Yesterday we explored the banks of the Mersey at Eastham, one of the oldest villages on the Wirral Peninsula, inhabited since Anglo Saxon times and site of a ferry crossing from the early 14th century.

Eastham Ferry, first recorded in 1357, was once a vital river crossing but ceased operating in 1928. The early ferries were operated by monks from the Abbey of Saint Werburgh, the patron saint of Chester. By the late 1700s, up to 40 coaches each day arrived at a newly built pier, carrying passengers and goods for the ferry.  In Victorian times it was a popular destination for day trippers. The 1857 ticket office (below) and part of the 1874 pier (above) can still be seen today.

Ferry routes from the Wirral to Liverpool across the River Mersey operated from various places, including New Brighton, Egremont, Seacombe, Woodside, Monks Ferry, Birkenhead, Tranmere, Rock Ferry, New Ferry, Eastham, Ince, Frodsham and Runcorn.

In 1724 Daniel Defoe in his book, A Tour Through England and Wales, wrote: “This narrow strip of land, rich, fertile and full of inhabitants, is called Wirall, or by some Wirehall. Here is a ferry over the Mersey, which at full sea is more than two miles over”.  An account from 1750 also mentions using the Mersey ferry: “Here is a ferry over the Mersee…. You land on the flat shore on the other side, and must be content to ride through the water for some length, not on horseback but on the shoulders of some Lancashire man who comes knee-deep to the boat’s side to truss one up …”.

In the early 18th century it took a day to travel to Liverpool and back, via Eastham, but the rise of Liverpool and the emergence of Parkgate as a resort and harbour for Ireland demanded better roads into and across Wirral. The roads to Parkgate and the Mersey ferries were turnpiked in 1787 and also offered a main route from Liverpool to the south.

Eastham Ferry Hotel

Paddle steamers were introduced in 1816 to replace the sailboats, but the demand for a service declined in the 1840s with the opening of a railway link between Chester and Birkenhead Woodside Ferry. In 1846, the owner of the ferry, Thomas Stanley, built the Eastham Ferry Hotel, one of two pubs that remain today. Soon after, the Pleasure Gardens were added to attract more visitors.

Eastham Pleasure Garden entrance

The entrance to the Pleasure Gardens was through a magnificent Jubilee arch which stood next to the Eastham Ferry Hotel and was built in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The gardens were landscaped with rhododendrons, azaleas, ornamental trees and fountains. Attractions included a zoo, with performing bears, lions, monkeys and antelope, an open air stage, tea rooms, bandstand, ballroom and boating lake.  The bear pit is still there, along with the remains of three fountains, once part of the 19th century zoo.

One performer who once appeared at the Pleasure Gardens was Blondin, the legendary tightrope walker. During one act he is said to have pushed a small boy in a wheel barrow across a tightrope at a great height.  The Pleasure Gardens eventually fell into disrepair during the 1930s and the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were later dismantled.

In its heyday Eastham Ferry was known as the ‘Richmond of the Mersey’, he ferry could cross the river in 20 – 45 minutes and moored at Liverpool.  But its popularity declined during the 1920s and the last paddle steamer crossing took place in 1929.  The Pleasure Gardens fell into disrepair during the 1930s and the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were later dismantled.

Eastham Pleasure Garden Jubilee Arch

Then…

And now…

Today the site of the Pleasure Gardens forms part of Eastham Country Park, with pleasant woodland walks where you may encounter pieces sculpted from fallen trees by local sculptor, Bill Welch.

The early Eastham village clustered around St Mary’s church, which has been a place of worship since Anglo-Saxon times – a  timber-framed wattle and daub chapel was in existence before the Norman conquest.  The churchyard contains an ancient yew (below) which was reported to have been in existence in 1152, and estimated to be at least 1500 years old.  A  plaque  by the tree reads:

“When in 1152 the abbot and monks of St Werburgh received the manor of Eastham at the hand of Earl Randall of Chester, the villagers of Eastham; entreated the new owners ‘to have a care of ye olde yew’ .

In 1854 the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, whilst in Liverpool as United States consul, visited Eastham and declared it to be “the finest old English village I have seen, with many antique houses, and with altogether a rural and picturesque aspect, unlike anything in America, and yet possessing a familiar look, as if it were something I had dreamed about.”

Eastham old yew

In 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was opened by Queen Victoria, bringing added prosperity to the area.  Eastham Lock (below) forms the western end of the Manchester Ship Canal, and is the largest lock in the UK.

The view from Eastham upriver towards Runcorn.

24 thoughts on “Along the Mersey: Eastham

  1. Splendid pictures. My dad was a cadet on HMS Conway [a training ship dating back to early 19th Century wooden wall type] in 1940-41 moored off I think, Rock ferry or near to where the Tranmere terminal is. He remembers watching the blitz on Liverpool. At some point a parachute mine or bomb became entangled in the anchor cables and the cadets [mostly young under 16s] were evacuated to Aberdovey in Wales. The Conway itself was towed round to Anglesey for “safety” but unfortunately when being towed back it ran aground in the Menai States, broke it back and after a fire was scrapped. The anchor sits outside the maritime museum and the mast stands by Birkenhead docks.
    My wife remembers her mother’s story of the blitz, she lived in Kent Gardens/Lydia Ann Street at the same time,when the bombers concentrated on the power station beside Cleveland Square. Cleveland Square was the site of the original “China Town” although today we think of Nelson Street as the modern China town. Much of Cleveland square was destroyed and many killed. One or two buildings remain showing the scars of shrapnel in the walls in that neighbourhood, just as some of the Castle street area show scars. As in most British cities, working class communities, sited beside docks, railways or factories suffered worst from bombing.

  2. Wonderful, enjoyed reading and seeing the old pictures. Wonder who Gerry is? I was born August 13-1922, I’m also known as Gerry, lived at Eastham Ferry, family associated with the canal. Eastham woods and gardens were our playgrounds. What days of fun.

  3. I’m pleased that you appreciated the post, Gerry, especially given your close association with the place. I’m Gerry Cordon, I’ve lived in Liverpool since arriving here as a university student in 1967, retired now from teaching in further education. You might be interested in my account of taking the cruise along the Ship Canal here: http://wp.me/poJrg-pi

  4. Hi Gerry Gordon

    To add to your information, the passenger ferries between Liverpool and Eastham ferry were – Pearl, Ruby & Sapphire and valued at £3, 500 each.

    Gerry

    1. Hello! My name is Ruby Fletcher my Sister is Pearl. Both of us named for the Ferry boats of that name. My Dad was a crew member many years ago when he fell in love with a passenger- my Mum!

  5. Interesting comment from Gerrard…I was born in St Johns Road 1962 and the woods and gardens where my playground for years….It always felt this was a secret paradise because of the overgrowth that had persisted for years…the bear pit was our secret den for a long time…so too were the underground air raid shelters that have since been flattened for a walkway..

  6. I am 90 year ol but i remember a lot of these thihgs particually the three paddle boats, i sailed on them nany times, AR “PLEASENT MEMORES”

    JOHN SMITH {CANADA}

  7. I am Barbara Gregory (nee Cooper) and lived in Eastham as a young girl.
    I was a Sunday school teacher at St. Mary’s Church. I was born in 1933.
    I am now resident in Chelmsford, Essex.

  8. Wonderful photos and background information. My mum and dad used to take my sister and I to Eastham woods in late 1950s and 60s and we played amongst ruins of old Pleasure Gardens and bear pit without ever knowing its history. We concocted all sorts of imaginary scenarios – but never the real one, which now seems more magical.

    Thanks

    1. Thanks, Pauline, glad you enjoyed the post. There’s still a bit of magic about the place – it’s amazing that things like this have survived!

  9. Thank you for sharing this information and photos of Eastham. My family have lived here for many years, and I have lovely memories of growing up here.

    1. I believe it was demolished by the council as they thought it was unsafe and in a state of disrepair. As the demolished they realised it was in fact OK but as the demolition was well underway it continued. As for it’s origin I have read that it was originally erected in London Road Liverpool for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee visit and later moved to Eastham. Mike Flavell

    1. According to Wikipedia: ‘In its heyday Eastham Ferry was known as the ‘Richmond of the Mersey’, but its popularity declined during the 1920s and the last paddle steamer crossing took place in 1929. The Pleasure Gardens fell into disrepair during the 1930s and the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were later dismantled.’ That’s later than I would have thought!

    1. I walked through the “Pleasure Gardens” last weekend, and have since been trying to find a book / leaflet / “monograph”, containing photographs, about the Victorian Gardens, but none appear to exist (though I’m sure something was published – perhaps published privately – at some stage).
      Does anyone know of any publications?

  10. Hi Gerry

    I felt so homesick looking at these wonderful photos and history,that I never knew. I was born in Bootle 68 years ago but have lived ‘down south’ for more than 40 years. I still regard Merseyside as my home and looking to move back asap. Thank you for your great website.

  11. Hi I have an interesting photograph of Stanley Road with large barn at the farm taken 1900 but cannot find who to lodge this with . Anyone interested

  12. i and family members walked around park yesterday
    and we thought it a shame that the local people dont protest about its decline its a wonderful place and could be easily restored even if the locals helped out its a heretage site that should be of great interest

  13. Spent many happy hours playing in Eastham woods and what used to be the pleasure gardens in the 50s & 60s. Pictures bring back many memories, oh to live on the Wirral again!

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