Remembrance Sunday 2018

This year, Sunday, November 11 marked the centenary of the end of the First World War. I went to Hamilton Square in Birkenhead where the cenotaph saw the Mayor of Wirral Councillor Geoffrey Watt joined by service men, women, their families and armed forces representatives at 10.55am for the start of the remembrance service.

At 11am, Birkenhead fell silent as the hundreds who turned out paid their respects. It was difficult to get any good photos given the size and depth of the crowd. The sizeable crowd marked the two minute silence impeccably.

The service on Sunday was the final act of remembrance this year. Across the Wirral a number of events had taken place to mark the 100 years since the end of the First World War and poignant ceremonies to remember those who had fallen had been taking place for more than a week.

In local churches, ‘Tommy’ silhouettes were placed to mark those who lost their lives from individual parishes while in Little Neston, a remembrance bench was unveiled.

The annual Remembrance Cavalcade took place in Thornton Hough which saw 100 horses meet to mark the centenary in which eight million horses gave their lives besides soldiers, acting as cavalry, ambulances, artillery carriers and transportation.

Many schools held events to mark the First World War and as part of a nationwide campaign, Bidston and Leasowe lighthouse lit up to mark the end of Remembrance Sunday.

An event of more national significance saw the unveiling of a statue by local actress Patricia Routledge and MP for Birkenhead Frank Field on November 4 to pay tribute to Wilfred Owen on the centenary of his death on 4 November 1918 – just a week before Armistice was announced on 11 November 1918.

The statue, based at one corner of Hamilton Square, was adorned with poppies after residents placed them there as a mark of respect.

The statue is named after one of Owen’s many war poems, ‘Futility’. It was cast in bronze at a Liverpool Foundry by sculptor, Jim Whelan. The statue represents an exhausted World War One solider. Frank Field said that “The height of the soldier is extremely important to me. It is not just a sculpture, it is a soldier that we can touch, and I think we should do that.”

Lieutenant Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC was one of Britain’s most celebrated war poets. His short career was directly inspired by the conflict and the horrors of war – he composed nearly all his works from August 1917 to September 1918, many published posthumously.

Owen has strong links with Birkenhead. Whilst he was born in Oswestry on the Welsh borders he was brought up in Birkenhead and later Shrewsbury.  Owen’s grandfather had been a successful business man and the family had a good life in Oswestry however they suffered hard times and their substantial house at Plas Wilmot near Oswestry had to be sold to pay off his grandfather’s creditors. The family went to live in a much more modest home in Birkenhead in 1900, when Owen’s father managed to secure the job as stationmaster at Woodside rail terminus in the town.

Wilfred was seven when the family arrived in Birkenhead, and he was enrolled at Birkenhead Institute, where he remained a pupil until the he left the town. Wilfred flourished at the school, working hard at his studies (excelling especially at English and French) and winning several prizes. The family lived initially lived at 7 Elm Grove and then 14 Willmer Road in Tranmere before moving to 51 Milton Road, in Higher Tranmere. This would be the family home until 1907, when they left Birkenhead after his father gained a promotion to a more senior post with the railway company in Shrewsbury.

After the family moved from Birkenhead Wilfred continued his education in Shrewsbury and worked as a pupil-teacher and a private tutor in France before enlisting in 1915, a year after the outbreak of war. He joined the Artists’ Rifles before receiving a commission in the Manchester Regiment in June 1916 leaving for France in December 2016 with the Lancashire Fusiliers.

In March 2017 he suffered a head injury and, diagnosed as having shell shock, was sent to a hospital in Edinburgh, where he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an important influence on Owen’s work.

He returned to France in September 1918. In October he was listed for the award of the Military Cross for gallantry during an attack on a well-defended position that caused so many casualties among officers that he took command and held the line. However, he was killed in action a few weeks later on 4 November during a battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors, a week before the end of the war. The news of his death reaching his parents on Armistice Day. In 1919 he was posthumously awarded a Military Cross. Owen knew before his death he had been recommended for the award which he had welcomed as he thought it would add authority to his anti-war views. These, and the poems that express them with such vividness and power, are much admired now, but this recognition only came after his death. Only five poems were published during his lifetime, and the first collection of his poems did not appear until 1920.

The statue in Hamilton Square was made possible by the efforts of the Birkenhead Old Boys Institute. 600 men from Birkenhead were sent to fight in World War One
with 88 Old Boys of Birkenhead Institute losing their lives in the conflict. Following the war the Ingleborough Road playing fields in the town were dedicated in 1926 as a War Memorial to the 88 Old Boys of the School who did not survive the Great War and then subsequently those who lost their lives in later conflicts. Tranmere Rovers the local football club who subsequently became the owners of the playing fields obtained planning permission to build houses for sale on the site with the proceeds going toward the creation of a state-of-the-art training facility for the club elsewhere in the Wirral. This meant removing the memorial status of the playing fields. As part of this arrangement the football club agreed to work with the Birkenhead Institute Old Boys to replace the memorial playing fields with a fitting tribute to all those that sacrificed their lives during the war. This has culminated in the creation of the new memorial which was unveiled on the corner of Hamilton Square which is dedicated to the 88 Old Boys of the School including the school’s most celebrated Old Boy, Wilfred Owen. The statue now speaking to a wider audience about the futility of war.

During the 1918 – 2018 commemorations Wilfred Owen had become a major focus on both regional and national news channels. Owen had links with another area which was featured in the 100-year commemorations. Film-maker Danny Boyle marked the 100 years since Armistice and the end of the First World War through a live exhibition of art called ‘Pages of the sea’. On selected beaches around the UK, over the course of several hours, a portrait of an individual from the First World War was sketched out in the sand. And then, as the tide came in it was washed away as the crowds of spectators took a moment to say a collective goodbye.

Owen first left for the front from Folkestone on 29 December 1916, having written a letter in the Metropole Hotel the previous day. In the final hours before his embarkation from the town in 1918, Owen swam in the sea and described the experience in a letter home. So, to mark Wilfred Owen’s contribution to our remembering of the First World War his picture was marked out on Sunny Sands, in Folkestone in Kent one of the thirty two beaches across the UK to feature in ‘Pages of the sea’.

Wilfred Owen’s family’s three houses all survive however the Birkenhead Institute, was demolished in the 1970s when the school moved to Claughton, but that too has now gone, replaced by houses and a new road called Wilfred Owen Way.

Advertisements

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.

Wirhalh Skip Felagr at Storeton Woods

On Saturday Wirhalh Skip Felagr, or the ‘Wirral Ship Fellowship’ as translated into English and Wirral Vikings held an event at Storeton Woods to recreate the Viking encampment deep in the woods that would have been in place before the Battle of Brunanburh which took place in the tenth century.

It is not known for sure where the Battle of Brunanburh took place but it is thought that the area between Storeton Woods and Brimstage Hall was the location for the battle which led to England becoming one nation as the Vikings were driven out of the lands.  Historians contend that 2017 marks the 1080th anniversary of the battle.

The event was run in conjunction with the Friends of Storeton Woods with the aim of explaining how the Vikings lived in their encampment by way of ‘living history’ and informative talks.

The Wirhalh Skip Felagr group love to demonstrate everyday life of the Wirral Vikings and how they lived locally.  The group look to demonstrate skills, techniques and ideas in as real a situation as possible.

The Skip Felagr focuses primarily upon the Hiberno Norse Vikings who settled the Wirral from Ireland in 902 AD.  The group offers a range of educational experiences to suit all requirements from talks and living history displays.

The Battle of Brunanburh was fought in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, and an alliance of Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin; Constantine, King of Scotland and Owen, King of Strathclyde.  Æthelstan had invaded Scotland unchallenged in 934.  The Scottish kings had therefore made an alliance with the Vikings and an allied force was formed.  In August 937 Olaf and his army crossed the Irish Sea to join forces with Constantine and Owen but the invaders were routed in the battle at Brunanburh by Æthelstan.

Æthelstan’s victory brought English unity.  The tribes consolidated, peace reigned and there was abundance throughout the nation.  Historians have said that Brunanburh was the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The actual site of the battle is not known for certain and scholars have proposed many locations.  From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it is known that after travelling north through Mercia, Æthelstan, his brother Edmund, and the combined Saxon army from Wessex and Mercia met the invading armies and attacked them in a battle that lasted all day where the Saxons triumphed and the invaders were forced to flee.

Olaf fled and sailed back to Dublin with the remnants of his army and Constantine escaped to Scotland. Owen’s fate is not known.  Among the casualties were five kings and seven earls from Olaf’s army and Constantine lost several friends and family members in the battle, including his son.  A large number of Saxons also died in the battle including two of Æthelstan’s cousins, Alfric and Athelwin.

The case for the battle having taken place in Wirral has wide support among many historians.  Charters from the 1200s suggests that Bromborough was originally named Brunanburh which could mean “Bruna’s fort”.  The nearby River Mersey was a commonly used route by Vikings sailing from Ireland.  Additionally, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the invaders escaped at Dingesmere, and Dingesmere could be interpreted as “mere of the Thing”. The word Thing (or þing, in Old Norse) is a reference to the Viking Thing (or assembly) at Thingwall a short distance away from Bromborough on the Wirral. More lately a landscape survey carried out in 2004 has suggested a likely position for Bruna’s burh placing the burh at Brimstage.

It should be noted that other historians have suggested other possible sites including Burnley in Lancashire, as well as several areas in Yorkshire, Durham, and southern Scotland.  However I think the weight of expert opinion seems to recognise Wirral more than any other area.  Also I am told that internationally respected author Bernard Cornwell has recently come out strongly in favour of Wirral in his latest novel: ‘The Empty Throne.’

Whatever the truth today’s Wirral Vikings have shown how they might have lived on this site over a thousand years ago.

Liverpool Waterfront by night

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in I went down to the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead on the Wirral side of the River Mersey to take some images of the World renowned Liverpool water front in the fading light of the day.  If anything the darkness and the artificial lighting of night enhances the views of the Pierhead and waterfront buildings.

ok3a2661v2

In December last year Liverpool’s waterfront was named as England’s “greatest place”.  Liverpool came top in a nationwide competition organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).  Over 11,000 people voted from a shortlist of ten places aimed at highlighting areas which town planners have created, protected and enhanced for communities.   Liverpool was the overall winner in ‘England’s Great Places’ competition.  The High Street in Thame, Oxfordshire and Saltaire, the World Heritage Site-designated historic village near Bradford were second and third respectively.

ok3a2670v2

The RTPI organised the competition to show what planning and planners can do to make the most out of England’s stunning heritage to create vibrant, beautiful places for people to live and work.

ok3a2675v2

ok3a2665v2

Liverpool’s waterfront is arguably the jewel in the city’s crown and is a source of immense civic pride. The iconic Liver Birds, the Three Graces (the Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool building and the Cunard Building) along with the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals and other landmarks such as St John’s beacon provide a stunning backdrop to the River Mersey.  UNESCO World Heritage Site status was bestowed on the city’s waterfront in July 2004.

ok3a2673v2

ok3a2663v2

There is now so much to see and do on the waterfront with the Tate Liverpool art gallery; the Merseyside Maritime Museum; the International Slavery Museum and the Museum of Liverpool; the Echo concert arena and the BT Convention Centre, the 60 metre high Liverpool Big Wheel and the recently opened Exhibition Centre Liverpool – are all within a stone’s throw of one another.

ok3a2674v2

ok3a2666v2

There have been other developments over the years including the re-instatement of the cruise liner terminal at Prince’s Dock and the building of a number of tower blocks such as Beetham Tower and Its close neighbour and the tallest building in Liverpool, the West Tower.

ok3a2667v2

As well as the big cruise liners, the river is regularly used with the Belfast ferry from Birkenhead and the Isle of Man Steam Packet company ferry from Liverpool.  Both were moored in the river tonight.

ok3a2648v2

ok3a2669v2

The waterfront has been transformed over the last few years and makes a great subject for photographers.

Birkenhead Tunnel Flyovers

Some may say an article and photo assignment about urban flyovers is a peculiar subject.  As a regular commuter to Birkenhead I have always viewed the town centre flyovers which feed traffic into the Queensway road tunnel taking people under the River Mersey to Liverpool as a particular ugly form of 1960’s concrete brutalism architecture.  They have cut up Birkenhead town centre and do not show the town’s best side even on a sunny day as I took the photos contained in this article.  Most commuters will probably be too pre-occupied with their journeys to take any real notice of the road network around them.  If you explore on foot you discover a number of forgotten streets deep below the speeding commuter traffic.  Whilst making a definitive physical statement and defining the town they have an important purpose in keeping Liverpool bound traffic moving as I have found out.

DSCF2418v2

DSCF2452v2

The Birkenhead to Liverpool tunnel was opened in the 1930s.  Over the years the cross-river road usage was increasing to such a level that it was causing chronic traffic jams at each end.  The original 1930s Birkenhead terminus only had a small number of toll booths and there was congestion with the surrounding roads, and by the 1960s this was causing traffic problems across the town.

DSCF2438v2

DSCF2398v2

Whilst a brand new tunnel was being built from Wallasey to the north of Wirral to relieve the Queensway tunnel, the planners drew up a scheme to demolish huge areas of Birkenhead and to build a series of large flyovers in the town centre to serve the tunnel.

DSCF2405v2

DSCF2440v2

The original tunnel had bottlenecks along its route with two junctions inside which had their own traffic signals.  There were also toll booths at each entrance.  As part of the upgrading the junctions inside the tunnel were remodelled. The Liverpool spur became exit-only, allowing traffic from Birkenhead to opt for the Dock exit or the Haymarket exit. The Birkenhead spur to the docks which came out onto Rendel Street was closed.  Apparently its traffic signals were unreliable and caused long delays.

DSCF2419v2

Brian Colquhoun and Partners, one of the engineering companies involved in the construction of the original tunnel were appointed to review the arrangements and develop a plan to solve the traffic chaos.  They reported back in August 1966 with their proposals.  All tolls would be collected at the Birkenhead end of the tunnel rather than at both ends.  Traffic entering and exiting the tunnel would be segregated and the local road network in Birkenhead town centre would be re-engineered to allow free movement from the major radial routes to the tunnel mouth stopping only for the toll.  To alleviate rush hour congestion towards Liverpool, marshalling areas would be created where traffic queues would be managed and controlled and congestion would not spill onto the surrounding streets.

DSCF2441v2

The plan involved clearing a large area of central Birkenhead including more than 170 homes, 90 shops, 23 factories and 14 pubs.  They were replaced with vast open areas of tarmac and two kilometres of new elevated and tunnelled roads. The construction works lasted over two years including the complete renovation of several railway tunnels underneath, with the computer controlled queuing system with the scheme opening to traffic in July 1969.

DSCF2414v2

Like many cities in the 1960’s embracing the ‘white heat of technology’, to quote former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, they were too enthusiastic in demolishing old buildings and replacing them with modern concrete constructions.  As I set out in my earlier article on Birkenhead Priory, St Mary’s church the town’s first parish church lost its congregation in the clearances of housing required for the construction of the tunnel. (https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/birkenhead-priory/)

DSCF2416v2

DSCF2445v2

The new road layout used huge lengths of elevated roadway to allow all traffic entering or exiting the tunnel to get to and from each of the three major approaches to the tunnel without causing congestion with other local traffic.

DSCF2400v2

DSCF2432v2

The main elevated flyover now dwarfs a piece of more historic Birkenhead: King Edward VII Memorial Clock Tower situated in the roundabout on Clifton Crescent opposite the now empty Central Hotel which lends an even more care worn feel to this area of town.

DSCF2422v2

DSCF2415v2

The clock tower is a Grade II listed building is a memorial to the reign of King Edward VII and was designed by Edmund Kirby and was erected by public subscriptions in 1911.  It was originally situated in Argyle Street, near Birkenhead Central Station but it was in the way when the area was redeveloped to improve road links to the Birkenhead Tunnel.  This meant that in about 1929 it was moved 50 metres to its present location in Clifton Crescent. The Central Hotel was built in 1938, and the flyover was added from 1966, so the Clock Tower has seen many changes to its surroundings since it was first built.  The clocks are maintained and in working order, so it has not been completely forgotten.

DSCF2424v2

DSCF2434v2

The network of flyovers continues to move traffic around the town and into the tunnel as it was designed to back in the 1960s.  However some of the high level flyovers didn’t survive entirely unscathed.  Whilst the Borough Road flyover has been the main subject of my photos this month; the flyover which used to rise above Conway Street has been demolished.

DSCF2453v2

In the early 1990s, Wirral Council set up the ‘City Lands’ regeneration scheme under the then government’s City Challenge Fund.  The plan saw major regeneration work across Birkenhead’s town centre and a key project was to remove what was seen as a major barrier which cut the main town centre into two and was far too close to the main shopping precinct.  It was demolished and replaced with two roundabouts, and with it went the long, thin elevated road running diagonally north-westwards across the tunnel’s plaza complex. There’s now just a little stub to show where the flyover used to start. There is now no direct way from the tunnel to the main shopping area, and traffic wanting to do this now has to go around the road system instead.

DSCF2450v2

At the Liverpool end the toll booths were removed and plans were developed for a Liverpool Inner Motorway system with the tunnel connecting to this as an integrated transport system.  But it was never fully realised and the Churchill Way flyover in Liverpool was the only tangible development which rises close to the tunnel exit in the city centre.

DSCF2411v2

DSCF2449v2

The flyovers were an expression of modern urban Britain in the 1960s and we still use them today.  Many of us take them for granted.  Walking around the town centre you get a different angle on them from speeding along them in our insulated vehicles.

DSCF2406v2

DSCF2455v2

Thanks to Chris Marshall’s article ‘Flyovers and flashing lights’ about the Queensway tunnel on his website http://www.cbrd.co.uk  which is dedicated to the study of the entire road network of mainland Britain.

An early morning walk in New Brighton

After seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert this week in Manchester I took the opportunity this bank holiday weekend to go down to Merseyside’s own ‘New Jersey Shore’.  Not quite Atlantic City, but New Brighton is situated at the entrance to the Mersey on the north-eastern tip of the Wirral Peninsula, overlooking the Irish Sea and the Liverpool Bay.

DSCF1942v2

At its peak in the early 1900’s New Brighton was the most popular resort for Merseyside with its own ferry terminal connecting it to Liverpool across the River Mersey.  Amongst other attractions the resort boasted the New Brighton Tower with its own ballroom and at one time Europe’s largest open air outdoor swimming pool on the main promenade.

DSCF1904v2

DSCF1909v2

Sadly, neither of these attractions now exists.  For years the town has seen many restoration projects fail such as the plans to transform Victoria Road into a shopping centre to match London’s Covent Gardens.  There were plans to develop the stretch of costal area between New Brighton and Wallasey village into a Disneyland type of venture as well as an ambitious ‘Pleasure Island’ scheme to rival Blackpool but neither of these schemes proved viable.

DSCF1874v2

But New Brighton has now become a ‘New’ New Brighton with the completion in 2012/13 of a major £60 million redevelopment program.  This has included a replacement of an old worn out theatre with the modern Floral Pavilion and the redevelopment on the promenade with the new Marine Point leisure complex with modern restaurants and bars as well as The Light cinema and a hotel.  But there are still the traditional pleasures of the original funfairs, entrainment arcades, large marine lake, a model boating lake and ten pin bowling alley and Laser Quest adventure centre.

DSCF1941v2

The final part of the New Brighton redevelopment was the construction in 2014 of ‘The Prom’ apartments which comprises of 24 luxury apartments offering sea views, across Liverpool Bay, and the historic Fort Perch Rock and Light House.

DSCF1897v2

It’s interesting to hear how New Brighton got its name.  In 1830, a Liverpool merchant, James Atherton, purchased much of the land at what was Rock Point, which enjoyed views out to sea and across the Mersey and had a good sandy beach. His wanted to develop it as a desirable residential and holiday resort for the growing number of well off business people.  His aim was to create a resort similar to Brighton on the south coast, one of the most elegant seaside resorts of that Regency period and hence he called it ‘New Brighton’. Development began soon afterwards, and housing began to spread up the hillside overlooking the estuary.  This was aided with the closure of a former gunpowder magazine in 1851.

DSCF1912v2

During the latter half of the 19th century, New Brighton developed as a very popular seaside resort serving Liverpool and the Lancashire industrial towns, and many of the large houses were converted to inexpensive hotels. A pier was opened in the 1860s, and the promenade from Seacombe, further down the River Mersey, was built through to New Brighton in the 1890s. This served both as a recreational amenity in its own right, and to link up the developments along the estuary.  It was later extended westwards towards Leasowe, making it the longest in the UK.

DSCF1899v2

The New Brighton Tower, rivalled the more famous Blackpool Tower.  It was actually the tallest tower in the country, opening in 1900 but it closed in 1919, largely due to lack of maintenance during World War I. Dismantling of the tower was complete by 1921 leaving only the ballroom that was at the foot of the tower.

DSCF1871v2

However after World War II, the popularity of New Brighton as a seaside resort declined dramatically like many other traditional holiday resorts. The Tower Ballroom located in its own grounds continued as a major venue, hosting numerous concerts in the 1950s and 1960s by local Liverpool groups including The Beatles as well as other international stars. But the Tower Ballroom was destroyed by a fire in 1969.  The site is now grassed over and used as a football pitch.

DSCF1875v2

Another blow to the resort was when the last Ferries across the Mersey to New Brighton ceased in 1971, after which the ferry pier and landing stage were dismantled.  By 1977, the promenade pier had gone as well.

DSCF1964v2

DSCF1870v2

One of the more peculiar sights is Fort Perch Rock which is a former defence installation situated at the mouth of Liverpool Bay. It was built in the 1820s soon after the Napoleonic Wars to defend the Port of Liverpool.  It was proposed as a fortified lighthouse to replace the old Perch Rock Light, however a separate lighthouse was subsequently built.  The fort was built on an area known as Black Rock, and was cut off at high tide but with coastal reclamation it is now fully accessible. At one point the Fort was armed with 18 guns, of which 16 were 32-pounders, mounted on platforms. It was nicknamed the ‘Little Gibraltar of the Mersey’.  It is now a tourist attraction and museum. It has been, and is still used as a venue for musical concerts and has been listed as a Grade II building.

DSCF1868v2

DSCF1943v2

Right next to Fort Perch is what is now known as New Brighton Lighthouse originally known as Perch Rock Lighthouse.  Construction of the present structure began in 1827 though a light had been maintained on the rock since 1683. It was designed on the lines of the Eddystone lighthouse by Mr. Foster and built of marble rock from Anglesey by Tomkinson & Company.

DSCF1955v2

DSCF1954v2

New Brighton has two churches dominating the skyline and which can be seen from the River Mersey. On Victoria Road is the Anglican St James Church by Sir George Gilbert Scott notable for its thin broach spire and a polygonal apse. It now incorporates the New Brighton Visitors Centre.

DSCF1958v2

DSCF1947v2

The second is St Peter and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church is at the top of Atherton Street, completed in 1935.  This is a very prominent Grade II listed building in the Roman Gesu style, featuring a large dome on a drum. Nicknamed the “Dome from Home” by returning sailors, the church was closed in 2008, but after a public outcry it subsequently reopened in 2011.

DSCF1959v2

Just as sad as the demise of the tower was the closure of the open air swimming pool in1990.  The old pool is now the site of the new Marine Point development with a Morrison’s supermarket and car park taking up much of the original bathing pool foot print.  The story started in June 1934 when Lord Leverhulme declared open the finest and largest aquatic stadium in the World.  The popularity of this once magnificent and eye catching bathing pool was shown by the fact that 100,000 people passed through the turnstiles in the first week.  It was built on sand, covering an area of approximately 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) and cost £103,240 being constructed of mass concrete covered with a rendering of white Portland cement.

DSCF1971v2

DSCF1877v2

The pool was designed to obtain as much sunshine as possible and facing south; it was sheltered from the north winds. Lights which lit up under water were placed at the deep end for night bathing and a 10 metre regulation standard, high diving stage was provided suitable for international diving competitions.  The pool was built also to allow for Championship swimming events and it held some 2,000 spectators for events.  The Pool contained 1,376,000 gallons of pure sea water, filled through the ornamented cascade with the water constantly changed being fed from the adjoining Marine Lake, which acted as a huge storage tank.

DSCF1889v2

DSCF1962v2

In the 1950s through to the late 1970s ‘bathing beauty contests’ had mass appeal and were popular as they were seen to bring a little bit of ‘glamour’ to the post-war seaside resorts.  The outdoor pool was used extensively during this period with the first Miss New Brighton Bathing Girl contest starting at the Pool in 1949 with the last event in 1989.

DSCF1915v2

DSCF1933v2

The pool was used for other events such as firework displays and pop concerts including in May 1984 ‘New Brighton Rock’ when Granada Television staged a £100,000 Pop Spectacular at the pool.

DSCF1966v2

DSCF1922v2

However on 26th and 27th February 1990, hurricane force winds measuring more than 100 mph caused severe damage to the New Brighton bathing pool. With estimated costs of over £4 million to repair the damage it was decided to demolish the building. The then Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) which had taken over responsibility for the sea front area cleared the open air baths in the summer of 1990 and it lay grassed over until the Marine Point major redevelopment scheme started some twenty odd years later.

DSCF1929v2

DSCF1937v2

A happier tale has been the Floral Pavilion theatre.  Up until World War II there were seven theatres in the wider Wallasey area including the Palace Theatre, the Pier Pavilion, the Tower Theatre, the Irving Theatre, the Winter Gardens, the Tivoli and the Floral Pavilion.  Whilst the other theatres closed during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with the advent and growing popularity of television, the Floral Pavilion carried on.  It was opened in May 1913 by the Rt. Hon the Earl of Derby as an open air theatre with a pavilion called ‘The New Victoria Gardens’.  In May 1965 when the glass structure of the theatre was replaced it re-opened as ‘The Floral Pavilion Theatre’. Since then theatre has staged many one-night shows with a variety of artistes.

DSCF1896v2

DSCF1880v2

As part of redevelopment on the New Brighton promenade the Floral Pavilion was demolished in 2006 and a new £12 million 800 plus seat Floral Pavilion and Conference Centre was built. The theatre was the first phase of the redevelopment scheme and the new complex opened on 13th December 2008 featuring the nationally famous comedian but local legend Ken Dodd who has had a long association with the Floral Pavilion, making his first appearance there in 1940.  The Floral Pavilion’s architect Ken Martin said he had designed the new building to be “theatrical on the inside and outside”, with a wave-shaped roof, bandstands and lighting colonnades. This design captures and is a celebration of the spirit of the old Floral Pavilion.

DSCF1918v2

The new Floral Pavilion theatre and conference centre continues to attract a number of touring plays and musicians and ending on the Bruce Springsteen theme where I started this post, Nils Lofgren part of the East Street band has played the theatre on a couple of tours, the first time in its old form and his last appearance earlier this year in the new completely rejuvenated venue.

DSCF1884v2

Birkenhead Town Hall

DSCF1834v2

On a bright St George’s Day I ventured down to see part of Birkenhead’s most impressive architecture around Hamilton Square most particularly the town hall building.

DSCF1789v2

Birkenhead Town Hall is a Grade II listed building and was built as the main civic building for the former County Borough of Birkenhead.  It continued to be used as council offices by the town’s successor council, the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, and up until 2010 it housed the Wirral Museum.  It still remains the location of the town’s register office.

DSCF1794v2

When Hamilton Square was designed in the early 19th century, a plot of land was made available for the erection of a town hall between Hamilton Street and Chester Street. However, it wasn’t until 1887 that the current building was completed after four years of building.  It was designed by local architect Christopher Ellison in 1882 and was constructed using Scottish granite and sandstone from the now filled in local quarry at Storeton which I have written about in earlier blogs.

DSCF1791v2

The building consisted of a council chamber, offices, with a concert hall and function rooms known as the Assembly Rooms. Birkenhead’s magistrates’ court chambers are located in a separate building of the same design to the rear of the town hall.

DSCF1813

The clock tower is 200 feet in height and consists of four faces. After a fire in 1901, the upper part of the clock tower was rebuilt to a design by Henry Hartley. The rebuilding included the installation of a stained glass window by Gilbert P Gamon representing Edward I’s visit to Birkenhead Priory in 1277.

DSCF1822v2

The County Borough of Birkenhead was abolished on 1 April 1974 with the creation of the larger Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and nearby Wallasey town hall became the main civic centre for the new combined borough. The Birkenhead building continued to be used as council offices until the early 1990s, when work was undertaken to restore the external stonework and many interior decorations and features, including the former council chamber.

DSCF1803v2

The Wirral Archives Service was based in the building until 2008, when it transferred to the council’s Cheshire Lines Building nearby.  The service collects and stores all types of historical documents relating to the Wirral area, its people, businesses and institutions.

DSCF1801v2

Between 2001 and 2010, the Wirral Museum occupied a significant portion of the building.  It featured both themed and permanent exhibits such as the history and development of Wirral, the Cammell Laird collection, the Wirral Silver and Mayoral collections, Della Robbia Pottery and a detailed scale model of the historic Woodside area in 1934.

DSCF1806v2

Birkenhead town hall continued to house many council staff until the 1990s, but departments were then moved out to other buildings in the area and the town hall was only used as the museum and archives service together with the registry office for births, marriages and deaths.  However the civic building has also continued to be used as a venue for local and national elections and for the celebration of notable occasions as well as the town’s focal point for annual Remembrance Sunday ceremonies.

DSCF1807v2

In 2009 Wirral Council put the town hall on the market but found there was relatively little interest and the council found no suitable options were put forward.  The Council therefore decided to keep the town hall and it is again being used as offices.  Now there are more than 100 staff based at Birkenhead town hall, mostly transferred from former council offices at Acre Lane which has been closed and is being sold off.  There are plans to bring many more staff to the town hall as the authority sells off unwanted buildings across the borough to save cash.

DSCF1808v2

The town hall has a rich history in itself.  Throughout the First World War the Mayors and Mayoresses who were in office arranged a number of fundraising events and relief funds. Funds were used such as buying ambulances for the Birkenhead Red Cross. With the vehicles touring the town, starting at the Town Hall then travelling to Birkenhead Park, where at times there were practical demonstrations given to the public by the Borough Fire Brigade and the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

DSCF1812v2

In September 1914 the Mayoress of Birkenhead started an appeal for Belgian Refugees, who were heading to the area after fleeing from the German invasion.

DSCF1826v2

The recruitment of the Birkenhead Bantam Brigade started at the Town Hall before moving to Bebington Showground.  Over 1000 men were expected to attend ready to enlist and have a medical examination. Other large recruitment events were also held at the Town Hall.

DSCF1815v2

From 1915 for the duration of the war a party was held before Christmas and in January for the children of soldiers and sailors who were serving in the HM Forces being paid for by the Mayor’s Annual Relief Fund.

DSCF1814v2

The first Annual Meeting of the Birkenhead Branch of the National Union of Women Workers was held at the Town Hall. At this meeting the authorities gave permission for patrols of women to be formed, with the support of the police, to maintain order as so many girls appeared to be loitering by the newly formed camps for soldiers.

DSCF1848v2

In 1916 concerts were held here to raise funds to provide comforts to men serving in the War and in November 1918 a Thanksgiving Supper Dance was held for American soldiers who were billeted in the area.

DSCF1830v2

The town hall looks out onto Hamilton Square which is surrounded on the other three sides by Georgian terraces. No two sides of the square are identical.

DSCF1796v2

Hamilton Square was one of the first residential areas for business people and the growing professional classes to be built in the newly formed town of Birkenhead, following the introduction of steam ferries across the River Mersey from Liverpool in the nineteenth century.  Whilst there is still some residential accommodation in the square, many properties are now used as offices and for commercial uses.

DSCF1829

The land on which the square was developed was purchased in 1824 by Scottish shipbuilder William Laird (1780–1841).and he commissioned Edinburgh architect Gillespie Graham, to lay out a square and surrounding streets, in a similar style to Edinburgh New Town.  Gillespie Graham envisaged vistas of long, straight and wide avenues lined by elegant houses. Hamilton Square, named after Laird’s wife’s family, was built piecemeal over the next twenty years as the focus of the regular street layout.  Nearby Hamilton Square railway station opened in 1886.

DSCF1842v2

The private gardens within the square were acquired by the local council in 1903 and were subsequently opened to the public. Features of the square include the town’s cenotaph immediately in front of the town hall, a large Queen Victoria Monument at the centre of the gardens and a statue of John Laird, the first Member of Parliament for Birkenhead and the son of William Laird. Laird’s house, at 63 Hamilton Square, is a Grade I listed building.

DSCF1843v2

Between 1995 and 2002 Wirral Council had access to around £80m of public funding through the then government’s ‘Single Regeneration Budget’ to rejuvenate the area around Hamilton Square in what became known as the Hamilton Quarter initiative.  This saw shop front renewals, conservation and landscaping works which included the installation of the ornate ‘moon and stars’ lamp posts which are found all around the square.  The Hamilton Quarter intiative also funded initially the Wirral International Guitar Festival which still goes on today.

DSCF1836v2

It may be a surprising statistic but Hamilton Square is second only to Trafalgar Square in London for having the most Grade I listed buildings in one place in England.

DSCF1845v2