Before Norman times, most of the The Wirral consisted of natural woodlands and open spaces with farms and cottages. Small areas of the woodland can still be seen at Bidston, Storeton and Eastham. In those days a single cart track ran northwards from Chester towards the River Mersey to a point where the river was little more than half a mile wide.

Early in the 12th century, Benedictine monks from Chester earned a living by trading with the merchants in Liverpool and operating a ferry across the river at this narrow point. They built the Birkenhead Priory [Photograph] here so that they could avoid having to travel daily from Chester.

There were strict forestry laws at the time and there were several occasions when the monks were re-called to Chester to defend themselves on various related charges.

By the year 1332, it was recognized how important the monk's ferry was to trade between Liverpool and Chester that Edward III granted the Priors exclusive ferry rights. At this same time, the inhabitants of Chester were becoming increasingly alarmed that the forest was acting as shelter for outlaws and, by 1376, most of The Wirral had been de-forested by order of the Earl of Chester (son of Edward III).

The monks at Birkenhead Priory continued until 1536 when the Priory was closed by order of Henry VIII's bailiff, Randle Arrowsmith, and the monks returned to Chester.

The Priory has remained closed ever since and has, naturally, suffered from the ravages of both time and developers. Never-the-less much of it remains in tact and it has recently undergone some restoration work and is now open to the public.

The industrialization of Birkenhead (and, subsequently, most of the East side of The Wirral) began in 1824 when William Laird established a boiler works and a shipbuilding yard on the banks of Wallasey Pooland laid out the beginnings of the town at Hamilton Square. [Photograph]

Although the population was only 109 in 1800, by 1830 it had risen to over 2,500. The opening of the railway line to Chester in 1837 and the establishment of docks and a tidal basin in 1843 was the beginning of the modern Birkenhead as it is today.


[ Back | Wirral Index | Main Homepage ]