Hell's Brow

The Story of
Magazine Village

Rising from the river near Liscard in Wallasey stands Magazine Village - a community which, before gunpowder had bestowed upon it an air of respectability, was known and denounced as 'Hell's Brow'.

Before the eighteenth century the Brow was isolated from the other areas of Wallasey by a treacherous mere, a wind-swept moor, and by Bidston Moss. For many years the only access to the village was by way of the shore. Due to its isolation the area attracted wreckers and smugglers. Often posing as simple boatmen and hard-working fishermen they lived in the Brow's squalid muddle of hovels. However, the vagaries of passing time transformed the little hovels into some of the most delightful and sought after cottages in Wallasey.

800 Tons Of Powder Under The Soil

Tithe Map. 1841
Tithe Map, 1841

There must be a few things harder to imagine than an ammunition dump by New Brighton’s pretty Tree Walk in Vale Park, or smugglers and wreckers sneaking furtively across the sands on which you have probably sat for many a quiet hour when the weather is warm.

But let us go back just over 250 years ago to 1755, the year in which a British expedition against the French in Canada failed, and believe it or not, Mount Etna erupted.

New Brighton was then hardly a village on the map, although the population of Liscard was getting dense – and one man was becoming alarmed.

He wrote to the authorities complaining strongly about the enormous amount of gunpowder he believed to be stored on a secluded plot of land by the Mersey. That plot posterity knows as the Magazines at New Brighton, near the Tree Walk. He felt it was too close to his house to be comfortable, and he requested to know what would happen if it blew up accidentally.

His concern was probably just as real as that of a man living within a similar radius of where an atom might be stored in the 1950s.  For although to walk between the Magazines and Liscard today calls for energetic action, there was then nothing to protect Liscard from an explosion.

The danger was real, for buildings were not as solidly built as today, and gunpowder barrels had a habit of leaking.

Anyway, the reply the man got from the authorities was “Dear Sir, it would blow you all to Hell.”

The Magazine at New Brighton was used by the owners of sailing ships, which were compelled to carry guns to fight pirates. When the ships arrived at Liverpool, they lay off the Magazines to discharge powder.

Near them would anchor outward-bound ships, taking aboard the powder.

The story of the Magazines began in 1737, when a magazine for ship’s gunpowder was built in Liverpool on a site now swallowed up by Brownlow Hill. That was on the rural fringe of the Port, for then the nearest buildings were in Church Street.

But Liverpool was taking rapid seriously in those years, and there was a danger that the gunpowder might expand too – not only when in store but when being taken through the streets to the ships.

Then, in 1751 – the year Robert of the East India Company Clive captured Arcot, India – a new approach was made to the problem in a traditional English manner – a committee was set up. Its deliberations were brief and to the point – the magazine must be moved. It selected a plot on the bank of the Mersey – the opposite bank!

A secluded plot was decided upon at the Magazines. It was modest enough in size, amounting to an acre which was named Warringer Close. It cost Liverpool £30. Today Lichfield Street and Aylesbury Road mark the spot.

In allotment fashion, the plots were split up into small sections and various owners had their own powder store. Tempers got frayed and in 1838 the magazine was remodeled and enlarged by Liverpool Corporation.

But New Brighton was being enlarged by that time, as well as Liscard, and Liverpool was once again faced with the problem that had faced the committee years before. This time, however, the gunpowder plot was somewhat bigger, for by now 800 tons of gunpowder was tucked under New Brighton’s soil. The trade in it was booming and the movement was continuous – that is, to and from the ships.

The matter was discussed in Parliament and finally in 1851 the gunpowder was moved to floating hulks anchored in the Mersey between New Ferry and Eastham.


One link with the magazine remains – a round house standing at the corner of Magazine Lane and Fort Street, which is reputed to be the home of the watchman who looked after the magazine.

The Battery

Fort entrrance, c1913
Children using the gate entrance as goal posts c1913
Fort guns, c1913
Discarded Fort guns which are seen in the picture on the left.
Fort entrance, c1910
Locals taking a leisurely stroll pass the Fort entrance c1910

Opposite the Round House stands an archway with twin, turreted towers, another interesting remnant of the history of the Magazines, and one that could hardly be more closely related to the magazine itself – a battery. Built seven years after the magazine went afloat (1858).  

This was New Brighton’s second battery, for the more famous one on the shore had been completed by 1829, but instead of being conspicuous in position like Fort Perch Rock the Magazines battery was hidden. It was called “A snake in the grass” and was built of red sandstone and today only the gatehouse and parts of the walls remain – houses having been built inside.

Old records show that it was mostly consisted of a grassy bank concealing a number of guns. Passing years rendered it obsolete, and the Egremont Promenade was built in front of it.

The death blow to its military associations came in 1912 when the War Office put it up for sale. The Liverpool Yacht Club purchased it for £1,620 in that year. 

The Mags

‘The Magazine Hotel’ was built in 1759, but over the years several alterations have been carried out. The pub was originally called ‘The Black Horse’ and the old house plate had the initials of R.T and the date. The hotel has a concealed cellar which was used by the old Press Gang.  There was once a cock-fighting pit behind the hotel which had circular wooden seating for sailors and locals who would arrange and bet on bird fights. The Mags was often frequented by top-hatted gentlemen, city clerks and shipping people, many of whom arrived in horse-drawn cabs and were known as 'bay window customers'.

Magazine Brow, c1900
Magazine Pub, 1950
View of Magazine Brow, c1900
The Magazine Hotel, 1950

Various landlords included Charles Lear in 1861, Ann Tennant, 1872, Jim Lawson, 1884, Joseph Minsell, 1890, Catherine Ellen Hillier, 1911 and Percy Hall in 1938.  

In April 2010 a fire almost destroyed the ‘Mags’ which caused £200,000 worth of damage. The fire was blamed on a curse.  Two witches’ broomsticks used to hang from the ceiling near the main fireplace.  According to local legend, if something were to happen to either of them then something bad would happen to the Pub.  One of the broomsticks was stolen just before the fire. The remaining one is now re-instated, further out of reach, and has a toy witch perched on it. The official cause of the fire was a power surge which blew up the fuse box, starting the fire in the Pub.

The Boathouse

Pilot Boat House

‘The Pilot Boat-house’, usually known as ‘Boat-house’, was originally built in 1747.  It was called the “Pilot Boat House” because a small boat belonging to the Pilotage was kept at the back of the inn. Post Mortem's of those who were found drowned in the river were held in the public house. The Pilot Boathouse mainly catered for the less-to-do artillery men from the Battery and workmen who were engaged in promenade building. It is said that the Pilot Boat's saloon reeked of thick-twist tobacco, that the floor was covered in sawdust and that the numerous and commodious spittoons were well blessed.

The old date plate had the initials of ‘B’ (surname) and G.M (Christian names) and the date of 1747, under which was another date of 1876 and L.R, and at the bottom was APL. It suggests that rebuilding took place in April 1876. The building was enlarged with the entrance on the corner. The older building was left and was quite quaint in its way. Richard Dean was a long time serving landlord who was noted in 1812 and again in 1861. In 1900 John Turner was the landlord, followed by John Miles Jones at the time of the First World War. By 1938 Charles Frederick Portlock was the licensee. 

New Brighton Hotel

New Brighton College

A more grander affair then the Boathouse and Mags stood at the bottom of Magazine Lane near the shore. Variously known as the Liscard Hotel (Tithe Map, 1841), the New Brighton Hotel and the Stanley Arms, it enjoyed a rather chequered history. In late 1853 Dr. Poggi opened it as New Brighton College and it flourished until October 1862 when a great fire destroyed part of the building (some 'history' books note the date incorrectly of 1864). Dr Poggi was also a fellow countryman and friend of the Italian general and politician, Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose two sons Menotti and and Ricciotti were among Dr. Poggi's first pupils at New Brighton College. After the fire the building was used as a bakers before being demolished in 1899. The site today is Magazine Promenade though there is an Victorian/Edwardian cast-iron columned shelter where Vale Drive meets Magazine Promenade called Dr. Poggi's Shelter.

Wreckers and Smugglers

The wrecking of shipping was widespread on the Wirral Coast, especially in Wallasey. Stonehouse wrote in 1863 about the wreckers and the smuggling that went on by those who were farm labourers by day and wreckers by night. In fact, a local saying was :-

"Wallasey for wreckers
Poulton for trees
Liscard for honest men
And Seacombe for thieves".

The last Wallasey wreck occurred in 1904. Reports say that in the early hours of 30th December wreckers lit fires to decoy the 'Ulloa' on to the sandbanks, The 'Ulloa', from Barcelona, was loaded with fruit and wines. She failed to pick up a pilot and swept on to the hidden Burbo Bank. The crew were taken off, but for three weeks until a great gale blew up, the master, Captain Oleaga, stayed on his 600-ton ship.

Dawn visitors to the shore found cases of oranges and lemons and literally within minutes, four-fifths of the population - to quote one eyewitness - were marching towards the shore. The news spread to Birkenhead and Liverpool and the fruits washed up by the sea were quickly placed into containers of every conceivable size and shape. Many brought handcarts and wheelbarrows. It became known as 'Orange Week' on account of the amount of oranges. Meanwhile, police, coastguard's and Customs officers arrived and calm reigned - until barrels of the finest vintage wines were spotted. They were plotted and seized by the officers the moment they hit the shore, but there were many casualties as people stabbed penknives and gimlets into the barrels. Gushing fountains of wine were transferred into all sorts of containers - including empty orange skins. The gale still blew bringing in more and more containers including casks of rum and sherry.

Vale Park

In 1898 the Wallasey Urban District Council purchased the 9½ acre estates of Woodlands and Liscard Vale for £11,250. The laying out of the grounds was under the direction of the surveyor W.H. Travis who was assisted by both the superintendent of Parks, Mr. Rocking, and the head gardener, Mr. W.G. Burtson. Vale Park was opened to the public on 20th May, 1899 by George Coombes, Chairman of the Parks Committee. A further £980 was spent on drainage, fencing etc. The bandstand opened on 21st August, 1926 by Stanley Atkin, chairman of the Parks Committee, and was designed by Mr. Zwinger. It has a domed roof, with the names of famous composers around the top.

In 1954 the park created a 3D illuminated ‘Tree Walk’ when all sorts of things were lit up, such as lanterns and animals. Although it did not continue very long, over one hundred and seventy thousand came to see them.      

‘Joytime’, a children’s talent show, was started in Vale Park by Norman Trafford and his wife, Dorothy  (Uncle Norman and Aunty Dorothy), in 1953 and ran for 45 years, becoming the longest running children’s show of its kind. Norman was a local postman and passed away in 1977 whilst Dorothy carried on until ill health forced her to stop in 1997, before passing away in 1998. In 1992 Dorothy was awarded the British Empire Medal. During the summer school holidays children would take to the stage for their five minutes of fame. The winner of each day’s contest would go on to the final on Friday, with the winner going on to the Grand Final at the Floral Pavilion at the end of the summer.

Uncle Norman and Aunty Dorothy

J is for Joytime all happy and gay O is for our friends we meet everyday Y is for you and it’s your show you know T is for Trafford the boss of the show I is for interval ice cream and tea M is for music we must have melody E is for everyone to have a good time and that’s how you spell JOYTIME.

Magazine Bowling Club

The Magazine Bowling Club was founded in 1853 on land once owned by Anne Dean and is one of the oldest in the North West. In 1897 the bowling club marked Queen Victoria's Jubilee by staging a marathon bowling competition. In those days there was no Sunday bowling.

War Memorial

War Memorial

Situated on Magazine Promenade is the War memorial which was unveiled on 26th January, 1921, by Lord Derby. Originally erected to commemorate the First World War, the names of those killed in World War Two were added later. The monument is the work of William Bernie Rhind, eldest son of the sculptor John Rind. Born in Edinburgh, William Rhind's best works are his memorials to the Royal Scots Grey's, Black Watch and Kings Own Scottish Borders - all to be found in his native city.

From Village to Suburban

When the powder magazines were moved the land on (or under) which they stood on was sold by City of Liverpool and was named 'Magazine Park'. Grand houses in Fort Street and Nelson Street were built from the 1860's onwards. Housings was first developed along the South side of Fort Street, overlooking Magazine Park, with the development of the park itself following later. With the construction of Seabank Road and its tramway in the late 19th Century prompted a further expansion in building along Holland Road, Orrell Road and other streets. In the early 20th Century more expansion of dwellings with the construction of Vaughan Road and Dalmorton Road leading down to the new Magazine Promenade (constructed in the 1890s) and Oakland Vale. Edwardian pressed brick and Terracotta housing was built along Lichfield Street and Aylesbury Road on the site of the powder magazines, as were they along Woodland Drive overlooking the landscape of Vale Park.

Granite cobbles, sandstone kerbs
Cobbles beneath the tarmac, Holland Road
Mounting steps outside No.21 Magazine Brow

Garden-city style suburban houses followed in Brackenhurst and Berkley Drives in the 1920s, and there was some post-war rebuilding in Magazine Lane. Houses were later built in the 1930s on the old site of the Liscard Battery. The only modern cul-de-sac development was Hewhaven Road at the top of Mariners Road.

Notable Local Buildings

Marine Terrace faces the River Mersey on Magazine Promenade and are located between Hertford Drive and Holland Road. Nos. 13 and 14 were once called 'Marine Cottages'

Beech Grove is located on Beach (once called Beech) Grove, off Holland Road. The twenty-two properties were built by Henry Gardiner for Edgar Swinton Holland in the mid 1880's. Edgar was later murdered by Catherine Kempshall over a breach of promise in 1895. Edgar was the the son of Charles Holland which the road is named after. His father resided at Liscard Vale House. Edgar and Henry were also to build 'Menzies Terrace' which is located on Magazine Promenade, corner of Holland Road. They were later renamed as 'Pengwern Terrace'.

At No. 3 Magazine Brow stands 'Magster Cottage'. It was once a shop and a post office with wooden railings above the door. Later the shop was converted back to a cottage. Standing back from Magazine Brow, between No. 9 and 11, was Shore Cottage.

Standing opposite the Magazine Pub once stood a detached property called 'Brow Cottage' and was home to the Arthur Family. On the night of 14th April, 1974, a serious gas explosion caused major damage to the house which meant it had to be demolished. The only occupier was an 81-year old bachelor called Walker Reid Arthur who was known locally as 'Wack'. He escaped with burns to his head, arms and hands.

Fort Cottage is between No 21 and 23 Magazine Brow and was built in 1841. Behind Fort Cottage lies two adjoining properties called 'Mersey Cottages'. The first cottage is now called Malindi Cottage'. There is a short tunnel that runs under the other cottage and it is thought it led to the fort and was used by the soldiers. No. 23 is Eves Cottage and was built in 1670. The basic structure is stone built and whitewashed to protect it from the weather. The property was originally built for fishermen and was really two small cottages when first built.

On Mariners Road are three cottages Nos. 5, 7 and 9 and are called 'Mariners View'. They were built in 1879 and on the front of No. 7 is a house plate with the initials "J.E." and "Mariners View 1879".

Magazine Brow
Horse and cart on Magazine Brow c1910. Liscard Battery to the left behind the wall. Eve's Cottage, white building, on the right.

Liscard Vale House
(from 'Mansions of Wallasey')

In the last century there existed an attractive residential area known as 'Liscard Vale', in part of which Vale Park is now situated. It boasted several smaller houses and two mansions, one of which, known as 'Liscard Vale House' for many years, still survives, and for some time duly as a cafe for visitors to the park. An early occupant and possibly its builder, was Richard Bateson, a Cotton Broker, who subsequently moved to 'Newland House' in Wallasey Road, but in 1844 the property was purchased by Charles Holland, a Liverpool Merchant, who had previously been living at 'West Bank'. a large house standing in its own grounds at what is now the corner of Egerton Street and the Promenade. That house is no longer in existence, but is commemorated by West Bank Avenue off Magazine Lane.

'Liscard Vale House' when first built, was much smaller that it appears today and if care is taken to view the building one can easily see the original dwelling before it was enlarged. The early house is seen on the left hand side in a regency style character of tasteful proportions. It was a very nice looking house but when Charles Holland purchased the property it was too small for his family, he had nine children, so he enlarged it and added the Victorian exterior.

Charles Holland was an offshoot of a well known family which is said to have originated at Up Holland, Lancashire, in the 13th Century, and was later to be found at Sandle Bridges, near Knutsford. His parents were Samuel Holland, a prosperous merchant living at No.126 Duke Street, Liverpool, then a fashionable residential area, and his wife Catherine, daughter of John Menzies, a Liverpool Accountant, while his own wife was Elizabeth Gaskell, daughter of a Warrington sail-canvas manufacturer. She was well known locally for her readings at the old Egremont Institute on Tobin Street, a centre of culture in those days, and her brother William, a Unitarian Minister and Professor of English Literature in Manchester, provided her with an illustrious sister-in-law, in as much in 1832 he married Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson, better known as "Mrs Gaskell", the authoress of "Cranford", "Mary Barton" and other works, and biographer of Charlotte Bronte. As Mrs Gaskell's mother was a Holland of Sandle Bridge, who had married Thomas Stevenson, Keeper of the Treasury Records, and taken up residence in Chelsea, Mrs Gaskell was also a cousin of Charles Holland. Another cousin was Henry Holland, who spent a brief period in business in Liverpool, later studied medicine in Edinburgh, and after commencing practice in London in 1816, was subsequently appointed Physician to Queen Victoria. He was created a Baronet in 1853, and his eldest son eventually became Viscount Knutsford.

Returning to 'Liscard Vale House'. In 1866 Charles Holland purchased a large piece of land on the seaward side of Grove Road from the Trustees of John S. Davies, deceased, late of 'Hoseside Farm', for £8,000. and the following year sold 17,000 square yards of this land to Major James Walter, of 'Verulam Lodge', better known as 'The Grange', for £1,340, to enable Major Walter to extend his grounds to Jockey Lane, as it was then called, but today known as Sandcliffe Road. Charles Holland, who had become a Justice of the Peace for the Wirral, died in 1870, but a year later the Trustees of his estate purchased a further 25,500 square yards of land in this area from a Mr Stanley Sutton, at a cost of £1,550. The year 1888, however, saw the construction of the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside Railway, and to enable that track to be taken through to New Brighton the Holland Trustees sold off 10,888 square yards of this land to the Railway Company, for £2,272. Mrs Holland, Charles widow, died in 1892, and in 1898 the remaining Trustees and her own Executors entered into an agreement for the sale of 'Liscard Vale House' and its grounds to a Mr David Beano Rappart, for a total of £7,000. Five months later Mr Rappart arranged to resell the estate to Wallasey Urban District for £7.750, and the deal was concluded in November, 1898. Finally to complete the picture as far as the Hollands were concerned, Charles Holland's Trustees sold thirty-one acres of the Grove Road land, including four acres on the other side of the railway, to the Urban District council in 1909, for £15,500, and a year later the Municipal Golf Links was established.

The Woodlands
(from 'Mansions of Wallasey')

Just to the north of 'Liscard Vale House' stood a larger mansion, which appears to have been known as 'Liscard Vale Hall' initially, but later to become 'The Woodlands', possibly to avoid confusion with 'Liscard Vale House'. The property was built at first more in the style of a comfortable country mansion. It appears to have been changed later on, or "modernised" by the substitution of the small paned windows for large sash windows, the addition of two two storey bays, a dormer window to the roof and the increased height of all the chimneys, necessitated no doubt by the down draught caused by the nearby trees.

Owing to lack of information in the Directories, the chain of ownership becomes a little involved, but Henry Binns, a Cotton Broker, was one of the earliest residents, to be followed by his son-in-law, Henry Ellythorp Robson, also a Cotton Broker, in 1850. In the 1870's both Alderman James Smith, later of 'Dalmorton House', and his brother Samuel Smith, the M.P, later of "Clifton Hall', are shown as being in occupation, but by 1880 R.A Eskrigge, son-in-law and partner of the Mr H.E Robson previously mentioned, had moved in from 'Fir Cottage', Magazine Lane, and remained there for many years. In 1898 the house and approximately 13,000 square yards of land were purchased by the Urban District Council, at a cost of £3,500, from the Trustees of the late H.E Robson, and added to 'Liscard Vale House' to form Vale Park. The right to continue its residence at 'The Woodlands' was reserved to Mr Eskrigge and his wife for a minimum of six years and after their occupation the house was eventually demolished.

There are paintings of 'The Woodlands' and its surroundings by members of the Robson family, portraying what must have been a delightful spot in the old days, well-wooded with river views and grounds running right down to the river. The promenade had not then been built, and Mr Robson laid his own pathway along the shore to New Brighton Ferry.

Magazine Maps
Magazines, 1870s
Magazines, 1890's
Magazines,  1920