extended to the west from which direction most of the winds came it would not be a very great handicap.
Just to the west of the Village was the small Common which remained open, like the other commons and waste lands of the Township, until the Commissioner's Awards of 1823. Eastwards stretched the old-enclosed arable and pasture lands across which an old lane (Poulton Road) led to Seacombe Common and Seacombe Village. Extending southwards from the western part of Seacombe Common, was Seacombe Dale (now marked as Oakdale Road), the combe from which probably Seacombe derived its name. Between the Dale and the ferry end of Lime-Kiln Lane and bordering the strand or shore of Wallasey Pool was The Hooks Common (noted as No 257/258 on 1841 Tithe Map), a low-lying marsh land with several small creeks and liable to overflowing by Spring tides but no doubt providing excellent pasture.
Seacombe Village consisted of a few houses in the neighbourhood of the Seacombe Ferry to Liverpool, which was then situated at the bottom of Church Road. Later all the land south east of a line running approximately from the old Seacombe Ferry Hotel to the bottom of Kelvin Road would be reclaimed and the ferry re-sited There is no concrete evidence available of the original site of Seacombe Village and Ferry but the mention of ferries across the Pool, and the name Seacombe render it quite possible that the settlement and the ferry were situated near the head of the numerous creeks which branched from Wallasey Pool between Poulton and the Mersey, a position more sheltered and therefore more suitable for the small boats which plyed until the nineteenth century. The earliest reference to a ferry is quoted by Stewart Brown from the Chester Plea Rolls :- "... they were the lords of the town of Secum and therefore had the right of passage across the Mercee and could load and unload their boats at Waleyespull and between Waleyespull and Ranildespull either in Claughton or in Secum". Various references to Seacombe Ferry occur from then onwards but no evidence is forthcoming as to when the Ferry was established near the bottom of Church Road. At this time (1811) as throughout the 18th Century, the service was very irregular and primitive. The boats were small, either single or double masted, and landing consisted in wading or being carried ashore. According to William Moss, 'Stranger In Liverpool', in 1797, the charge was "twopence for market people and common passengers ... and sixpence is generally expected from the upper order of passengers". Close to the Ferry was the hotel or inn which a little later in the century became fashionable. Access to and from the Ferry was by means of a track or road across Seacombe Common to the junction of Liscard Road and Poulton Road which roads or lanes led to Liscard and Poulton respectively.
Seacombe Foreshore, 1817
Away from the Village, close to the entrance of the Wallasey Pool to the Mersey, was the Smalt Works of Mawdsley and Smith, the only industrial works shown on the Enclosure Map of 1823 and the predecessor of the important and commercial activities if those part of modern Wallasey. It is possible, however, that the Copper Works of John Bibby, Sons and Company, were already in existence. Woods and Brown state that these were founded in 1812 and existed until about 1863. They are not shown on the 1823 Map but appear on the 1841 Map near Creek Side, off Dock Road.
The Township of Liscard
This Township, lying to the north of Poulton-cum-Seacombe Township and west of Wallasey, occupied the eastern and north-eastern part of the Parish. In 1811, the total population was 289 composed of some 54 families who lived in 51 houses. The greater part of these families were dependent upon agriculture, as was the case in Wallasey Township, 40 of the 54 families being engaged in that activity while 7 of the remaining 14 were occupied in trade, manufacturers, and handicrafts. The activities of the final 7 are not given but would include those concerned with the Magazines (as discussed in 'The Powder Magazine'), and the supplying of food and liquor to the sailors who frequented the Pilot Boat Hotel, and the Magazine Hotel as well as Mother Red Caps.
Liscard Village consisted mainly of a few cottages or houses with their yards and crofts, situated on the drift-covered, low plateau at an elevation pf approximately 100 feet near the junction of the present Wallasey Road, Seaview Road, Rake Lane and Liscard Road. The original site is not definitely known but Henry Robinson in his account of Wallasey written in 1727, says "... there was a great man call'd Lee who had Kirk situated near the westward of the Kirkway, --- and his town stood near the Kirk... Mr G(l)over said that the right name of Liscard was Liskirk, this Lee, whose Mansion House was that of John, Als Long Young ..." If this "Lees Kirk" - which may have been an oratory, served by Birkenhead Priory - ever existed at all, it probably was near the top of Earlston Road, by the present Kirkway, in which case the older house built into the present children's section of Earlston Library is possibly the Mansion House mentioned by Robinson - 'Rose Bank' (later none as Earlston House). At the other end of the present Kirkway, on the edge of Liscard Common, was the windmill standing in an exposed position on the highest portion of the Township (160). Bearing in mind the statements of Robinson there is little reason to suppose that the original nucleus of Liscard Village was very far from its position in 1811. As in the other Villages, the houses were mainly of sandstone construction obtained from the Keuper Basement Beds quarried on Liscard Common at the junction of the present Rake Lane, Upper Rowson Street, and Magazine Lane (Quarry Recreation Ground). Good examples of this type, now demolished, were Urmson's House (1729-1928) opposite the car park in Liscard Village (where previously there had been a Fire Station), the Blue Bell Inn which once stood next to the Fire Station with the turf roof covered with a luxuriant growth of grass up to about 1899, and Liscard Hall Farm standing on the site of the present Royal Mail Delivery Office. In addition, a little west of the Village and on the edge of Liscard Moor, was the old "Boot" Inn, of Elizabethan times, which is generally supposed to take its name from the old boot preserved traditionally in connection with the following legend :-
"Our good Queen Bess did rule this realm, when honest Jack was hoaste unto this Inn, well helped by lusty wife and bucksome daughter Joan. One wild dark night when all were snoring snug abed, a fierce wild horseman bedaubed with muck and blood, did gallop to the door, making a thunderous thump thereon, when our hoaste did open untoe him, he rushed intoe the house, a big jack boot in one hand, and a great pistol in t'other, calling wild foul words for instant meat and drink. He had a beastly savage look, and our hoaste did eye him well while meat and drink went down his wolfish maw. Thinks Jack there's booty in that boot, for when he thumped it on the board there was a chink of gold, the pistol too was bye. Our honest Jack was cute and bolde, and when he turned in wrath Jack whipped the pistol to his sconce and called for lusty wife and bucksome Joan, and they did bind the robber safe and sure, and made the gold lined boot secure. This scarce was done when in bounced three gentlemen, one with bloody sconce and bootless leg, who when he saw the robber bound was glad, but soon began to wail his boot. Now did our hoaste begin to crow and bid his woman bring the gold lined boot. The gentleman was then in hearty mood and gave then guineas to our hoaste, then more to lusty wife and bucksome Joan. He gave the robber to the gibbet, and the boot to be a sign unto this Inn while it doth stand".
There would be also in the Village several brick-built houses, mostly small and unpretending, and at least two examples of the older type already described.
Eastwards from the Village to the Mersey and extending north and south respectively to Liscard Common, and Liscard Moor and the boundary of Poulton-cum-Seacombe Township, were the old enclosed lands of the freeholders and tenants of Liscard, partly arable lands and partly meadow and pasture lands, rather similar to the clay lands bordering the Dee from below Caldy Hill to Parkgate. Across these fields an old road (now Rake Lane) led northwards to Liscard Common, an open windswept waste largely covered with blown sand except where the sandstone cliffs outcropped on the shore in the neighbourhood of the Red Noses. At this time (1811) a Commissioner was already working on an award in connection with the enclosing of this Common in accordance with the Act of 1809. Running eastwards, along the edge of the Common was a path or lane (now Magazine Lane) leading to the Magazines and the few houses bordering the shore.
The Powder Magazines
The Powder Magazines had been established in this open, isolated area by the Corporation of Liverpool sometime between 1751, when they were removed from Clarence Street, on account of the danger of carting gunpowder through the streets of Liverpool, and 1768 when there was evidence of the lease of this land for the Powder Magazines to William Penkett of Bidston, son of the John Penkett who purchased the Manor of Liscard in February 1801. In the 1812 Map they are shown as three distinct compartments but later they were reconstructed. Close to the Magazines were the brick-built Pilot Boathouse Hotel (1747) and the Magazine Hotel (1759), both popular "rendezvous" of the sailors of the ships anchored in the offing for the unloading of their powder preparatory to going into dock, or for taking in of their powder before going to sea. Most of the ships carried guns at this time as Britain was engaged in the Napoleonic War and there was also some trade in gunpowder with West Indies. Bordering these Inns were a few stone-built cottages together with barns and cow-sheds the products of which, no doubt, supplied the outward bound ships. About three or four hundred yards southwards along the shore once stood two stone-built cottages, Sea Bank Cottages, and the well-known Mother Red Cap's.
Mother Red Cap's
Herdman drawing of Mother Redcap's, c1860
Mother Red Cap's was a famous haunt of smugglers and was built about 1595 by a member of the Mainwaring family. The original walls were nearly three feet thick and on the outside were covered with thick planks from wrecked ships. The front door of oak, was five inches thick and studded with square-headed nails and on the inside was a trap-door which precipitated unwary intruders into the cellar some eight or nine feet below. It could also be used for lowering contraband goods to this cellar. Another and larger cellar or cavern existed at the back of the house from which a narrow underground passage led to a concealed opening in a ditch that in turn, ran as far as a pit which was about half-way up the present Lincoln Drive. The entrance to this cavern was in the back-yard where stood a large manure heap, and a stock of coal and coal-scales. This coal was supplied by Flats, and was retailed to the people of Liscard and Wallasey as a blind to the smuggling activities. Outside, facing the Mersey, was a short wooden flagstaff with a dummy weather-vane used by the smugglers for signaling. When it pointed to the house it meant "Come on" and when pointing away, "Keep off". The smuggled goods were temporarily hidden in and about Mother Red Cap's and then at night secretly removed, and taken along foot-paths and lanes past Liscard Village, and down the present Bidston foot-path to "Hannah Mutche's Farm" at the east end of the "Moss", the main haunt of the smugglers. The house became a tavern in the privateering days of 1778-90 and was frequented by the Officers and crews. About this time it probably became known as Mother Red Cap's from the fact of the owner always wearing a red hood or cap. She became a great favourite with the sailor men and frequently hid them from the Pressgang as well as acting as a depositary for their pay and prize-money until they wanted it.
Mother Redcap's in 1888
A short distance away once stood a fine brick-built 18th Century house and it's out houses, and appears in the 1841 Map as Liscard Manor House. The old Manor House was on the site of Earlston Library and no direct evidence is available as to the exact date when the title was transferred to this house. It is known, however, that John Penkett, a Liverpool merchant, had the lease of this house in 1794 when it was called "Sea Bank". In 1801, the same John Penkett purchased all the Manor of Liscard so it may reasonably be presumed that the transference of title took place between 1801 and 1841, probably after 1810.
From Sea Bank or Liscard Manor House, a lane led westwards across the enclosed lands to (Withens) Lane and then via another road (now Urmson Road) to Liscard Village. From here a track or road skirted the edge of Liscard Moor and after passing through a gate at the boundary of the Township, continued on (the present Wallasey Road) to Wallasey Village.
Liscard Moor, the remaining open waste land in the Township, lay to the south and south-west of the Village as far as the boundary with Poulton-cum-Seacombe, i.e. as far as the site of the vacant St. John's Church. Across it ran a track or Lane (now Liscard Road) leading towards Seacombe Village and Ferry via Seacombe Common. Around the southern margins of the Moor "squatter" settlements existed and a number of houses and cottages sprawled with a marked concentration along the north side of what is now Withens's Lane. The only outstanding building here was that of the Rev. John Tobin, called Liscard House. It was built by Sir John Tobin for the above-named son, probably about 1833, as the eastward end of the present Chatsworth Avenue which was layed-out on the side of the drive. The owners and lease-holders of the lands bordering the Moor had been encroaching upon it, probably by agreement since 1761, and already by 1811, the Act for enclosing both the Moor and the Common had been passed and the Award was in preparation.