Birkenhead is essentially a 19th-century `new town', its planned grid of streets still stretching westwards from the Georgian elegance of Hamilton Square. Two hundred years ago it did not exist. The settlement, such as it was, consisted of a mere scatter of farmhouses and cottages, which supported a population in 1801 of just 17 families living in 16 houses.
Yet this tiny community lying on the east shore of Wirral was not entirely a backwater. The mid-12th century had seen the foundation of a Benedictine priory, while half a century later, in 1207, the granting of letters patent to Liverpool brought ever-increasing activity to the Mersey. The ferry meant there was plenty of coming and going, and local farmers, fisherfolk and ferrymen lived far from mundane lives. The catalyst for change was the introduction of a steam ferry service, and by the end of Victoria's reign the town numbered over 110,000 inhabitants. It gained its first MP in 1861 and became a borough in its own right in 1877. The docks first opened in 1847 and the great shipbuilding firm of Cammell Laird provided a backdrop to the town's spectacular growth.
Birkenhead had the country's first publicly funded park, designed by Joseph Paxton, the first street tramway and, with the Mersey Rail Tunnel, the first underwater railway in Europe. Today, although shipbuilding has ceased and activity in the docks has declined, much of the legacy of this magnificent past has survived. This fully illustrated new account sheds light on Birkenhead's fascinating heritage and traces the town's development from its earliest years. Based on a wide range of local and national sources, it provides a readable and accessible narrative, which will be welcomed by all those keen to know Birkenhead better.
Publisher: The History Press Ltd
Number of pages: 160
Weight: 417 g
Dimensions: 248 x 172 x 11 mm