Walking the Mersey: Along Sankey Brook to Widnes

Walking the Mersey: Along Sankey Brook to Widnes

The months drifted by, and to complete my plan to walk the Mersey from source to the sea I still had the section from Warrington down to Widnes to do.  On what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far, four of us set out on a walk through 250 years of industrial history.

Setting out: with Tommy, George and Bernie
Setting out: with Tommy, George and Bernie

I had conceived the idea of a 12-mile hike, walking the length of Sankey Brook from St Helens, passing to the west of Warrington to reach the Mersey at Fiddler’s Ferry and then along the Mersey to Spike Island at Widnes. The reason? I remembered from O-level History that the Sankey Brook Navigation – also known as the St Helens Canal – was Britain’s first canal when it opened in 1757, the precursor of the ‘canal mania’ of the late 18th century.

Stanley Bank canal wharf 3
Stanley Bank canal wharf on the Blackbrook branch

The actual starting point of the Sankey Canal is in the centre of St Helens, near to the Tesco store (originally, the canal stretched further, past the later Pilkingtons’ glass works, but that section was infilled in 1898, when Pilkingtons extended the glass works). However, in order to have a place to park the car, we began our walk at the Sankey Valley Visitor Centre on the Blackbrook branch, just outside the town centre.

Stanley Bank canal wharf 2
Stanley Bank Wharf: the derrick sculpture

There were four of us – myself, Bernie (with whom I’ve walked the Sandstone Trail, and who is shortly leaving to walk another leg of the Via Francigena, the pilgrim trail through northern Italy), Tommy (who has just completed research for the Reader Organisation into Siegfried Sassoon’s connections with Liverpool) and Tommy’s brother George (like the rest of us an adult educationalist who once taught in Hampshire where he often walked the South Downs Way, something I hope to do myself some day, and who left the comfortable south for St Helens. He was based in an adult education centre that, in a hallucinatory manner, we found ourselves passing repeatedly during the day, the result of errors of navigation on my part).

There were no mistakes in finding the Sankey Valley Visitor Centre, and it seemed we were off to a good start. Near to the Visitor Centre is Stanley Basin, once a loading wharf for coal which arrived from a nearby collieries by means of an inclined plane. Nearby are the remains of Stanley Iron Slitting Mill, built around 1773, which processed iron ingots, forged at Carr Mill and transported here along a branch canal. The ingots were heating and rolled, then slit into sheet metal bars for the local nail-making industry.

Stanley Bank canal wharf 1
Stanley Bank Wharf: Tommy inspects one of the sculptures

And there you have the reason for the construction of the canal: the need to move coal in large quantities to serve the burgeoning industries around Liverpool and in west Lancashire. There are two sculptures at Stanley Bank Wharf, designed to commemorate this industrial history. One is of the kind of coal cart in use around here in the early 18th century, the other is of a wharf derrick.

The creation of the canal brought about the growth of St Helens and the industrial development of the town. Before its construction, the movement of goods between the expanding port of Liverpool and the outlying areas had been extremely difficult. Horse drawn carts were the major form of transport – along roads that were just rough tracks and which were virtually impassable in winter. The biggest problem lay in moving quantities of heavy coal, needed for the growing industries of Liverpool and surrounding areas.

I used to work at the FE college in the Old Swan district of Liverpool. Before the advent of the canals and the railways, Old Swan had grown up around inns that offered refreshment to hauliers and their horses who led packhorse trains into Liverpool down the lane from Prescot through Old Swan, sometimes with as many as fifty horses roped together, panniers loaded with coal from the Lancashire mines for Liverpool. They would make the return trip with American cotton from the docks bound for mills in the Manchester area. That was how it was until the canals and the railway came.

The Sankey canal was built principally to transport coal to Liverpool from mines around St Helens, and was first conceived as a navigation: instead of digging a completely new canal, the idea was to make the Sankey Brook navigable by barges. The plan was supported by Liverpool businessmen who employed Henry Berry to survey the route (Berry had previously worked with Thomas Steers, Liverpool’s first Dock Engineer, on the Newry Canal in Northern Ireland, the UK’s first canal). Berry was Second Dock Engineer for Liverpool, but was released for two days a week by the Dock Trustees to work on the canal.

However, a problem emerged: Henry Berry’s survey revealed that the Sankey water course was too small to convert into a navigation. At the time the idea of digging a new canal across someone’s land was as about as popular as a proposal to frack is now.  Indeed, Parliament had just refused permission for a canal in another part of the country. So the promoters resorted to a bit of subterfuge, presenting the scheme to Parliament as the Sankey Navigation, but with clauses embedded in the bill which allowed the engineers ‘to make cuts, canals, trenches or passages for water, in, upon or through lands or grounds adjoining or near to the River’. Parliament approved the scheme and work began in 1755.

Map of Sankey canal
Map of Sankey canal in 1833

The St Helens Canal opened in November 1757, with over 95% of its original ten mile length cut through new ground, making it the first canal to be dug in England (though, because this was proposed as a navigation, some histories give the accolade to the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal, opened in 1761, that eventually brought coal from his mines in Worsley, near Manchester to the Mersey at Runcorn.

St Helens 1824 (www.sthelenshistory.co.uk)
A view of St Helens in 1824 (from http://www.sthelenshistory.co.uk)

The St Helens canal was an outstanding success, reducing the cost of transporting coal to Liverpool and leading to cheaper coal. New industries boomed; for example, in 1779 a copper smelting works was opened at Blackbrook. The ore for the works was mined in Anglesey which was one of the largest producers of copper ore in the world at that time. From there it was shipped to the Mersey and up the canal to Blackbrook where the ore was smelted into copper.

The Old Double Lock
The Old Double Lock

Leaving the Stanley Basin things got off to a shambolic start, the result of rubbish map-reading on my part which resulted in us circling St Augustine school playing fields at least twice (that night I dreamed I saw St Augustine) and heading off down the wrong brook (Sutton Brook, not Sankey Brook). By the time we had orientated ourselves successfully the clouds had parted and the day was seriously warming up.

Finally on course, we came to the Old Double Lock, the first staircase lock in England, built in 1757 with two chambers. It is known as the Old Double Lock because a second lock staircase, the New Double Lock was built a mile to the west in 1770.

Sankey Brook 2

Sankey Brook 1
Along Sankey Brook

This was a walk through classic ‘edgelands‘ territory, as defined by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts in their book, Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness, so I expected something different to what we found. Robert Macfarlane provided a succinct definition of the terrain in a review he wrote of their book:

The edgelands are the debatable space where city and countryside fray into one another. They comprise jittery, jumbled, broken ground: brownfield sites and utilities infrastructure, crackling substations and pallet depots, transit hubs and sewage farms, scrub forests and sluggish canals, allotments and retail parks, slackened regulatory frameworks and guerilla ecologies.

We certainly encountered several of those items.  There were brownfield sites and allotments upon which so many sheds had been erected that it looked like a shanty town, and we skirted the transit hub that has grown up on the site of the old USAF airbase at Burtonwood (Asda, et al) and the Gemini retail park that boasts IKEA as its main attraction. But although we were following the course of an old canal (sluggish in parts, filled in for the most part), this was cleaned-up edgelands.  Land that had once ranked amongst the most polluted on earth has now been transformed by St Helens and Warrington councils into the Sankey Valley Park, a pleasant, almost bucolic corridor hemmed in by industries, housing developments, railway lines, dual carriageways and a motorway.

Broad Oak Basin fishing ponds
Broad Oak Basin fishing ponds

For instance: a short distance beyond the dried-out Broad Oak Basin, where coal from Broad Oak Colliery was brought by tram-road to be loaded into boats, we found several old sections of the canal that remain in water as fishing ponds, wooden platforms for the fisher-folk helpfully provided by the local council.

Havannah Flashes

Havannah Flashes 4

Havannah Flashes 2
Havannah Flashes

At Havannah Flashes there is an attractive stretch with areas of open water edged with tall, golden rushes.  The Flashes are the result of ground subsidence after the nearby Havannah Colliery mined too close to the surface.

Sankey Valley 1
Following the line of the in-filled canal

Along this stretch the canal has been in-filled, but further on the water returns. It was here that we came across a team of council workmen restoring the canal bank where the stonework had been collapsing into the water.  They were also installing sandbag-like rolls of rushes to support the banks and resurfacing the path.  It was good that such work was still proceeding, even in times of austerity (Our Local Voice, the website of an independent group of volunteers from the local area, states that, unlike most of Britain’s other canals which are the responsibility of the Canal And River Trust (formerly British Waterways), the Sankey is the responsibility of the three local authorities through which it passes – St Helens, Warrington and Halton).

Sankey Valley 2

At times we would have water on both sides – canal to our right and brook to our left. Along other stretches the canal had been in-filled, and sometimes the path followed the course of the buried canal.

Sankey Valley 3

The canal disappears in the stretch skirting the edge of Newton Common, but after Penkford Bridge, which carries the main road from St Helens to Newton-le-Willows, the canal is once again in water.

Sankey Valley 4

Penkford Bridge was originally a swing bridge, but now is permanent with very low clearance. We saw a lot of this along the way: in some cases the canal had been in-filled for a road crossing, making it seem extremely unlikely that the canal could ever be reopened in its entirety, even though that remains the long-term aim of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society:

There is only one ‘First Canal of the Industrial Revolution’ – it’s the Sankey, and it should never have been allowed to fall into the neglected state it was in by the 1970’s. We intend to ensure that the canal’s primacy is fully acknowledged, and that funds are found to return it to full navigation.

In the meantime, the Society’s volunteers continue to protect and restore, where possible, the canal’s remaining infrastructure. We came across several examples of this on our walk: locks which had been buried by infilling, but now partly uncovered by Society volunteers (as at Newton Common Lock, just before Penkford Bridge, and at Winwick Lock, where we stopped for lunch.  The Society is currently concentrating on their ‘Linking the Locks’ project which seeks to open up navigation again to the lower sections of the canal between Fiddler’s Ferry and its river entrance at Spike Island, Widnes.

Sankey Viaduct 1
Approaching Sankey Viaduct

Soon we were approaching the highpoint of the walk – at least in terms of industrial archaeology. The nine arches of the Sankey Viaduct were designed by George Stephenson in 1830 to carry the Manchester to Liverpool railway line, the world’s first passenger railway, across the Sankey Canal and Sankey Brook with enough clearance to allow Mersey flats, the barges for which the canal was constructed, to pass beneath with sails raised (as can be seen in the 1831 print, below).

Viaduct across the Sankey Valley, from Bury's Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 1831
Viaduct across the Sankey Valley, print from Bury’s ‘Liverpool and Manchester Railway’, 1831

It must have seemed like a new wonder of the world at the time, but must have sent a chill through those working on, or investing in the canal. In fact, although the advent of the railway saw canal earnings fall, to counter competition from the railway, a further extension of the canal was cut from Fiddler’s Ferry across Widnes salt marshes to the Mersey at Widnes, opening in 1833.

The viaduct is now designated a Grade I listed building, its listing describing it as ‘the earliest major railway viaduct in the world’.  According to the Spartacus Educational website:

The Sankey Brook Navigation Company objected to the building of the railway and made life difficult for George Stephenson and his team of engineers by insisting on a 60 ft clearance over their canal. William Allcard was given the responsibility of designing the Sankey Viaduct and came up with a nine arch structure. Each of the arches is of 50 ft span and rises from massive sandstone slabs quarried locally, including at Olive Mount [in Wavertree, Liverpool]. Thousands of tons of marl and moss, compacted with brushwood, was used to increase the height of the embankment. The Sankey Viaduct was built of brick with stone facings and cost the company over £45,000 to produce.

Sankey Viaduct 2

The sight of the viaduct had us all recalling history lessons at school in which we learnt about the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and how, when it was near to completion, the directors of the railway organised a competition to decide whether stationary steam engines or locomotives would be used to pull the trains. In October 1829, five engines competed, running back and forth along a mile length of level track at Rainhill. Stephenson’s Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials, and was declared the winner.

A year later, the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway took place on 15 September 1830, with the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, riding on one of eight inaugural trains. Huge crowds lined the track at Liverpool to watch the trains depart for Manchester.  But the day was marred by mishaps.

The trains left Liverpool on time, with the Duke of Wellington’s special train on one track, and the other seven trains running on a parallel track. About 13 miles out of Liverpool the first of many problems occurred, when one of the trains derailed and the following train collided with it. However, there were no injuries or damage, and the derailed locomotive was lifted back onto the track and the journey continued.

At Parkside railway station, near the midpoint of the line, the locomotives made a scheduled stop to take on water. Although the railway staff advised passengers to remain on the trains while this took place, around 50 of the dignitaries on board alighted, including William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool. Distracted, he did not notice the Rocket approaching on the adjacent track. Panicking, he fell  in front of the train, suffering serious leg injuries and died that night.  Not surprisingly, this provoked a flurry of concern about the safety of the railway. However, a report in Mechanics Magazine the following month strove to calm fears:

We shall only observe, that no inconvenience whatever was felt by any of the passengers, even when moving at the extraordinary rate of 20 and 25 miles an hour. The motion, on the contrary, was smooth and easy beyond any thing hitherto experienced on the smoothest turnpikes of Mr. McAdam, so much so, that we could read with the greatest ease, and even manage to write a letter. In a very short time we became quite unconscious of the rapid motion, and at the highest speed which we attained, we could observe the passengers, among whom were a good many ladies, talking to gentlemen with the utmost sang-froid. From all that we have observed, we should consider the rate of 25 miles an hour, on a level, or nearly level, road, as perfectly practicable and safe.

Sankey Viaduct Illustration from the “Penny Magazine, 1830
Sankey Viaduct: an illustration from the Penny Magazine, 1830

The viaduct is still in use, but the last sailing barges passed under its arches in 1919. The canal was abandoned north of this point in 1931, and the path now follows the line of the towpath, with the in-filled canal bed to the right.

Sankey Viaduct 3

As we passed underneath the arches, we noted the graffiti painted along the parapet; terrifying to think of youngsters out there on a narrow ledge 70 feet above the ground!

Sankey Viaduct, 1930 (c National Railway Museum)
Sankey Viaduct in 1930 (c National Railway Museum)

Nearby was the site of the Sankey Sugar Works, opened in 1855 and the last industrial user of the canal.  Raw cane sugar imported through the Liverpool docks was converted at the refinery into the finished white product.

Sankey Sugar

The Sankey Sugar Company was eventually taken over by a Dutch firm in 1924. The refinery ceased operation in 1959, leading to the closure of the last navigable section of the canal in 1963. The canal above the sugar works had already been abandoned in 1931.

All four of us walkers were old enough to remember bags of Sankey Sugar from our childhood.

A short way beyond Sankey Viaduct, we found the canal back in water at Bradley Lock, where the upper lock gates are still in place.  On the OS map I noticed that we were passing through Mucky Mountains Nature Reserve, and wondered how it had got its name. It turns out that the ‘mountains’ are mounds of waste from a nearby soda making works. Musprat’s Vitriol Works produced two tons of waste for each ton of soda.

Sankey Valley 5 Sankey Valley 6 Sankey Valley 7

Despite the Mucky Mountains appellation, this is a picturesque stretch of the canal, edged by wooded bluffs splashed with white blackthorn blossom. Swans were nesting on the Brook, and the damp, shady places beneath the trees were carpeted with celandines. Above the canal here is Vulcan Village, once the site of engine works established in the 1830s, where railway locomotives were built and repaired (apparently, the foundry sent a locomotive to India every week for a century until it closed in the 1990s).

Swans nest Celandines and shadows

Beyond Vulcan Village the canal ran close to the West Coast mainline for a while.  Here the route of the canal and towpath has been obliterated by dense tree planting, and we had to follow a detour down a lane before reaching Winwick Lock, where we paused for lunch. Although the lock has been filled in, the stonework is visible and the remains of the gates are still in place.

Winwick Lock
Winwick Lock

After a restorative lunch we set off again in blazing sun, now heading towards the M62 motorway. There is no sign of the canal here: in 1974 British Waterways decided to use the canal bed for tipping rubbish, creating a long in-filled section down as far as Bewsey Hall.

Approaching the M62 Approaching the M62 2

South of the motorway we passed Winwick Quay, where a group of attractive, though dilapidated, buildings once housed the main maintenance depot on the canal. The buildings and former stables, are grouped around a yard, now used by small businesses.  In another setting this would have made attractive holiday homes, but here it’s a real edgelands site, hemmed in by railway and motorway, and buffeted by the constant roar of traffic.

Winwick Quay 1

Winwick Quay 2
Winwick Quay

The main building, built in 1841, was a large wood and metal workshop. Timber bridges, gates, decking and fencing were all made and repaired here. The forge produced countless items of ironwork needed to keep the canal and its vessels functional. The yard was a resting and feeding point
for horses and mules hauling their boats to St Helens so horse fodder was also stored here.

Winwick Quay 3
Winwick Quay: the dry dock

A few yards further on from Winwick Quay is the dry dock, the only remaining dry dock on the Sankey Canal. It was built entirely of sandstone with stepped sides that allowed workers to get down to the floor, where you can still see the sleepers oon which the traditional Mersey Flat boats would have rested while being repaired. Once the boat was inside, the dock gates were closed and the water drained off via a small culvert in the western wall. After the repairs were completed, the dock was filled again and the boat floated out.

Sankey Valley Park Warrington 2 Sankey Valley Park Warrington 1

GCHQ outpost perhaps?

We were now skirting the fringes of Gemini Retail Park, home of Ikea, Toys R Us, M&S, and the rest – a further symbol of the economic changes that have occurred in this area. On the far side of a high security fence we spotted this silent and mysterious-looking building, painted in battleship grey. An outpost of GCHQ perhaps?

Sankey Valley Park Warrington 3 Sankey Valley Park Warrington 4 Sankey Valley Park Warrington 5 Sankey Valley Park Warrington 6 Sankey Valley Park Warrington 7

Now we were following the Brook through Sankey Valley Park on the western edge of Warrington, a very pleasant landscaped linear park, bucolic in the afternoon sunshine. The buried line of the canal has become a broad, grassy meadow.

Gatehouse Bewsey Hall
The gatehouse at Bewsey Hall

It was the school holidays, so the park was thronged with families, especially around the entrance to Bewsey Hall and Gulliver’s World theme park. Part of the estate belonged to the monks of Titley Abbey, Essex. The Hall was originally built on the site of a monastic grange known as ‘Beausee’ or ‘beautiful site’. The present building dates back no earlier than 1597. We didn’t have time to explore the grounds, pausing only to look at the relatively-modern half-timbered gatehouse.

Sankey Bridges
Sankey Bridges

The landscaped linear park continues – with the canal once more in water – as far as Sankey Bridges where there is a series of canal crossings. One carries Liverpool Road and was originally a swing bridge, then later a lifting bridge. Beyond the road bridge are two others. The first is a narrow swing bridge for emergency use if the road bridge was out of action. Beyond that is a railway bridge.

Heading for Fiddler's Ferry
Heading for Fiddler’s Ferry

Now the canal bears right, heading directly for Widnes. When the canal first opened in 1757, it went straight ahead here, through Sankey Lock, where boats joined the final part of the Sankey Brook to reach the Mersey. However, there were difficulties and delays due to tides and the winding nature of the Brook. The extension we now followed to the right, leading to Fiddlers Ferry Lock, was opened in 1762, at which point Sankey Lock ceased to be used. Soon the cooling towers of Fiddlers Ferry power station appeared in the distance.

Fiddler's Ferry 1
Fiddler’s Ferry power station

Now we’re on the Trans-Pennine Trail, with the railway that serves the power station running alongside the canal, on the inland side. From here to Spike Island it’s a long, straight hike, hemmed in on one side by the railway and the canal, mostly overgrown with dense rushes, and on the other by high fencing that seals walkers off from the river bank and the lagoons which provide the 195 million litres of water which the power station consumes daily from the Mersey.

That is, except at Fiddler’s Ferry Reach where the Ferry Tavern looks out over one of the most beautiful vistas of the river that I’ve encountered anywhere on the Mersey. Here, the river makes a broad sweep with views across to the flatlands of Moore Nature Reserve and, further south, Wigg Island Nature Reserve at Halton.  Beyond rises Windmill Hill, a bluff of red sandstone surmounted by Norton Priory.

Fiddler's ferry Reach on the Mersey 3

From earliest times, Fiddler’s Ferry was one of the few places where the Mersey could be crossed by ferry on the long stretch between Birkenhead and Warrington. And as at Birkenhead, the ferry crossing was operated by monks – in this case from Norton Priory near Runcorn.  The ferry ran until it was closed when the Manchester Ship Canal was constructed. Interestingly, the traditional spelling was Fidlers (one ‘d’), although the power station and maps now spell it ‘Fiddler’s’.

Fiddler's ferry Reach on the Mersey 2

Fiddler's ferry Reach on the Mersey 4

Fiddler's ferry Reach on the Mersey
Fiddler’s Ferry Reach on the Mersey

This is a beautiful spot, making a good deal more understandable the idea of day day-trippers coming here to watch the boats and the river, and visit the Ferry Tavern. Because, between 1856 and 1950, that was a regular thing: trains would bring day-trippers from Liverpool, Warrington and other places to the railway station that once existed on the line behind the inn. The pub was built when the canal extension opened in 1762, though almost certainly it would have replaced an earlier one.

The ferry Tavern
The Ferry Tavern

On the Ferry Tavern website, there’s an article  written in the mid-1990s by local historian Colin Mason which captures the special quality of this place:

The solitude of the place is what is most striking, and entirely in keeping with the shrill cries of the curlew and gentle, monotonous lapping of the mighty river only feet away. Tired of the city, there have been times when I have craved this sort of quiet oneness with nature in the raw, on the marsh, with the salty air rushing eastwards from the Irish Sea.

Step over the level crossing which carries coal to the Fidlers Ferry Power Station some distance away, and cross the bridge over the first navigable canal, the Sankey Brook Navigation, 1757, and you are indeed in a calmer world, isolated almost from the stress and bustle of a modern industrial society.

Famous, in a manner of speaking, in these parts for at least 200 years as an inn of some repute, The Ferry at Penketh could have been the settling for a Dickensian drama in a sepia film where young boy meets chained convict bound for Australia, on the marsh at night.

While a page on the BBC website that records recollections of the area before the power station has this evocative memory:

As children, well before the power station was built, one of the places to visit was Fiddlers Ferry which we travelled to on our home built bikes. We swam in the water there, fished for tiddlers and refeshed ourselves with jam butties and a bottle of Tizer. Fiddlers Ferry was a rural retreat away from the chemical and soap works which polluted the area.

The Ferry Tavern at Fiddler's Ferry by  Frank Ward
The Ferry Tavern at Fiddler’s Ferry by Frank Ward

You can find a selection of wonderful old photos of the Tavern on the history page of the pub’s website. That’s where I found the oil painting of the pub by Frank Ward who was ‘manager of the old sheep dip factory at Fidlers Ferry’ according to the site. The painting is not dated, but must be late 19th or early 20th century, since Ward was born in 1875 and died in 1922.

Fiddler's Ferry Marina
Fiddler’s Ferry Marina

Nearby is Fiddler’s Ferry Lock which provides access from the Mersey for the boats and yachts that are moored up in Fiddler’s Ferry Marina, located on a section of the canal, and accommodating a commercial boatyard and a yacht club.

Fiddler's Ferry lock 2 Fiddler's Ferry lock 3 Fiddler's Ferry lock

Between 1762 and 1833 Fiddlers Ferry Lock was the end of the Sankey Canal, where boats joined or left the tidal River Mersey. A second lock, now filled in, was built a short distance to the west, to enable more boats to lock through with each tide. The locks became disused after the canal was extended to Widnes in 1833. Fiddlers Ferry Lock was restored in the 1980s by Warrington Council and now provides access to the marina.

Fiddlers Ferry power station and canal
Fiddlers Ferry power station and canal overgrown with reeds

By now it was late afternoon, and with the temperature rising, the pub not being open, and the miles covered, it was a matter of thirsty boots, as Eric Andersen put it in his sixties folk song.  Moreover, from here the canal seems to stretch on endlessly, heading straight as a die for Widnes. It’s a dull and uninteresting hike with the canal silted up and overgrown with reeds, and the path hemmed in by the railway on one side and the high fence that cuts off the walker from the river on the other.

Fiddlers Ferry power station
The ever-present Fiddlers Ferry power station

The cooling towers of the power station loom constantly to the right. We mulled over the curious fact of a coal-fired power station once fired by coal from mines literally up the road, but now relying entirely on coal imported from the far side of the world. I wonder how long the plant will continue to operate if the movement to leave fossil fuels in the ground gains momentum?

Mersey view 1
The view from Widnes Warth

There is one breakout point, however.  A couple of miles beyond the pub it is possible to walk out onto the river bank at Widnes Warth Nature Reserve and drink in the panoramic view that takes in a sweep of the river looking across to the Wigg Island Nature Reserve on the opposite bank  and Norton Priory on the bluff beyond. ‘Warth’ is an old dialect word for a river bank or a flat meadow beside a river or estuary; I wonder if it appears in Robert Macfarlane’s latest lexicographic book, Landmarks?

Between the canal and the river, paths and viewing points have been constructed, with information boards to alert visitors to the diversity of wildlife it’s possible to see on the marshes.

Future Flower on Widnes Warth
Future Flower on Widnes Warth

It was there that I found a striking art work called Future Flower. In 2007, Widnes organised an international design competition to create a piece of landmark public art for the Widnes waterfront, as part of a wider programme of environmental improvement.  The winning entry, Future Flower was designed by the architectural practice Tonkin Liu. It’s a 14 metre-high piece that appears to grow out of the land, and move gently in the wind. Mini wind turbines transfer energy into pulsing red lights at night. Future Flower was designed to reflect the transformation of an area of former industrial dereliction, and took inspiration from the collision of industry and nature in this place where light reflects off the water, and the wind shimmers in the reeds.

I paused for a moment beneath the petals of Future Flower and thought of the monks, rowing travellers across a river teeming with life centuries ago.  As late as the 1760s the right to fish the abundant river cost as much as £400 a year when over 40 different species of fish thrived in its waters, including sea trout and Atlantic salmon.

Within two decades, however, the industrial revolution had begun its profound transformation of this part of the Northwest, as Manchester became the world’s first industrial city, and Liverpool the great port of the British empire. From the first cotton mills new industries grew, and the population exploded as workers flooded in to the area.

By 1877, the landscape through which we had walked was a toxic industrial wasteland. Due to the pollutants poured into the Brook by the local Leblanc alkali works, it was reported that:

The mud deposited in the Sankey Brook, near St Helens, has been found to contain no less than 2.26 percent of arsenic. … The water of the Sankey Brook is so acid that iron fittings cannot safely be used in the barges and lock gates.

By 1891, 500 acres of Widnes and Ditton Marshes were buried under an average depth of 12 feet of toxic galligu from soda works along the Sankey Canal. The land surrounding the canal became a polluted wilderness as the industrial waste and domestic refuse of St Helens was dumped wherever possible. Mature woodlands, for many years home to a great variety of wildlife were destroyed to provide even more space for tipping.

The limited sanitation of the time was completely overwhelmed. After the cholera epidemic of 1848 in Liverpool that killing hundreds of people, the city built a new sewage system. It saved lives, but emptied directly into the Mersey. By the 1960s the raw and partially treated sewage of five million people was being disgorged into the Mersey and its tributaries. Meanwhile, all along the Mersey a huge variety of polluting industries – chemicals, abattoirs, tanneries, detergent manufacturing, even food processing – poured toxic effluent into the river.

In recent decades, however, there has been a transformation, largely due to the work of the Mersey Basin Campaign launched in 1985.  Dr Peter Jones of North West Water Authority explained the scale of the problem faced back then in a Campaign publication, Who Saved the Mersey?:

When I joined North west water in 1974 the rivers in the Northwest were gruesome, whether you looked at the chemistry or the biology, by any indicator the Mersey was as bad as you could get. This was the birthplace of the chemical industry worldwide, so we had dangerous chemicals of all kinds – lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium, as well as organic chemicals like solvents. Thirty years ago, if it was a man-made chemical you could pretty much find it in the Mersey.

Today many forms of wildlife – otters, salmon, seals and sea birds – have returned to a cleaned-up Mersey.

Mersey Flat
An abandoned and decaying vessel

Approaching Spike Island, we came across a ruined vessel slowly rotting and subsiding into the canal. Was it a Mersey Flat, the type of doubled-ended barge that once worked the canal?

Spike Island was the name given to the area between the canal and the estuary at Widnes. It was once occupied by a chemical works, and numerous railway sidings and waste dumps. The area has now been landscaped, its maze of abandoned chemical factories, rail lines, canals and docks reclaimed as an attractive green space with views down towards the Runcorn Bridge.

Spike Island is also home to the Catalyst Museum, the only science museum in the UK solely devoted to chemistry. The Museum is housed in the former office block of Gossages’ Soap Works, makers of Magical soap bars, and later absorbed into the Unilever conglomerate.

Unfortunately, it is not possible at the moment to complete the walk along the canal to Spike Island: preparatory work for the second Runcorn crossing means that walkers are now re-routed inland around a lengthy and noisy diversion across busy dual carriageways.

Footsore and weary we had finally reached the end of the canal. In serious decline by the 1860s, its condition deteriorated and by 1898 the Ravenhead Branch had been closed. By 1932 the whole canal beyond Newton Common Lock was also abandoned. Sankey Sugar Works continued to use the canal until 1959, but the canal was finally abandoned in 1963, ending 200 years of industrial history.

In the sixties and seventies, much of the canal was destroyed, with long sections filled in with rubble from slum clearances and factory demolitions. The lock chambers, once bustling with activity were destroyed and the old lock gates were damaged beyond repair.

But now new life has been breathed into sections of the canal as we discovered.  A radical environmental clean-up means that wildlife has returned and a pleasant linear park created for leisure activities, including walking, cycling, fishing, and – in part at least – boating.

See also

Razzle Dazzle on the Mersey

Razzle Dazzle on the Mersey

One Saturday morning some time in the mid-1980s, when home-grown art works and photographs were displayed for sale on the railings outside the Bluecoat Arts Centre, I bought this moody photo, taken in 1984, of the Seacombe ferry arriving at the old wooden landing stage at Pier Head.  It’s either early morning or a late winter afternoon. Shot by a photographer who has signed the print, but whose signature I can’t decipher, this iconic image has hung in our hall since we moved in here some thirty years ago.

Ferry Cross the Mersey, 1984
Ferry Cross the Mersey, 1984

I love this photo. For me, it’s as evocative of the city I arrived in as a student in the sixties as Gerry Marsden’s lyric:

Life goes on day after day
Hearts torn in every way
So ferry ‘cross the Mersey
‘Cause this land’s the place I love
And here I’ll stay

I always see the city back then in monochrome, like this image. The ferry in the photo would be either the Woodchurch or her sister ship, the Mountwood, both of  which have plied the river constantly since coming into service in 1959 (it was the Mountwood that featured in the film Ferry Cross The Mersey, inspired by the Gerry & The Pacemakers song, and in the opening titles of The Liver Birds.

The Woodchurch  had a complete refit in 2003, returning to service as the Snowdrop (all the Mersey Ferries now have flower names; the Mountwood is now the Royal Iris).  I like to think it’s the Woodchurch in our photo, since it has now been transformed into a dazzling, colourful mobile artwork which, I’m certain, none of us back in the sixties when Gerry sang about it, or in the eighties when my photo was taken could ever have imagined. Imagine. This:

Peter Blake, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, 2014
Peter Blake, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, 2014

The hallucinatory paint job is the work of Sir Peter Blake, who was commissioned by Liverpool Biennial in partnership with Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW, the World War 1 Centenary cultural commemoration body.  Because, behind the dazzling, psychedelic colours, this work is actually a First World War memorial.

Dazzle Ferry 1

Dazzle Ferry 2

Dazzle Ferry 3

Dazzle Ferry 5
Setting forth on the Razzle

The Biennial website explains the ocular principles behind 1WW dazzle ships and their links to contemporary art:

Dazzle painting was a system for camouflaging ships that was introduced in early 1917, at a time when German submarines were threatening to cut off Britain’s trade and supplies. The idea was not to ‘hide’ the ships, but to paint them in such a way that their appearance was optically distorted, so that it was difficult for a submarine to calculate the course the ship was travelling on, and so know from what angle to attack. The dazzle was achieved by painting the ship in contrasting stripes and curves that broke up its shape. Characterised by garish colours and a sharp patchwork design of interlocking shapes, the spectacular ‘dazzle’ style was heavily indebted to Cubism.

Dazzle painting was invented by a marine painter, Norman Wilkinson, a future President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. Artist Edward Wadsworth, who supervised the application of ‘dazzle’ patterning to over 2,000 ships, later made a series of paintings on the subject.Though the practice has largely (but not entirely) fallen out of fashion in the military, ‘dazzle’ remains a source of inspiration to artists today.

Peter Blake, Design Motifs for Everybody Razzle Dazzle
Peter Blake, Design Motifs for Everybody Razzle Dazzle

So, as well as being a moving artwork, those who board the Snowdrop can learn more about the history of dazzle and the role that the Mersey Ferries took in the First World War from a display developed by curators from National Museums Liverpool and Tate Liverpool.

Peter Blake's Sgt Pepper album cover
Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper album cover

Peter Blake has had a long association with Liverpool over the years – most famously with the cover he designed for the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album in 1967 – but his Scouse connections go further back. While doing his National Service in the RAF, he would sail from Liverpool to Belfast, and in 1961 his Self Portrait With Badges won the junior section of the John Moores Prizes. He gave the £250 prize money to his dad.

Peter Blake, Self-Portrait with Badges, 1961
Peter Blake, Self-Portrait with Badges, 1961

Blake’s self-portrait shows his equal respect for historical tradition (he based the image on Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait The Blue Boy) and modern popular culture (Blake replaces blue silk with denim, and embeds references to his love for American youth culture – his baseball boots and badges, and the Elvis magazine).

Peter Blake, The First Real Target, 1961
Peter Blake, The First Real Target, 1961
Peter Blake, A Souvenir of the Peter Blake Retrospective, Tate Liverpool, 2007
Peter Blake, A Souvenir of the Peter Blake Retrospective, Tate Liverpool, 2007

Eight years ago, Tate Liverpool hosted Peter Blake: A Retrospective, the largest since an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1983, where I was able to see such works as the Self-Portrait and the delightful The Meeting’ or `Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney, painted after in 1983 a trip to California where he stayed with David Hockney, an ironic re-working of Gustave Courbet’s painting The Meeting or ‘Bonjour Monsieur Courbet’.

'The Meeting' or 'Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney' 1981-3
‘The Meeting’ or ‘Have a Nice Day, Mr Hockney’, 1981-3

Peter Blake’s work has always reflected his fascination with all aspects of popular culture, and the beauty to be found in everyday objects and surroundings. Many of his works feature found printed materials such as photographs, comic strips or advertising texts, combined with bold geometric patterns and the use of primary colours.

Peter Blake, Liverpool 2008, Capital of Culture, 2012
Peter Blake, Liverpool 2008, Capital of Culture, 2012

Blake’s works capture childhood images from the fifties and the optimistic youth culture of the sixties. His work is permeated with a nostalgia for childhood innocence.

Peter Blake  and the Dazzle Ferry
Peter Blake and the Dazzle Ferry

Everybody Razzle Dazzle: short Tate film

Those who take the ferry are entertained by the number that provided the inspiration for Peter Blake’s title – ‘Everybody Razzle Dazzle’ by Bill Haley:

A few years ago, we spent a a whole, sun-kissed day on the ferry Snowdrop – taking the Mersey Ferries cruise along the Manchester Ship Canal.

Apart from being dazzled by Peter Blake’s ferry, I continue to be besotted with the magnificent beauty of Liverpool’s waterfront – especially as seen on a day of clear blue skies, when the temperature on the Mersey was the same as at Nice on the Mediterranean.

Pier Head April 14

Pier Head April 14 3

Pier Head April 14 2
Brutal juxtapositions at the Pier Head

See also

Walking the Mersey (sort of) from south Manchester to Warrington

Walking the Mersey (sort of) from south Manchester to Warrington
Timperley to Warrington 1
Leaving Timperley on the Bridgewater canal

More than a year has passed since I completed the most recent stage of my project to walk the river Mersey from its source to the sea.  I left the river at Sale in the south Manchester conurbation, where it crossed the Bridgewater canal.  Now, looking at the map, I realised that it was going to be virtually impossible to walk the bank of the river from this point to Warrington since the Mersey is either surrounded by industry and inaccessible to walkers- or absorbed into the Manchester Ship canal.  Only at Warrington, another ten miles or so downstream, does the river regain an independent identity and become accessible again to walkers.

So for this stage I decided to follow the Bridgewater canal through the broad valley that the Mersey shaped as it wended its way through the Cheshire countryside, aeons ago, long before humans settled here and thought of naming the place.

I got the train to Deansgate, and then the Metrolink tram out to Timperley, where I rejoined the Bridgewater canal.  The tow-path walk forms part of the Cheshire Ring, a 97 mile circuit of canal paths through the county.

Timperley to Warrington 2
The Bridgewater canal: Walking from Timperley towards Warrington

The Bridgewater Canal was developed in stages, taking more than 35 years to complete. Construction began in 1759 – the section I walked opened in 1766. It’s a ‘contour canal’ – so-called because it maintains the same elevation along its length. There are, therefore, no locks. The canal is named after the man whose idea it was: Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater who built the canal to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to the industrial areas of Manchester. The Bridgewater is Britain’s first real canal (rather than the canalised sections of rivers that heralded the age of the canal), so it is the forerunner of the network of canals that developed between the 1760s and the 1830s.

As a young man Francis Egerton, travelling in Europe, had been impressed with the canals on the continent, and this spurred him on to develop this means of transport to serve his collieries in Lancashire. He was 23 years old when he presented his first Bill to Parliament to compel landowners to cede land for the construction. He gained support from businessmen in Manchester and Salford with his undertaking to reduce the delivered price of coal in Manchester to no more that 4d per cwt.  The first stage from Worsley to Castlefield in Manchester opened in 1761, and did indeed supply Manchester with cheaper coal.

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Canalside apartment development near Altrincham

For the first few miles of the walk the canal skirted the northern fringes of Altrincham, where Manchester’s suburban sprawl pushes towards Cheshire farm land. It’s been interesting on my canal walks to see how the growing popularity of waterside living has resulted in new canalside housing development, sometimes quite prestigious.  There was an architecturally dramatic example on this stretch, with twin apartment blocks protruding above the canal like the bows of two ocean liners.

Timperley to Warrington 4
The Linotype works at Broadheath

These days Altrincham is part of the south Manchester commuter belt, prosperous and often labelled ‘stockbroker country’.  But Altrincham, and especially Broadheath, the area through I was passing now, was once industrial, with its own docks, warehouses and factories. In 1801 there were four cotton mills in Altrincham, part of its textile industry, although they had closed by mid-century. Later, the proximity to rail, canal and road links was attractive to companies making machine tools, cameras and grinding machines, and by 1914, there were 14 companies operating in Broadheath, employing thousands of workers.

One remnant of that industrial presence remains on the opposite bank – the fine Linotype Works building, dated 1897. The works utilized the Bridgewater canal for both receiving raw materials and distributing finished products – there once was a wharf here. Linotype also created 172 workers’ homes near the factory, that manufactured linotype printing machines.

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South of Altrincham: leafy suburbia and leisure craft

Soon, though, the canal pushes out beyond the conurbation, into leafy suburbia and then open farm land.  The canal side scene changes: along the banks up to Lymm and beyond are many enterprises dedicated to supporting the leisure craft that now ply up and down the canal, and several times I came upon long stretches of moored narrowboats, dreaming of weekend and holiday voyages.

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Serving the needs of those using the canal for leisure
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Narrow boats moored up on the approach to Lymm

Into the countryside, and it became clear what a good year it has been for berries and soft fruit – the wet, chilly spring followed by long, warm summer days full of sunshine has been ideal, apparently.  We’ve seen it on our allotment, and in the park where the rowan trees have been resplendent with scarlet berries these past weeks.  Along the canal, rowan, elderberries and blackberries offered a profuse bounty, and I met a few people out picking blackberries.

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
– from ‘Blackberry-picking by Seamus Heaney

Timperley to Warrington 6
A good year for Rowan berries

A mile or so of country walking brought me to Dunham Massey, where I broke away from the canal to take a quick look at the Dunham Massey estate, a National Trust property with a Georgian house set in a magnificent deer park.  The place  was first mentioned in 1323, but the present house was built in 1732 for George Booth who was descended from the first owner, Hamon de Massey.

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The Georgian house at Dunham Massey
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Just a few of the one huhdred fallow deer

I only had time for a quick look, strolling through the deer park that extends before the house, and where holidaying children were entranced by the deer (there’s a herd of around 150 fallow deer on the estate). I took a walk through the winter garden where I was impressed by the stands of silver birch.

Timperley to Warrington 11
Silver birch in the Winter Garden

The thing I was really here to see was the old corn mill that has stood here for 500 years and is the oldest building in the park. There is a long history of water mills on the Dunham estate, dating back to 1347. There were probably five medieval water mills on the River Bollin nearby, all leased to tenant millers. The present Old Mill was constructed around 1616, and would have been financially important to the Dunham Massey estate.  ‘Soke rights’ meant that they could insist that all the corn grown by their tenants was milled here.  From its construction until the 1860s, the Old Mill was a corn mill. It ground wheat, malt and barley for the House and for the local tenant farmers.

Timperley to Warrington 14
The Old Mill at Dunham Massey

By the 19th century the mill was too small to cope with the amount of grain produced on the estate, and in the 1860s it was converted to a water-powered sawmill and was replaced by Bollington Mill half a mile away on the river Bollin, now converted into apartments.

The saw mill was used for processing tree trunks to produce fence posts, floorboards, window frames and other carpentry and joinery elements for the estate.  In the early 20th century the mill was replaced by an up to date steam-powered saw mill located outside the park.

Timperley to Warrington 15
Crossing the Bollin at Dunham

A short walk from the Old Mill brought me to the river Bollin.  I grew up in a Cheshire landscape shaped by the Bollin and its own tributary, the Deane.  At Dunham, an aqueduct carries the Bridgewater canal over the Bollin.  The coming of the Bridgewater canal did not affect the Bollin, but the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal did. For a long stretch between Irlam and Bollin Point, the Mersey and the Ship Canal are one and the same. So now, instead of joining the Mersey as one of that river’s age-old tributaries, the Bollin now flows into the Ship Canal and its original confluence with the Mersey has been lost.  Just beyond Bollin Point, the Mersey leaves the Ship Canal and follows its original course towards Warrington.

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The Bollin: looking upstream

I stopped for awhile at the nearby pub, delightfully named The Swan with Two Nicks, Little Bollington’s old village pub.  On the pub’s website there’s an explanation of how the pub got its name: it’s all to do with swan upping, the annual process of taking a census of swans on a particular river and marking them.  These days, the birds are ringed, but in the past the two companies who have carried out the count under Royal Charter since the 15th century – the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company, two Livery Companies of the City of London – made their own marks on the birds’ beaks: one nick for a dyers’ bird and two for a vintners’.

From the medieval period into the twentieth century, the entire village of Little Bollington belonged to the estates of the Earls of Stamford and Warrington whose family seat was Dunham Massey. Each building in the village was given a number in the estate papers. In those days, the formal name of The Swan with Two Nicks was Bollington Tenement No. 17.

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The Swan with Two Nicks

Having enjoyed a welcome pint of Swan with Two Nicks ale, specially brewed for the pub, I rejoined the Bridgewater canal and forged on towards Lymm and Warrington.  Bridgewater decided to extend the Canal to the Mersey tideway at Runcorn to establish a link with the port of Liverpool. Despite opposition, the Duke’s third Act to make this possible was passed in March 1762.  The need for an embankment and aqueduct over the Mersey at Sale Moor, and across the Bollin, coupled with disputes with landowners, delayed completion for many years.

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Agden Wharf, a mile and a half outside Lymm

Walking up to Lymm, I wondered why Bridgewater routed his canal through this pretty Cheshire village.  I found the answer on an interpretation board by the canal in the village. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Lymm was a small industrial town, and the canal transported goods produced in Lymm, including the production of nails and metal hoops for beer barrels and fustian (a coarse cloth made of cotton mixed with flax to produce labourers’ clothing  and sailcloth), as well as farm crops.  One of the old canal warehouses still remains at Agden Wharf, a mile and a half outside Lymm.

One of the goods transported to Lymm was nightsoil from Manchester: in the days before sewerage systems, human excrement was collected from the city and transported into Cheshire to be spread on farmers’ fields.

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By the canal at Lymm
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An old lane by the canal in Lymm

Today, Lymm is a pretty village, noted for its historic buildings. But it’s a place that has stood four-square in the line of successive transport developments. Bridgewater’s plans for the canal divided the village, and opposition by local landowners held up its development. Nowadays, however, the canal provides a picturesque backcloth to village life as  narrow boats cruise leisurely up and down.

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Picturesque canalside at Lymm

Those who opposed the plans for the canal lobbied Parliament. A few decades later it was the canal owners who lobbied Parliament to oppose the construction of the railways.  The railway came to Lymm in 1853 – a line long since closed and the track torn up, but leaving behind the track bed which would provide the last two or three miles of my walk.

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Opposition to HS2 in Lymm

Now a new railway is coming to Lymm and the locals are up in arms.  As I walked through the village I encountered several posters rallying opposition to HS2 – the Manchester spur will cross the Bridgewater canal and the Bollin to the east of Lymm, and fears are growing about the impact on the local alndscape.

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Opposition to HS2

Ironically, for the next mile, as I walked along a bucolic stretch of the canal and then left it to join the Trans-Pennine Trail, the roar of traffic on on the M6 nearby was a constant presence.  The noise grew as I approached the point where the Trail passes under the motorway, just south of the Thelwall Viaduct.

Timperley to Warrington 28
A bucolic stretch of the canal past Lymm

I branched off from the canal to join the Trans-Pennine Trail for the last mile or so to the Manchester Ship canal on the outskirts of Warrington. The  trail follows the route of an old Garston to Timperley railway line that opened in 1853. with stations along the way at Dunham Massey, Lymm and Thelwall.

Timperley to Warrington 33
Approaching the M6

With the M6 behind me, the Trail was peaceful, a green tunnel that felt almost like walking through an ancient holloway.

Timperley to Warrington 35
The Trans-Pennine trail near Thelwall

I pondered the incongruity (at least these days) of a railway line from Timperley to Garston.  Back then, I suppose, it linked the industries around Altrincham to the Garston docks, as well as giving the rural inhabitants of Dunham Massey and  Lymm the opportunity to step on a train in their village and get off in Liverpool or Manchester.

Ownership of the line passed to LNWR in 1861 then the LMS in 1923, until the formation of British Rail in 1948. In the following years, however, the story of the line is one echoed across the country – an increase in car ownership led to a decrease in use of railways. The infamous Beeching Report recommended closure of the line, and passenger services ended in 1962. The line continued to carry freight for a further 23 years. But by then extensive repairs were required to the high level bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal at Latchford and the line was closed, the last train running in July 1985. The Trans-Pennine trail opened in 1993.

Timperley to Warrington 36
Latchford bridge

At Latchford the Trail leaves the railway embankment (the bridge would obviously defeat every risk assessment schedule you could throw at it).  Passing under the bridge, I arrived at the Manchester Ship Canal. The last time I was here was on a blisteringly hot day in June 2009, sailing up the canal from Liverpool on one of the regular Mersey Ferries cruises.

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Latchford Locks on the Ship Canal

I crossed the canal on the Barton Road swing bridge and looked east towards Latchford locks.  Turning in the other direction, I saw a container ship approaching from the direction of Liverpool.  As I reached the Warrington bank of the canal, warning bells rang and lights flashed, announcing that the swing bridge was about to close to allow the ship to pass.

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Container ship approaching

I stood and watched as the bridge swung round on its massive cog to allow the ship to pass.  An impressive piece of engineering that is now a grade II listed structure.  Even more impressive, a little further downstream, is the Barton Aqueduct Swing Bridge that carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Ship Canal in the form of a giant rectangular metal box!

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Barton Road Swing Bridge

That was it, I was done for the day.  I caught a bus to the train station, passing over the river Mersey on the way.  Next time, I’ll walk the Mersey around Warrington.


See also

Cressington and Grassendale parks: river access restricted

Cressington and Grassendale parks: river access restricted

Cressington 4

Recently, when describing a Mersey estuary walk along the Garston shore,  I wrote that, on arriving at the boundary of Garston docks,

this as far as you can go: Garston Docks and the private residential Grassendale and Cressington Esplanades prevent public access to the riverside.  The docks I can understand, but as a freeborn Englishman I can’t understand the idea that a private estate should have the right to deny people access to a great river.

That’s not entirely true: although the long-distance footpath, the Mersey Way, comes to an abrupt halt here, the river front at Grassendale and Cressington Parks in Aigburth is accessible on foot, even if you can’t continue your walk through to the adjacent Otterspool promenade or onward to the Pier Head.  A couple of weeks back, I went down to have a look.

Grassendale gate
Sandstone gates at the entrance to Grassendale Park

Grassendale and Cressington Parks are 19th century gated private estates, built for wealthy Liverpool merchants in what was then open country.  They were ‘carriage folk’ who had the means to travel to and from the city centre.  Turn off the busy dual carriageway of Aigburth Road through the ornate sandstone gates and past the elegant sandstone lodge house and you enter a quiet enclave of Victorian mansions laid out in the early to mid 19th century along carriage ways both leading to an elegant riverside esplanade.

Cressington Park Lodge
Cressington Park Lodge

But beware! Don’t attempt to bring your car down here.  These are still private estates and on every lamp post there are warnings that if you are not a resident with a parking permit and you dare to park your car anywhere on these deserted avenues you will be hit with a substantial fine (£85, if I recall correctly).  So I parked on Aigburth Road and walked down leafy roads past detached Victorian villas, no two alike, each standing in their own grounds.

Cressington Park notice
This is a private park – there is no public right of way!

Grassendale and Cressington Parks, begun in 1845 and 1846, respectively, were the second and third of Aigburth’s gated  riverside housing developments (Fulwood Park, which has the largest and most elegant houses, was the first). The residents even had their own railway station when the Cheshire Lines branch opened in 1861.  Today, as a notice (above) warns, access to the station by non-residents remains a concession granted by the Trustees.

Cressington Park
Cressington Park

Restrictive covenants relating to the size of plots, building lines, external materials and other design features continue to be enforced by Trustees of the Parks. Cressington Park consists, mainly of solid, but not particularly outstanding, red-brick Victorian villas, though I did notice several plots where modernist post-war dwellings had been erected.  Had these been empty plots, or were earlier buildings demolished?

Cressington railway station
Cressington railway station

The railway station is one of the most desirable features of Cressington Park.  The Liverpool Heritage Bureau describes it as ‘a splendid complex of buildings with elaborate details such as pierced bargeboards, half-hipped roofs, and curious eaves brackets’.  Renovated by British Rail back in the 1970s, the cast iron canopy is now under threat of being demolished, having fallen into disrepair.

Very few houses in the parks are of the same design, the most attractive being those built in the 1840s in Grassendale Park. Some have fine iron balconies and beautifully proportioned windows, doors and stucco details. The later Victorian and Edwardian houses are not as architecturally distinguished, but, as Pevsner has commented, ‘the whole area achieves unity and grace through a wealth of generous planting and mature trees’.  As I neared the riverfront, I noticed that the parks also possessed a private tennis club.  But perhaps what gave the parks their greatest exclusivity was having their own stretch of river promenade.

Grassendale Promenade Early 20th century postcard
Grassendale Promenade: early 20th century postcard

The view from the eastern end of Cressington esplanade is not so elegant: razor-edged fencing and floodlights mark the boundary of Garston docks.  At its height, over 1000 people were employed at Garston Docks and on the miles of railways that serviced and connected them.  Victorian Garston bore no resemblance whatsoever to the rural village had once been. Public health, hygiene, and living conditions were desperately poor, and the working environment was dangerous and hard. By 1937, there were 93 miles of railway sidings serving the docks, with 8 miles of these running alongside the quays.

The economic and industrial decline that afflicted all of Liverpool’s docklands in the 1960s and 1970s had a devastating effect on  Garston as local industries and shipping declined.  The docks have revived in recent years, with a new container terminal that handles a growing volume of freight, but which is much less labour-intensive.

Garston docks

Garston docks

Cressington 2

The view west along Cressington esplanade.

Cressington 3

Low tide on the Mersey, looking across to the Wirral shore.

Cressington 6

The elegant Victorian terraces of Grassendale promenade.

Cressington 7

Reaching the end of Grassendale promenade, Otterspool promenade is visible less than a hundred yards away, but there is no public right of way.  Leaning over the metal fence that forms the boundary here, I noticed this mysterious culvert.  I’ve since discovered that this marks the end point of a network of 19th century drainage channels laid down at the time the parks were established.

Cressington 8

Cressington 9

See also

A poem on Otterspool Prom

A poem on Otterspool Prom

Carol Rumen’s current Poem of the Week on The Guardian website grabbed my attention since its subject – Otterspool Prom – is the riverside walk and area of parkland by the Mersey where I often walk our dog.  It’s by Peter Robinson who, I have to admit, is a poet I’ve not encountered previously, even though he grew up in Liverpool (he was born up the river in Salford in 1953).  He has a distinguished career as a poet, critic, teacher, editor and translator, and this poem comes from his latest volume, The Returning Sky, published last year.


Otterspool Prom

‘O cursed spite’
– Hamlet

There’s a dazzle of sunlight on the low-tide river
and our far shore
has a silver-grey blur, bright as never, never,
ever before.

You see it’s enough to bring tears to the eyes
by silhouetting trees,
winter boughs spidery on mist-like white skies
twitched in a breeze.

But then down the promenade its flyers release
their dragon-tailed kite;
frost on the pitches is shrinking by degrees;

a student’s words return, her going ‘England’s shite!’
and I’m like ‘Please
yourself’ in sunshine born as if to set it right.

17 February 2008

It’s an appropriate poem to post today: it celebrates a day in February, and this has been a day of glorious spring-like sunshine when the ‘dazzle of sunlight’ did indeed shine on the river, ‘bright as never, never, ever before’.

The photos here were taken on Otterspool Prom last month, and in other springs. There’s a full discussion of the poem by Carol Rumen here.

Every year, in the third week of February, there is a day, or, more usually, a run of days, when one can say for sure that the light is back. Some juncture has been reached, and the light spills into the world from a sun suddenly higher in the sky. Today, a Sunday, is such a day, though the trees are still stark and without leaves; the grasses are dry and winter-beaten.

The sun is still low in the sky, even at noon, hanging over the hills southwest. Its light spills out of the southwest, the same direction as the wind: both sunlight and wind arrive together out of the same airt, an invasion of light and air out of a sky of quickly moving clouds, working together as a swift team.
– Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines

A walk in the edgelands: along the Garston shore

A walk in the edgelands: along the Garston shore

Coastal Reserve 15

We’re still enjoying days of crisp, February blue skies, so when I had to get something from B&Q on Speke Retail Park, I decided to take our dog and walk a stretch of the Mersey estuary shore I hadn’t explored before.  Two minutes drive from the bustle of the shops and the roar of traffic along Speke Road there’s a hidden pocket of wildness and Edgeland strangeness.

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Speke-Garston Coastal Reserve is a haven of tranquillity carved out of the old Speke Airport site.  It consists of a stretch of the estuary shore from Garston Docks to Speke Hall.  The hi-tech office and warehouse blocks of the Estuary Business Park are never out of sight, but from the footpaths and cycle trails that wend their way through meadows and banks of tall reeds alongside the river there are fine views over the Mersey and the silence is broken only by the calls of sea birds and waders – and the occasional plane making its approach to John Lennon Airport.

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This may be the edgelands, described by Marion Shoard (who coined the term) as a terrain of ‘rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant, office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland’.  Raggedy, it may be, but it is peaceful, and the mix of saltmarsh, tidal mudflats, grassland, reedbeds, farmland and wildflower meadows attracts birds of great number and variety.  No wonder the area is popular with bird watchers.

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I could hear them (the birds, that is) – but, apart from the familiar cry of Oystercatchers, I wasn’t sure what I was hearing.  However, the RSPB and bird bloggers report that along this shore can routinely be seen plenty of the common wader species: Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Redshank, and Snipe together with Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Grey Heron, and Cormorant.

I walked out from the car park at the roundabout on Blackburne Street where sandstone marker stones with plaques that announce the Coastal Reserve suggest ambitious plans a few years back when the Business Park first opened.  If there were plans, it looks like they were abandoned soon after: the car park is deeply pot-holed and the the sandstone boulders covered in graffiti.

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I walked southwest, towards Speke Hall.  If you are walking the shoreline path (now designated the Mersey Way) in the other direction, this as far as you can go: Garston Docks and the private residential Grassendale and Cressington Esplanades prevent public access to the riverside.  The docks I can understand, but as a freeborn Englishman I can’t understand the idea that a private estate should have the right to deny people access to a great river.

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The boundary of the Garston docks is marked here by an old sandstone jetty and tin-roofed warehouse.  The tide was out and the mud flats glistened in the brilliant sunshine.  Inland, across the strip of rough grassland, the new low-level office blocks and company headquarters of the Business Park gleamed white and silver.

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The path was fringed with tall reeds in winter colours of gold and brown.  Across the river, the stacks of Stanlow oil refinery gleamed through the haze.  There were few around apart from one or two people walking dogs and a couple of guys with a van beachcombing: hauling huge driftwood timbers up from the mud flats.  But there were birds – lots of them, a constant background chorus of cries and calls.

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It’s this haunting, slightly disorientating juxtaposition of the natural and the ordered, the sublime and the unlovely that marks out the edgelands.  Here were mysterious concrete structures and piles of rubble – left-overs from the old airport site presumably – amidst the reeds and wild flower seed heads. Look one way, and the land had a half-abandoned feel; look the other way and there were the pristine new buildings of the Business Park.

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This is the kind of landscape which Edgelands: Journeys Into England’s True Wilderness by Liverpool-born poet Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts celebrates.  The two poets begin their book with this explanation of the attraction that these landscapes can hold:

For a long while – an entire childhood, in fact – we wondered where the countryside actually was, or even if it really existed. Growing up on the edge of two cities – Liverpool and Manchester – in the early Seventies, it was easy enough to walk for a short while and soon find yourself lost in back lanes or waste ground; to follow the wooded perimeters of a golf course; an old path leading through scratchy shrubland, or the course of a drainage ditch. It was easy enough to find yourself on the edges of arable land; to follow the track bed of a dismantled railway or descend into an abandoned quarry. But none of this ever really felt like the countryside.

Anyone who has spent a childhood mooching around the fringes of four English towns and cities, where urban and rural negotiate and renegotiate their borders, might have come up with the word “edgelands”. If you know those places where overspill housing estates break into scrubland; wasteland. If you know this underdeveloped, unwatched territory, you know that they have “edge”. We might have come up with it ourselves, but geographer Marion Shoard got there first. Her writing on England’s edgelands; her call to arms, for poets and novelists to celebrate them and above all her naming of this ground, was the starting point for our study of these areas. […]

I think that one important aspect of the edgelands that Farley and Roberts identify is relevant here on the Garston shore: the mutability of edgeland territory.  They write that the edgelands feel anything but timeless:

Revisit an edgelands site you haven’t seen for six months, and likely as not there will be a Victorian factory knocked down, a business park newly built, a section of waste ground cleared and landscaped, a pre-war warehouse abandoned and open to the elements.  Such are the constantly shifting sands of edgelands…

‘As difficult to pin down as poetry’ they write: decay and stasis, but also dynamic and deeply mysterious.  ‘Edgelands are always on the move’: true here, where I’m walking on the landscaped rubble of the old 1930s airport (a few streets away, the elegant 1930s terminal building is now the Crowne Plaza Hotel), while behind me the clean lines of Estuary Park’s new office blocks coruscate in the low winter sun.

Some of the Park boulevards I drove along to get here are so new they don’t show up on Google Maps.  The approach is landscaped in the way of business parks that aim to attract prestigious, high-tech companies: manicured lawns and reed-fringed lakes.

But, cheek-by-jowl with carefully-managed landscaping is a rough and ready wildness, a sense of entropy and decay, and slip-sliding disorder:

Somewhere in the hollows and spaces between our carefully-managed wilderness areas and the creeping, flattening effects of global capitalism, there are still places where an overlooked England truly exists; places where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard.

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As Farley and Symmons Roberts note, it was Marion Shoard who coined the term, in an essay ‘Edgelands‘ published in Remaking the Landscape in 2002:

Britain’s towns and cities do not usually sit cheek by jowl with its countryside, as we often casually assume. Between urban and rural stands a kind of landscape quite different from either. Often vast in area, though hardly noticed, it is characterised by rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant, office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland. All these heterogeneous elements are arranged in an unruly and often apparently chaotic fashion against a background of unkempt wasteland frequently swathed in riotous growths of colourful plants, both native and exotic. This peculiar landscape is only the latest version of an interfacial rim that has always separated settlements from the countryside to a greater or lesser extent. In our own age, however,this zone has expanded vastly in area, complexity and singularity. Huge numbers of people now spend much of their time living, working or moving within or through it. Yet for most of us, most of the time, this mysterious no man’s land passes unnoticed: in our imaginations, as opposed to our actual lives, it barely exists. […]

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I walked as far as the lighting gantry that juts out into the Mersey and which, at night, guides the planes into John Lennon airport.  This was the end of the last walk I did along the Oglet shore last August.  Before I reached the gantry I passed the Liverpool Sailing Club, housed in a remarkable (and, I thought, quite beautiful) building shaped in the form of the billowing sail of a yacht.  The Club’s concrete slipway provides the only access for sailing boats to the Mersey from the north shore.

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I retraced my steps, entranced by a landscape which is, I think, magical, even though it is, in Marion Shoard’s words, ‘raw and rough’.  The edge-lands, she said, do not conform to people’s idea of the picturesque :

On the contrary, they seem desolate, forsaken and unconnected even to their own elements let alone to our preferred version of human life. Tidiness is absent: here no neat manicured lawns with sharply demarcated edges are found. If there is grassland, it is likely to be coarse and shaggy. …  swamped by a riot of wild, invasive plants that seem to over-run everything in their path: fragments of tarmac, wrecks of cars and derelict buildings.

There is a wild beauty here, something to be treasured so near to the city.

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See also

Walking the Mersey: Oglet shore

Walking the Mersey: Oglet shore

This is the second of two walks that I took along a stretch of the Mersey Way, accompanied by our dog and starting at the end of Dungeon Lane, a road that runs, alongside the perimeter fence of John Lennon Airport, from Speke estate down to the river.  Last time I headed southeast to Hale Point; this time I turned northwest to follow the Oglet shore parallel to the runways of John Lennon Airport.

This is a landscape of strange juxtapositions and incongruities:  an airport control tower looms across a field of potatoes, wild banks of gorse share the view with the cracking towers and storage tanks of Stanlow oil refinery across the river, and a horse gallops through pasture as an aircraft passes low overhead.

The views are good today: across the estuary, the Clwydian hills with the distinctive peak of Moel Famau lie distant and blue. There may be an airport just a field away, but this is old country: Neolithic flint scatters have been found here, close to the Mersey shore. People may have lived here 5000 years ago, or simply come to the river to fish.

Walking northwest along the Mersey Way, it’s plain that, despite the airport and Speke housing estate, this is still farming country, and surprisingly rural.  The path keeps to the bluffs above the river, skirting the edge of fields of barley and potatoes.  But whereas, walking in the other direction towards Hale, the path is easy and clearly defined, here I found it overgrown and almost impenetrable – especially for a diminutive King Charles spaniel!   As soon as possible I broke off the path and scrambled down to the foreshore.  The tide was out and, at least for a time, the going was much easier along the sandy shoreline.

The estuary here is broad, with large areas of saltmarsh and extensive intertidal sand and mud flats, edged by boulder clay cliffs.  It was low tide and looking out across the estuary to the Cheshire hills and Stanlow oil refinery, the river seemed, apart from a few meandering water channels, to be  one long stretch of sands.  Even so, it seems amazing to contemplate the idea of walking across the river here.  Yet that is what Graham Boanas, a charity fundraiser, did in the summer of 2006. He walked from Ince Banks near Ellesmere Port to Oglet – a distance of two miles. Although he is a remarkable 6 foot nine tall, Boanas struggled against strong currents, treacherous mud and shifting sandbanks.

Walking the Oglet shore today, with its mud banks and washed up litter at the high tide line, it’s hard to imagine that, even into the 1970s, families would come here for a day out on the beach.  In Speke Memories, Vinny Edwards recalls childhood days on Oglet shore after his family was rehoused to Speke in the late 1960s:

The summers seemed endless in those days …we would spend all day playing on the fields next to the airport runways …there was marshland where we would go fishing with nets for newts , sticklebacks and frogspawn….or we would go egging ….but we would leave the house with an old lemonade bottle of water…and we’d be back home for tea .

We would also go down Oggy Shore….does anyone remember standing under the planes as they landed?  We used to throw stones at them as they flew to their landing a hundred yards further on down. We’d go down to Oggy and on those hot days we’d walk along to Hale lighthouse…..there used to even be a beach in those days and I have old black and white photos of us as a family on the foreshore at Oglet beach….

Looking at Oglet shore these days its hard to recognise as my old playground of 30 years ago. However, it is great to see how the wildlife has adopted my old stamping ground.

Similarly, in his excellent book Discover Liverpool, Ken Pye also recalls coming here with is parents in the late 1950s, skipping around the concrete pyramids on the beach (laid as tank traps during the War, and now reduced to rubble on the high tide line), and later, as a teenager in the 1960s, when he and his mates would bring girlfriends to steal kisses and swim in the river (risky before the clean-up, when domestic sewage and industrial pollutants were discharged directly into the river). Pye includes in his book this evocative photograph of youngsters having fun at Oglet back in those days.

The biography of Paul McCartney, Many Years from Now, by Barry Miles also recalls childhood days along this shore:

Speke was named after the swine fields that surrounded Liverpool; the Anglo-Saxon ‘Spic’ means bacon. The old village of Speke, together with the hamlet of Oglet, had only thirty-seven houses when construction began in 1936 of a ‘new model town’. Over 35,000 houses and flats were built, mainly to house people from the slums of the south end of Liverpool. Despite being well equipped with schools, clinics, parks and playing fields, it was a pretty soulless place. The idea of rehousing people in rural surroundings didn’t work. They missed the street life, the local pub, the corner shops and sense of community and felt that the council had taken them and dumped them in a field out of sight. The low, monotonous terraced houses, the lack of nearby shops or entertainment and the great distance from the city centre quickly combined to make it into a rough working-class ghetto, separated from the rest of Liverpool by an industrial estate and the airport. However, there were thick woods nearby, full of bluebells in spring, now engulfed by a Ford motor factory, and it was only a short walk to the River Mersey.

For Paul and Michael [his brother], the best thing about living in Speke was the countryside. In a couple of minutes they could be in Dungeon Lane, which led through the fields to the banks of the Mersey. The river is very wide at this point, with the lights of Ellesmere Port visible on the far side across enormous shifting banks of mud and sand pecked over by gulls. On a clear day you could see beyond the Wirral all the way to Wales. Paul would often cycle the two and a half miles along the shoreline to the lighthouse at Hale Head, where the river makes a 90-degree turn, giving a panoramic view across the mud and navigation channels to the industrial complex of Runcorn on the far side. These are lonely, cold, windy places, the distant factories and docks dwarfed by the size of the mud banks of the river itself.

I like the strange juxtapositions and incongruities of this landscape: the airport control tower looming over the fields of potato and barley, the modernistic, gleaming warehouse blocks of the terminal buildings alongside the old red brick farmhouse at Oglet.

What I didn’t like – and began to feel depressed by – was the way the shoreline is littered with industrial and domestic detritus  – discarded bottles, crates, tyres, old shoes and wellies, road signs, buckets, and plastic, plastic, plastic. In one place a complete wooden bench – in good condition and of municipal design – had been washed ashore right way up, looking incongruously as if it had been placed there deliberately. The quality of the river water may be good again, and salmon have returned to breed, but this littered shore is evidence that the river is still regarded as a convenient place to dump rubbish.

Encountering this concrete pillar, original function unknown, I was reminded of the early hominids discovering the black monolith at the beginning of the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  And we all know what that led to…

My walk ends just short of the airport light gantry that juts out into the river just below where the Tudor half-timbered Speke Hall stands, incongruously only a few yards from the runway and new terminal buildings of the airport. You can’t see the Elizabethan manor house from the shore because of the Speke Hall bund, created to conceal the runway from the house.

Liverpool Airport was a product of the craze for airport development that gripped Britain’s towns and cities in the inter-war years. It was built on land that once formed part of the Speke Hall estate.  Following the death of Adelaide Watts, the last private owner of the house, ownership passed to Liverpool Corporation which saw Speke as an ideal site for airport development. The original Speke Airport was a large levelled grassed area to the other side of Speke Hall from the present airport. The first flight from the new airfield was in 1930, though the airport didn’t officially open until 1933. When it did it had the most impressive airport buildings in the country, including the Art Deco terminal building and control tower (now the Crowne Plaza Hotel) and two nearby hangars (one now a sports centre, the other the headquarters of Shop Direct).

The former terminal building of Speke Airport

The development of the original northern airfield required a large acreage of the former Speke Estate be converted from agricultural to aviation use. The resulting airfield was, however, compact and the majority of flights would take off over the Mersey. The redevelopment of the airport in the 1980s resulted in the construction of the new runway required for jet aircraft on the new site nearer to the river at Oglet.

The Beatles arriving at Speke Airport for the northern premiere of A Hard Day’s Night, 10 July 1964

The runway development of the 1980s swallowed up more of the Speke Estate and led to the southern part of Speke Hall’s ornate gardens being concreted over, effectively separating the Hall from the River Mersey.  Though now surrounded by the airport and new industrial units, Speke Hall remains a stunning building: it always has always felt to me slightly surreal, encountering this a wood-framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house, built in the mid-16th century, amidst the hurly-burly of 21st century life reflected in airport arrivals and departures, industrial units and Speke retail park.

Speke Hall was built by the Norris family, and three generations lived there before the family’s Catholic faith led to them losing the estate after the Civil War, and the house being left in a state of neglect. In the late 18th century, Richard Watt, a merchant and slave trader, bought the house with profits made from Jamaican sugar plantations. He began much needed restorative work before leasing the house to Frederick Leyland who, from modest beginnings, had made his fortune in shipping.

There’s an etching of Speke Hall done by James Abbott McNeill Whistler in 1870 that’s in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery, as well as a rather wonderful oil painting entitled Whistler and the Leyland Family in the Billiard Room, Speke Hall.

Speke Hall by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1870)

The story behind these works is that Leyland was a great patron of the arts (sometimes referred to as ‘the Medici of Merseyside’,he was responsible for the superb William Morris wallpapers which are a special feature of the house), and especially of  the Pre-Raphaelites and Whistler. Whistler eventually received an invitation to stay with the Leyland family at Speke Hall in 1871. Over the next five years, during many often extended visits he painted the whole family. During these visits, with Leyland at work in Liverpool and London, a strong affection grew between Whistler and Frances, the wife of his patron. The relationship deepened, was to last for the rest of their lives, and was instrumental in the breakdown of the Leyland marriage.

The oil painting (below) seems, whether intentionally or not, to hum with suppressed feeling.  Frederick Leyland is on the far left, with his three daughters to the right.  Seated in front of a desperately bored looking Whistler is Frances, deliberately picked out in scarlet.  The depiction of the women, billiard cues at the ready, and especially of the woman on the left wielding her cue, is, I think, delicious.

Whistler and the Leyland Family in the Billiard Room, Speke Hall
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

All the land hereabouts was once part of the Speke Hall estate.  Today, there are still a couple farms in Oglet (an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘oak tree by a stream’) and, leaving the shore I returned up the lane to where the red brick Yew Tree Farm stood on the opposite side of the road.

Behind the farm, a horse grew restless as an Easyjet plane made the approach over the fields to the runway.  Another odd juxtaposition.

At all seasons, at all states, the River was beautiful. At dead low water, when great sandbanks were laid bare, to draw multitudes of gulls; in calm, when the ships stood still above their shadows; in storm, when the ferries beat by, shipping sprays, and at full flood, when shipping put out and came in, the River was a wonder to me.
– John Masefield, in New Chums, 1944, his account of the time he spent from 1891 on HMS Conway at New Ferry training as a merchant seaman navigator before joining his first ship in 1894.



See also