On Two Bridges

I’ve blogged about Wirral’s Four Bridges which cross the Birkenhead dock system before (see my article ‘On Four Bridges’ at the attached link: https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/on-four-bridges-around-birkenhead-docks/)  Work has been on-going to replace two of the four bridges and last Thursday the two new bridges that link Alfred Dock and the East Float in the docks between Birkenhead and Wallasey finally opened to the public some six months after the original target opening date.  There has been no through traffic along Tower Road, which goes across the docks between the two towns, since the end of March last year.

The two old bridges were replaced because of outdated features including height and weight restrictions and they were requiring more frequent and costly maintenance works to keep them functioning.

The works saw the “C” bridge which is the bridge closest to Wirral Met College – replaced by a new structure.  Most motorists will drive across it now without knowing it’s a bridge, the old ‘girder’ style bridge has been replaced with an uninteresting flat crossing with a set of protective barriers either side, technically called a flat deck bridge.

There was more complex work to replace the “A” bridge, the lifting bascule bridge which allows ships access to the Wirral docks from the River Mersey.  It was originally expected to take until the New Year to complete but technical difficulties were encountered.

I’ve taken images from when the old bridge was in place and during the replacement works as well as today of the new structures.

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The initial delay to the project completion was caused by the discovery of an obstruction behind the dock walls – uncovered during excavation work – which meant the permanent foundation for the new ‘A’ bridge had to be moved.

Then in February the planned ‘floating-in’ of the new structure had to be postponed due to snow.  With that part of the project requiring a full closure of the docks to shipping for a week, the earliest this could be rescheduled with dock owners Peel Ports was April.  The replacement lifting bascule bridge was lying in wait in the contractor Dawnus Construction’s yard on Dock Road during this time.

Since the bridge was successfully moved into place in April, contractors have been completing the remaining works and putting the structure through testing.

Both the original bridges were constructed around 1931.  The original steel truss opening bridge (the A bridge) has been replaced with a new semi-through steel box girder single leaf rolling bascule bridge built by Dawnus Construction from Swansea.

The original fixed truss bridge has been replaced with a new pre-stressed-reinforced concrete composite flat deck bridge.  The other works completed were the highway improvements including improved facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

As for the ‘A’ bridge I have taken photographs of the original ‘C’ bridge as well as during the construction work and following the installation of the new structure.

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I have to say when you compare the new structures with the original bridges they have very little architectural merit, they are modern and functional but lack anything to get your heart racing.  The original structures were landmarks their replacements are not unfortunately.  The new opening bridge looks odd with no wider supporting structure around it.  The original bridge was a product of its time when British engineering was still world famous and the industrial revolution was in its last throes.  I suppose the new one is a product of its time too.

Art in the docks

On a bright crisp late February morning I had a wander around the Twelves Quays area.

The ‘four bridges’ crossing of the docks between Birkenhead and Wallasey has been closed for some time whilst the Council’s contractors replace the aging bridge structures and renew the highway.

Close to the Wirral Met College Wirral Waters campus a public art installation has been put into place. Three double sided panels contain artwork commissioned by local Wirral Methodist Housing Association with a grant from the Arts Council of England and assistance from Peel Holdings who own the dock estate.

The art project called ‘And the River flows on’ involved professional artists led by Robin Woolston helping a number of groups in the community develop their artistic skills to paint images that tell the story of the history of Birkenhead Docks.

The area where the art panels have been installed is still derelict and undeveloped. The panels sit on land adjacent to the new college building.

The college on Tower Road opened in September 2015, with approximately 35,000 square feet (3,300 square metres) of space. It provides courses focusing on construction. Students were involved in every stage of the development which won a Royal Institute of British Architecture award in 2016.

The Museum of Liverpool

We went to have a look around the museum where you can explore how the port, its people and their creative and sporting history have shaped the city.

The museum opened on 19 July 2011 in a purpose-built landmark building on Liverpool’s famous waterfront. The design concept for the building was developed by Danish architect 3XN and Manchester-based architect AEW were later commissioned to deliver the detailed design. It has won many awards, including the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2013.

The Museum of Liverpool replaced the older Museum of Liverpool Life which closed in 2006. The original museum was housed in the old Pilotage and Salvage Association buildings on Liverpool’s waterfront, in between the Albert Dock and Pier Head. The new modern designed building now houses most of the original museum’s exhibits on a site close by.

National Museums Liverpool (who run seven facilities across Merseyside including the Museum of Liverpool) say that is the largest newly-built national museum in the UK for more than 100 years. The Museum quote a range of interesting facts about the building.

It occupies an area 110 metres long by 60 metres wide and at its tallest point it is 26 metres high and that makes it longer than the pitches at either Anfield or Goodison Park, more than twice as wide as the Titanic, and as tall as five Liver Building Liver birds placed end to end.

The museum’s frame is constructed with 2,100 tonnes of steel – equivalent to 270 double decker buses. The 1,500 square metres of glazing offer striking views of the city, especially from the 8 metres high by 28 metres wide picture windows at each end of the building. The museum is clad in 5,700 square metres of natural Jura stone, which if laid out flat would cover a football pitch. 7,500 cubic metres of concrete and 20 tonnes of bolts have been used in the construction. And 20,000 cubic metres of soil – equivalent to eight Olympic swimming pools – have been excavated from the site.

It is certainly a strikingly modern building.

The Museum displays are divided into four main themes:

  • The Great Port,
  • Global City,
  • People’s Republic, and
  • Wondrous Place

These are located in four large gallery spaces over three floors. On the ground floor, displays look at the city’s urban and technological evolution which includes the Industrial Revolution and the changes in the British Empire, and how these changes have impacted the city’s economic development.

The second floor looks at Liverpool’s strong identity through examining the social history of the city, from settlement in the area from Neolithic times to the present day, migration, and the various communities and cultures which contribute to the city’s diversity.

There are many highlights. I’ve noted some of these below.

Ben Johnson was commissioned to create The Liverpool Cityscape for the Capital of Culture year in 2008. He started the painting in 2005 and completed it during a public residency at the Walker Art Gallery in early 2008. It was originally displayed at the Walker as part of the exhibition ‘Ben Johnson’s Liverpool Cityscape 2008’ before moving to its permanent home in the Museum of Liverpool’s Skylight gallery.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery tells the remarkable story of the first electric elevated railway in the world. The Overhead Railway was built in 1893 to ease congestion along seven miles of Liverpool’s docks. It was known as the ‘dockers’ umbrella’ as it also provided shelter from the rain. In the gallery you can climb into a carriage, which is fixed at the exact height of the original railway at 4.8m (16 feet) above the ground. The railway was eventually pulled down in the late 1950s.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway ‘Lion’ is an early steam locomotive which is on display in the Great Port exhibition on the ground floor of the Museum. In 2007 Lion, was moved by road from Manchester to Liverpool after being on loan to Manchester while the new museum was under construction. Some conservation work took place prior to it taking pride of place in the new museum. It starred three films the most notable being the 1953 film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

There is an enormous model of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 1930’s design for Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral in the museum. It is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever built in Britain. It represents the ambitious plan to build the world’s second largest cathedral, and it would have had the world’s largest dome, with a diameter of 168 feet (51 m). It was however far too costly and was abandoned with only the crypt complete. Eventually the present more modern Cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd with construction starting in 1962 with completion in less than five years in1967.

There are a range of exhibits displaying Liverpool Life over the ages. The social and community history collections include objects of local, national and international importance reflecting the changing history of the city and the diverse stories and experiences of Liverpool people. They include popular culture and entertainment, working life, labour history, politics and public health. The museum also has a large collection of oral history interviews and filmed video histories from local people with stories to tell.

Football is an important aspect of life in Liverpool. Liverpool Football Club Museum and The Everton Collection have both lent the museum an array of memorabilia. And there are exhibits from Merseyside’s other team Tranmere Rovers.

Whilst ‘The Beatles Story’ museum elsewhere in the Albert Dock has a large display to experience, the Beatles show at the Museum of Liverpool tells part of the story of the Fab Four in Liverpool which was the birthplace of a musical and cultural revolution that swept the globe.

At the time of our visit there was a special exhibition showing local music legends Gerry and the Pacemakers.

I took a number of images from the day, but there is much to see and experience and it will be worth re-visiting the museum to take it all in.

Manchester Ship Canal Cruise

We took a trip aboard the Mersey Ferry boat the ‘Snowdrop’ which is currently painted as a dazzle ship (see my earlier blog post) on a cruise up the River Mersey and along the Manchester Ship Canal to its terminus at Salford Quays.

The Manchester Ship Canal is 36-miles long (58 km) linking Manchester to the Irish Sea.  In large part it follows alongside the routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell.

There are many landmarks along the way.  There are many different types of bridges which have to be lifted or swung aside to allow ships to pass up or down the canal.  As well as bridges there are many sets of locks to be negotiated.  In order to travel from the tidal River Mersey the ship canal has to negotiate four sets of locks (including the entrance lock at Eastham) which lift vessels around 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester.  And on the banks of the canal there are many historic buildings and a changing industrial landscape.

The rivers Mersey and Irwell were first made navigable in the early 18th century. Goods were also transported on the Runcorn extension of the Bridgewater Canal (from 1776) and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (from 1830), but by the late 19th century the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had fallen into disrepair and were often unusable.  Manchester’s business community viewed the charges imposed by Liverpool’s docks and the railway companies as excessive and a ship canal was proposed as a way of giving ocean-going vessels direct access to Manchester.  A public campaign was set up to enlist support for the scheme and was presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. However, faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885.

Construction of the ship canal began in 1887 taking six years to complete at a cost of £15 million which is estimated to be equivalent to about £1.65 billion in today’s money!  When the ship canal opened in January 1894 it was the largest river navigation canal in the world, and enabled the newly created Port of Manchester to become Britain’s third busiest port despite the city being about 40 miles (64 km) inland.

Changes to shipping methods and the growth of containerisation during the 1970s and 1980s meant that many ships were now too big to use the canal and traffic declined, resulting in the closure of the terminal docks at Salford in 1984. The canal is able to accommodate a range of vessels from coastal ships to inter-continental cargo liners but it is not large enough for most modern vessels. By 2011 traffic had decreased from its peak in 1958 of 18 million long tons (20 million short tons) of freight each year to about 7 million long tons (7.8million short tons).

The canal was bought by the private company Peel Ports in 1993.  Peel are re-developing sites along the ship canal and are looking to increase shipping from 8,000 containers a year to 100,000 by 2030 as part of their Atlantic Gateway project.

I took a number of photographs along the route.

We took the ferry from Seacombe with a short hop to the Pierhead at Liverpool and down along the Mersey.

Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead is the second Mersey Ferry terminal on the Wirral side.  The New Brighton and Tranmere ferry terminals having long since closed down.

Cammel Lairds shipbuilders yard with the twelve century Birkenhead Priory building as a backdrop.  I’ve posted in the past about both of these sites.

The former grand merchants houses at Rock Park on Wirral look much more elegant from the river even looking through the Tranmere Oil Terminal.  Rock Park comprises a varied selection of Grade 2 listed villas built between 1836 and 1850 along with landscaped drives and a Victorian Esplanade overlooking the River Mersey.  The Tranmere Oil Terminal was opened on 8 June 1960 to handle vessels of up to 65,000 tons, and is connected to the Stanlow Oil Refinery by a 15mile (24 km) pipeline. Part of the terminal occupies the site of a former ferry service to Liverpool, with the old pier considerably modified.

At Eastham locks on the River Mersey forms the entrance to the Manchester Ship Canal just after the Eastham Ferry Hotel.  We passed the Sten Idun chemical tanker being navigated down the canal by the MSC tugs Victory and Viking.

At Ellesmere Port the canal is joined by the Shropshire Union Canal, at a site now occupied by the National Waterways Museum. The area was a 7-acre (2.8 ha) canal port linking the Shropshire Union Canal to the River Mersey. It was designed by Thomas Telford and it remained operational until the 1950s.  I’ve posted about the boat museum in an earlier blog.

Essar Oil UK Stanlow Oil refinery is situated on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is used to transport seaborne oil for refining and chemicals for Essar and Shell.  Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year, it is the second largest in the United Kingdom and produces a sixth of the UK’s petrol needs.  Stanlow is also a large producer for commodities such as jet fuel and diesel.  The refinery serves much of England through the UK oil pipeline network.  Oil is delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

At Weston, near Runcorn, the ship canal also connects with the Weaver Navigation.  Stobart Ports now own the docks at Weston Point.  They are developing the site as an ‘inter-modal’ port facility to enable freight, currently carried by road, to be transported by rail and water. This will see increased warehousing, new container handling facilities, an extension to the existing West Coast main line rail siding, a new link road, and improved navigable access between the dock and the Manchester Ship Canal.

At Runcorn Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire.

The Runcorn railway bridge is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to the Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston stations.  Locally it has been called the Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct but more widely as the Britannia Bridge. The bridge is named after Ethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon walled settlement built by her in 915.  Parts of the bridge are castellated to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway – the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) company and the Liver Bird of Liverpool.  Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The A533 road crosses the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey.  It is a through arch bridge with a main arch span of 330 m. It was opened in 1961 as a replacement for the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge, and was initially known simply as the Runcorn Bridge or Runcorn–Widnes Bridge.  In 1975–77 it was widened, after which it was given its official name in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The bridge is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey the Mersey Gateway is now being built.  Construction began in May 2014 and is due to be completed by the autumn of 2017. It is located approximately just less than a mile (1.5km) to the east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge that connects the towns of Widnes and Runcorn.  It is will be a toll bridge, with three lanes in each direction.  The design is a cable-stayed bridge with three towers across the river and a second bridge across the ship canal.  It will be 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed.

As we move on down the ship canal we travel past a number of bridges.  The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal included the construction of several swing bridges and high level bridges which would not obstruct tall vessels travelling on the Canal.

Old Quay swing bridge

Moore Lane swing bridge

Acton Grange Railway viaduct

Chester Road swing bridge

Northwich Road swing bridge

Latchford High Level Bridge, Knutsford Road swing bridge and Latchford viaduct

Latchford Locks.  Latchford was chosen as the location of intermediate locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. These comprise a larger lock for ocean-going vessels and a smaller lock to its south for coasters, tugs and barges. A ship mooring area was provided on the canal’s south bank and enabled two large vessels to pass each other at this point.

Thelwall Viaduct or officially called Thelwall High Level Bridge.  The viaduct is a steel composite girder viaduct close to the village of Lymm  It carries the M6 motorway across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.  It actually comprises two entirely separate bridges, one of 4,414 feet long carrying the northbound carriageway, which was the longest motorway bridge in England when it was opened in July 1963, and one 4,500 feet long carrying the southbound carriageway which was opened in 1995.  The longest single span is the one of 336 feet crossing the ship canal.

Warburton High Level Bridge.  Warburton Bridge is a privately owned high-level cantilever bridge which incorporates a public highway the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144.  It has a statutory toll charge of 12p.  It was commissioned under the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. It is unadopted and privately maintained.  It is one of the few remaining pre-motorway toll bridges in the United Kingdom.

Cadishead Railway Viaduct now disused

Irlam container terminal

Irlam Locks.

Barton Locks

Barton High Level Bridge carries the M60 over the ship canal.  It was opened in October 1960 as part of the then M63 and was known as the Stretford – Eccles by-pass.  Prior to its opening all the traffic in the area was forced to cross the Manchester Ship Canal via the Barton Road Swing Bridge or further upstream via the Trafford Road Swing Bridge.  The bridge was designed of such a height to give a clearance from the water level somewhere in the region of 100 feet to allow waterborne traffic to pass freely under it.  It was originally built with two lane carriageways in either direction but road traffic soon increased to the point where it became essential to widen the bridge to three lanes either side with each extra lane being supported by additional reinforced concrete piers built alongside the originals.  The work on this widening process was completed in 1990 – 30 years after its original opening.

Just a little further on a 60ft lifting road bridge which was being built collapsed next to the M60 Barton High Level Bridge in May 2016.  Construction was part way through the bridge which would carry a new dual carriageway over the Manchester Ship Canal to relieve congestion.  The lifting platform crashed onto the canal and has subsequently been taken way leaving the four bridge towers some of which suffered damage in the collapse.  The bridge’s completion has been put back indefinitely.

Barton Road swing bridge and Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a moveable navigable aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. The swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath and smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct, is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering.  It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Centenary Lift Bridge is the last bridge that we sail below as we then enter into the Salford Quays complex.

We then pulled into a side dock just before the ITV studios.  Media City is well named given the number of broadcasting satellite dishes next to our disembarkation point.

 

The trip had taken us over six hours passing through a varied landscape and a history of our industrial past and present.

Jan de Nul owned Vidar at Princes Dock, Liverpool

I walked across the Pierhead on a dark grey Sunday morning through the fine misty rain to where the Vidar jack-up vessel is currently berthed at Princes Dock where the big cruise liners normally berth when they visit Liverpool.  The vessel sailed into the River Mersey on 21 January and is scheduled to be in the Port of Liverpool for the next ten days or so.

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The Vidar is a self levelling wind turbine installation unit built in Poland in 2012 originally for a German company.  However since September 2015 it has been owned by the Luxembourg-based Jan de Nul Group which provides services for maritime infrastructure. It assists with construction and maintenance projects out at sea all over the world.  It is in Liverpool to be fitted out with specialist equipment for its next job involving the installation and repair of underwater cables in the Irish Sea.

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The Vidar jack-up vessel was specifically built to install offshore windparks and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The large cargo deck space and payload and the lifting capacity of its Liebherr Crane of up to 1200 tonnes enables the swift and safe installation of the heaviest foundations and other components used in the construction of offshore windparks.

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The vessel is 140 m long (equivalent to one and a half football pitches) and is equipped with four legs to lift itself above the sea level for stable working without impact of the waves. The vessel can install all kinds of foundations, as well as the latest generation of wind turbines, in water depths up to 50 m.

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Although specifically built for the offshore wind industry, the Vidar is also suitable to install other offshore facilities such as tidal current turbines, wave energy generators, meteorological masts and oil and gas infrastructure.

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It certainly dwarfs the buildings along the quayside.

Birkenhead Priory

It was a sunny morning and I was an early visitor to Birkenhead Priory.

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The Priory is the oldest building in the whole of Merseyside.  It was founded around 1150 by Hamon de Masci, who was the 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey as a monastery for the Benedictine Order.  As well as being the oldest inhabited building in the area it has a rich and varied history to tell very closely linked to its position on the banks of the River Mersey adjacent to Cammel Laird’s shipbuilders.

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The site has recently fully re-opened following extensive restoration work taking place from 2012 to 2015.  The local newspaper the Liverpool Echo have only this month published their ‘Wirral bucket list: 75 things to do in Wirral before you die’ and Birkenhead Priory is listed at number one – they say take in the view from Birkenhead Priory!!  More of that view later.

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The monks looked after travellers for nearly 400 years operating the first regulated ferries across the River Mersey from the ‘headland of the birches’ when at this time the whole of Wirral was covered in dense hunting forest.  ‘Birchen head’ was to become what we now know as modern day Birkenhead.

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The Priory was visited twice by King Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks were granted ferry rights by King Edward II. This allowed them to build a house in what is now Water Street to store their corn. The house was also used by travellers for shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The tower of St Mary’s is all that remains of what was the first parish church of the town which opened in 1821 in the grounds of the priory.  Redevelopment of the area from 1925 resulted in a large amount of housing within the parish being cleared to make way for the construction of the Queensway Tunnel.  At the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard an expansion of the Number 5 dry dock and the construction of the Princes dock which opened in 1962 resulted in the church losing a significant portion of its graveyard.

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Subsequent redevelopment of the approach roads to the Mersey Tunnel effectively cut off the church from most of what remained of its parish, further dwindling its congregation. In 1971 St Mary’s church was closed with most of the church being demolished in 1975 for safety reasons.  Only the former church tower and parts of the outer walls remain. The tower has since been refurbished and is dedicated to those who died on HMS Thetis.  The remaining walls to the church, which would have been its internal walls, catch the early autumn sunlight with their white painted exterior.

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The site is dedicated as a memorial to those lost in the 1939 disaster aboard the Cammel Laird’s built submarine HMS Thetis. This was the Royal Navy’s worst peacetime tragedy when an accident happened during sea trials for the new vessel which had sailed out to the Irish Sea off Llandudno from Birkenhead.  There were 103 men on board on 1 June 1939, twice the usual number, with the Royal Navy crew swelled by engineers from ship builders Cammell Laird.  Due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances, sea water flooded in and the boat nosedived and was unable to resurface.  The sinking of the submarine resulted in the loss of 99 lives.  It happened three months before World War II.  The Thetis actually grounded on Anglesey on the day war was declared.

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Climbing the 101 steps to the top of St Mary’s tower affords you tremendous views down the river and across to Liverpool and you really do get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of Cammel Lairds shipyard next door.

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The priory’s chapter house was built in the 1150’s as a meeting place for the monks.  After King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries around 1540 it was adapted for use as a chapel where it was the place of worship until St Mary’s church was opened in 1821.  Following restoration work the chapel was rededicated as a chapel in 1919 it is currently consecrated as an Anglican church, and is still used for services today. The chapter house is a Grade II listed building containing items of Norman architecture; it was fully restored in 2005.

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The Scriptorium was built above the chapter house in 1375.  The original use is uncertain but was probably a place where the monks could read and write on their own.  It was restored in 1919 and was repaired after bomb damage during World War II.

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It has a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway where services are held two or three times a year.  The Scriptorium is the home of the ‘Friends of HMS Conway’.  HMS Conway was founded as a naval training school in 1859 and housed for most of its life aboard a 19th-century wooden battleship which stood in the River Mersey off Rock Ferry.  The ship was moved from the Mersey to the Menai Straits during World War II.

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However whilst she was being towed back to Birkenhead for a refit in 1953, she ran aground and was wrecked.  Training of the naval cadets continued in a new camp in the grounds of the Marquess of Anglesey’s residence at Plas Newydd, using his private dock for seamanship and small boat handling.  In 1964 the new HMS Conway, a purpose designed college close to Plas Newydd, was opened however with the running down of the British Merchant Navy and the emphasis being placed on university style nautical training, it was decided to finally close HMS Conway in 1974.  The ‘Friends of HMS Conway’ was established in 1996 to safeguard the many items of memorabilia from the training school and they were allowed to use the Scriptorium as a museum.

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New stained glass windows have now been installed commissioned by ‘Old Conways’ (former cadets of HMS Conway) and designed by the late David Hillhouse the former curator of Wirral Museums. The furniture and memorabilia were moved from the Conway Centre in Angelsey together with many items donated by ‘Old Conways’ worldwide.

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The Frater Range is the second surviving building off the cloisters next to the Chapter House.  A museum detailing the history of the site is housed in the former undercroft.  Undercrofts were storage cellars but this one was very carefully finished which experts believe means it may have been used as a dining room.

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The museum has an interesting interpretation corner, a small exhibit by Kate White showing a medieval mason at work.  Stone Masons were paid by each brick they carved so they would mark each stone with their own unique symbol and some of these marks can be seen on the Chapter House.  Before the Twelfth century most buildings were of timber construction; the Priory’s stone design is typical of Anglo-Norman monastic buildings.  However the undercofts vaulted ceilings and pointed arches were a new technique and were early elements of the emerging ‘gothic’ style.

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The Refractory above the undercroft on the first floor is a venue space used for craft fairs and the like; it has a modern roof which was installed in 1993.

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You actually enter the site through the Western Range and through it into the cloisters area.  It is still intact but has no roof.  The two storey building was built after 1250.  It contained a number of rooms: the prior’s living room and bedroom, a monks’ parlour, guest hall and guest rooms.  The Western range and Frater Range were the first buildings to be restored when Birkenhead Corporation acquired the site in 1896.

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The churchyard contains the burial vault of the Laird family, which includes John Laird (1805–74), Birkenhead’s mayor and first Member of Parliament and co-founder of the adjacent Cammell Laird shipbuilding company.

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It is an interesting location for Merseyside’s oldest building sandwiched between Cammel Lairds ship yard, small scale industrial units and a more modern development of offices on the banks of the river.  Next to the ancient sandstone walls are the towering cranes of the shipyard next door.  Some of the older industrial units have not aged as well as the priory.

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It is interesting to me how we have treated historic buildings in the past.  Since the priory was first built it has been left to ruin for much of the time but has had periods of active restoration.  During the Eighteenth century it was in ruins but it was still a popular visitor attraction.  The industrialisation from the Nineteenth saw the Priory come under more threat but during 1896 to 1898 the Priory saw the Victorian restoration period.  During the 1960s and 1970s the encroachment of the shipyard and the construction of the Mersey Tunnel saw further threat and the Priory falling once again into disrepair.  Some work was undertaken in the 1990s to patch up the priory buildings.  But more recently from 2012 modern day stonemasons have undertaken major restoration works.  The small team from the local council together with local volunteers continue to ensure the site continues to have life for the future.

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All in all it was a very interesting day exploring almost 900 years of Wirral’s history in one day.

Re-claiming Mobil…

Residents of Wirral are starting to see activity on the Wirral Waters site on the Birkenhead docks system.

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In August there were announcements on two future developments.  A large office block development has been granted planning permission on Tower Wharf near Egerton House and Wirral Metropolitan College had been given planning approval for a new campus nearby close to their existing Twelve Quays campus. Both schemes should be complete by October 2016.

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There’s also been a lot of activity on the old Mobil site off Wallasey Bridge Road and Beaufort Road on the West Float.

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The Mobil Oil plant opened in the 1930s as an oil terminal and blending plant but was closed in 2001and lay empty for years. Earlier in the year some of the Mobil buildings were demolished.  A clearance and land reclamation scheme has been underway over the summer.  I managed to get a few photographs from the main road of the site.

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The Peel Group is planning to develop a manufacturing park for motor and rail industry suppliers on the 35-acre former Mobil oil storage site as part of the £5bn regeneration of Birkenhead Docks. The site is next to the planned International Trade Centre where a £3.8m land remediation project has already been completed.

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Peel hopes to attract suppliers of Jaguar Land Rover and General Motors, which produce cars at Halewood and Ellesmere Port, as well as Bentley in Crewe and Toyota on Deeside.

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