In The Shadow of The Tower we look at different aspects of the History of Wallasey. Some interesting stories, news and facts as well as fascinating people.
Man Who Sank A Cruiser
Above is a photograph of Ian Fraser, the Wallasey V.C., and his frogmen, at the reopening of the New Brighton Bathing Pool on Saturday, 17th May 1947. Ian won the V.C. in 1945 for a gallant and successful midget submarine attack on a Japanese cruiser. A demonstration of an attack on a ship was given in the pool, the operation being followed with keen interest by a large crowd. Left to right: The Mayor (Alderman B.C. King), Ian Fraser, V.C., Brian Fraser (his brother), Bob Francis, and the Baths Manager, Mr. C. Mitchell. Ian passed away on 1st September 2008. Part of the New Brighton promenade is named in his honour.
It is also worth mentioning that two Wallasey men took part in the British Commando raid on St. Nazaire in March 1942. The Wallasey men were former Commando Sergeant Fred Holt, of Wallasey Road (son-in-law of Mr and Mrs Wildgoose of the Boot Inn) and Mr. Leslie Whelan, of Leander Road. Both were amongst the 127 survivors of the raid who were taken prisoner and spent the rest of war in German prison camps. Fred passed away in 1964, aged 49. Leslie died in 1979, aged 63.
A Throughfare to Birkenhead
Belvidere Road, now an important thoroughfare, was at one time only an accommodation road for the farm run by Harold Littledale in Mill Lane. Mr. Littledale was son-in-law to Sir John Tobin, who lived opposite to the first named in Liscard Road, his house being reached by a carriage drive situated about where Chatsworth Avenue now is. Sir John was a great benefactor of St. John’s Church. He was Mayor of Liverpool in 1830.
In 1880, when Warren Drive, which up till then only came as far as the west of ‘Stonebark’, was extended, it was intended to carry on the road in a direct line to Belvidere Road. This was to be continued across the farm fields to Mill Lane and then along to link up with Gorsey Lane (then also an accommodation road) to Duke Street and so on to Charing Cross, Birkenhead. Owing to the owner of a piece of land about Broadway Avenue raising opposition the scheme was stopped. Houses were built facing Warren Drive, on Grove Road, and the direct road was prevented.
Development Of The Town
The great development of Wallasey arose first in 1884. A year before a merchant in the cotton trade of Liverpool failed to attempt to “corner” the market. His failure was very serious to many in the trade, and Mr. Littledale, who, as I mentioned above, farmed most of the land in Wallasey, decided to close up his farm and sell some of the land. It so happened that the Ferry Committee had decided on giving 10 minute ferry service to Liverpool from Seacombe in place of the quarterly-hourly service. An astute gentleman, Mr. David Benno Rappart, saw the opportunity of providing houses for people occupied in the city and living in the suburbs of Liverpool who wished to come home for a mid-day meal and get back in the hour allowed. Liverpool was expanding north, east and south, and the slow trams prevented this being done. At the same time the Ferries Committee decided to reduce the contract fares to a very cheap travel. Mr. Rappart purchased the land between Brougham Road and Clarendon Road, and after just a few years the whole of the houses built thereon were let as speedily as they were erected. A considerable number of families came from Everton and formed a Social Club in the Egremont Institute, Tobin Street. The migration of these settlers has been most interesting as their movements were invariably towards the north end of the town, probably as they felt their feet and found the crossing of the river was not as they formerly imagined before they came to Wallasey, and because their improvement financially enabled them to live further from their place of occupation.
New Brighton Shell
In April 1972 two schoolboys saved the lives of possibly many visitors when they found a live shell only fifty yards from the New Brighton pier.
Keith Winstanley, aged 14, of 9 St. George's Mount and John Curphey, 14 of 16 Balmoral Road, both pupils of Wirral Grammar School, were on the beach one Thursday afternoon when they came across a barnacle-encrusted 15-inch naval shell. The boys even sat on the bomb for a rest!
The Bomb Disposal Unit arrived from Liverpool, and the shell was safely blown up off Harrison Drive. The bomb was thought to be a wartime relic, possibly from a sunken ship.
Safe to say it wasn't quite the sea-variety shell they were looking for!
Battle of the Brickworks
In the early 1870’s a brickworks was established on the river front to exploit the valuable clay bank lying between Tobin Street and Maddock Road, a company being formed for the purpose.
Vast numbers of bricks were made and a large export trade arose. Flats would lie alongside the river wall and the bricks were wheeled to the side and dumped in. Many persons walking along the narrow river wall would stand and watch the work going on but there was always the danger of accidents.
I have already covered the saga of the “Battle of the Brickworks” and clicking the link will cover the story as told in the local newspaper at the time but let’s cover the subject here. In December 1877, the company at last decided to stop this encroachment, and they erected a barrier to prevent passing people from encroaching on the works. The Local Board met and resolved to defend the rights of the public. The Fire Brigade, under Captain Leather, was ordered to demolish the barrier. This was done on a Wednesday in December, 1877, and the chairman of the Works Committee, Mr. Henry Skinner, announced in the Council that “the barrier, at the moment, was floating down in the neighbourhood of the lighthouse at New Brighton”. But, even while he was speaking, another barrier was being erected. On Thursday the Fire Brigade again turned out and demolished it. But on Friday all night the brickmakers were at work and a very formidable barrier stood up against further attack. Huge beams had been thrown across the way, and spiked railings which could not be cut by axes or saws kept the attackers off the premises.
At 1 pm on Saturday a great crowd assembled at the foot of Tobin Street. The Fire Brigade, reinforced by a number of civilians, prominent among them being brickmakers who were opposed to the machine-made brickmaking, assembled in full force. Large axes were handed out to anyone willing to work and they marched to the brickworks entrance. Then the attack direct commenced. The tide was a high one and came well up to the wall. Two Liscard men, Jim and Bill Carney, well known “hard cases”, commenced to attack the outer edge of the barrier, which overhung the river. All at once there was a shout and both of them were in the river. The defenders had a pole with a hook at the end. This they pushed through the spaces in the barrier and hooked the hackers into the river. They were soon fished out. Then big cross cut saws were brought into action to cut the baulks of timber. After some time, the defenders opened a hot water attack on the fire brigade. They had run pipes from the boiler along the top of the barrier about eight feet from the ground. These were pierced with holes, and when the water was turned on it was scalding hot and flew in all directions. A rush back too place, but the wily defenders had dug a trench about four feet deep, filled it with wet puddle clay, covered it with dust, and as the authority rushed out of the steam and water many sank up to the middle in the trench. Meanwhile, the attackers were getting on, until the defenders, who had prepared a lot of quarter bricks, began to hurl them. Thereupon the police, under Inspector Hindley, dashed in and arrested two of the directors, one of whom was Mr. Thomas Valentine Burrows, who afterwards lived to become alderman of the borough, Mayor, and had the honour of receiving King George V and Queen Mary when they came to open the Town Hall in 1914. Two of the workmen were also arrested for throwing stones. This was done to preserve order, and the matter was settled summarily on the Monday following by a fine. The result was that an arrangement was made between the Local Board and the Brick Company which preserved the right of way along the wall to the public.
Some years after the “Battle” there was an incident involving a young man named Henry Mayall, who lived in Church Street and was a member of the Egremont Institute. He was a well known long distance runner who went for a run late one evening along the shore and wall. At that time the wall was about three feet wide and much worn by constant traffic. There was no railing, so anyone who slipped might fall into the river or shore on one side, and on the inside the clay had been excavated six to eight feet and one could easily break a limb by falling there.
Next morning young Mayall was found dead on the shore. His legs had been broken from the fall and he drowned by the tide coming in over him. He was unable to crawl to safety and no one was about at that time of night.
As a number of accidents had happened before because of the unfenced wall there was great anger from the community so the Local Board was asked to take action to fence the wall. The clerk said that nothing could be done as the wall was the property of the Liverpool Dock Board and private.
But there were some persistent people behind the agitation, notably Samuel Boyd and Josiah Maximus Hawkins, a member of the Local Board for Seacombe. An interview took place with the chairman of the Dock Board, and ultimately permission was given to fence the wall and fill up and level the inside on condition that no damage was done to the structure of the wall.
This was done between Tobin Street and Maddock Road, and the public flocked down on Sundays and holidays. It was so appreciated that the Local Board extended it on to the Seacombe side between Tobin Street and Elmswood Road.
This was of course the beginning of our present day promenade and we should remember it was the work of Boyd and Hawkins who made the Dock Board adopt the scheme.
The frontagers along the land between Seacombe and New Brighton met the Local Board very fairly, and one condition only was placed on the land transferred that no vehicular traffic should be allowed between Seacombe and New Brighton.
As a result, the land between Manor Road and Holland Road was developed by Mr. Rappart and a very large increase of rateable value was added to the rapidly growing town.
The next development was on the Mainwaring estate between Liscard Road and Poulton Road, while in other parts property was springing up all round, six and seven hundred houses being built annually.
Jumping On and Off the Boats
Did you know that at one time passengers were permitted to jump on and off the ferryboats instead of passing across the gangway? This caused accidents, as people frequently fell into the river. This, of course, created delay to the boats, as the people had to be rescued, and dislocated the service. The ferrymen were a gallant lot and won many medals for rescues. One man, Tom Walker, saved about 20 lives, and Joe Molloy, afterwards a captain, also saved many.
The Board at length decided to stop this jumping and engaged half a dozen policemen from the Chief Constable of Cheshire to travel on the boats and take the names of offenders. As usual, there was opposition to this excellent intention.
The first day of the plan was put into operation and a number of men, headed by Mr. Mills, of Creek Side House, stood deliberately on the Seacombe Stage till the gangway had been withdrawn, and then stepped aboard. A policeman asked for their names and addresses. Summonses were issued, but when they came into court the Magistrates’ Clerk (Mr. Kent) asked under what bye-law the Board was acting. As there was no bye-law, the prosecution failed and the summonses were withdrawn. The Board, finding the officers were useless, asked the Chief Constable to withdraw his men, but he refused as he had engaged other men to take their place. The result was that the policemen had to travel on the boats with nothing to do but smoke and play cards.
Birkenhead also had problems with passengers jumping on and off the ferryboats. The Corporation obtained a bye-law to prevent it. As usual there was opposition but after further deaths the passengers adhered to the bye-law without complaint.
The Old Fire Brigade
I have already made mention of our fire brigade so maybe a few more details of their early history. The Fire Brigade was a volunteer organisation with Captain Leather as the chief officer. The men were mostly plumbers, and men engaged in the building trade, who understood the work. The arrangements for calling them ne together, and their tools, were somewhat of a “Dark Town” order. The reel, the sole one in the town, was kept at the Water Tower in Mill Lane. On an alarm of fire, one volunteer had to run to a cottage which stood opposite the Tower and get the key, then run and open the door of the Tower, and pull the cord of a small bell standing at the very top of the Tower. If anyone heard the bell there was a shout of “Fire!” and interested people rushed to the Tower. The reel was dragged out, two sturdy men got in the shafts and a rope about 40 feet long was fastened to the shaft. What firemen had arrived by this time climbed on the reel. All others who could get a hold on the rope, and away they went, shouting and whistling, and picking up other fire fighters on the way. The horses were supplied by Gibbons’ Stables of Liscard, which later became site of the old Capitol Cinema.
Keenans Cottage in Mill Lane is where HArry Keenan, the caretaker and holder of the key for the Water Tower, lived. This thatched cottage was demolished c1912.
Snow Balling at Seacombe
Something a little different! When the shipbuilding yard of Messrs. Bowdler and Chaffer at Seacombe was in operation, it frequently happened that, when the snow was on the ground during the winter months, work was stopped. The men, having nothing to do, used to assemble in Victoria Road (today Borough Road), near the junction with Demesne Street and Abbotsford Street, and wait for persons making for the boats. These they would pepper with snowballs, and, in some cases get the people down on the ground and put snow down their necks. This went on for several years. Yet the authorities put no stop to it. Eventually in the winter of 1872 or 1873, one morning, a burly, powerful man, was just approaching the above named junction, when he saw a young clerk on the ground, and a number of men filling his neck and trousers with snow. He rushed forward and told them to let the young fellow up, and not to be so cowardly. They immediately turned upon him. There was no police about, and the magistrates in their carriages had been snowballed as they passed long to the ferry. The burly man put his back to the wall and used his stick to advantage. He saw one man aiming at him, and as he threw, the stick hit him on the hand and broke two fingers. Another man got a blow on the head which knocked him down and others bolted up the entry between the old Abbotsford Hotel and Mr. Andrew Davidson’s, undertaker, establishment.
The police took action and summoned a lot of the offenders, and the magistrates inflicted fines of 40/- and costs on all. This put a stop to what had become a public nuisance.