HISTORY OF NEW FERRY: Pre 19th Century
Typical Viking settlers of
the Wirral area circa 930 A.D. (Photo courtesy of Wirral Vikings
Until the 19th century, the
Wirral peninsula had remained a rural backwater noted only in history
for its strategic location as the ideal place for foreign invaders to
attempt to get a foothold on part of mainland Britain. Following
withdrawal of the Roman
Empire in 410 A.D., Wirral subsequently became the home for Anglo-Saxon
settlers in the 7th century, followed by invasions by Norse Vikings at
the end of the 9th century.
At that time, most of what is
today the New Ferry area would have been a gently rising hill centred on
where the Toll Bar Crossroads (junctions of New Chester Road/Bebington
Road/New Ferry Road) is situated today. To the east was the sandy
(mud now!) shore of the River Mersey. To the south was a tidal
inlet that led to the River Dibbin with a further tidal creek coming off
this which led northwards to border the western flank of the New Ferry
"hill" (this creek was filled in by the Victorians when Port Sunlight
village was constructed, the village school, the church and Lady Lever
Art Gallery were all built on the filled ground).
The various tidal creeks
were surrounded by large areas of flat mashes. Below is what we
think an aerial photo of the area might have looked like around 900
A.D. compared with today.
Wirral is the only place in
mainland Britain with documented evidence of Norwegian Viking settlers.
Ancient Irish Chronicles report the first peaceful settlements led by
the Norseman Ingimund in 902 A.D. when settlers began clearing
some of the woodland to build homesteads and farms. Although no
evidence of settlement in the New Ferry area has been found, we know
that Tranmere, the next community to the north is a name that dates from
the Norse "Trani-melr"
meaning "cranebirds' sandbank". Meanwhile, immediately to the
south of the River Dibbin is "Brunanburh,"
the old Norse name for Bromborough, a place that also gives its name to a famous battle fought in
the area in 937 A.D.
After invading England in 1066
and subduing Northumbria in 1069/70, William the Conqueror invaded and
ravaged Chester, laying
waste to much of Wirral. Between 1120-1123, Earl Ranulph le Meschin
converted Wirral into a hunting forest where wild deer and boar were
allowed to flourish undisturbed. However, 250 years later, after
local people complained about the wildness of the area, in 1376,
King Edward III ordered the forests be cut down.
Unofficial ferries had been operated by fishermen as a means of earning
extra income, from the New Ferry shore, for centuries. Records from the
14th century suggest that a man named Adam del Fere operated a ferry
A 1732 map of Wirral
showing the tidal creek of what is now the River Dibbin, shown just
south of Bebington.
1764 seems to be the year in which the first “modern” reference to New
Ferry is made, although it is a name that is likely to have been in
common usage for some time prior to this date. The first occurrence of
the name in an official record was in a legal action brought by the
owner of the Rock Ferry who, apparently, considered that the
entrepreneurial style of the New Ferry’s owners would cut into his
potential profits. The name referred solely to the actual ferry itself
and did not take in any part of what we today consider to be New Ferry.
Wirral's lack of raw
materials and undeveloped transportation network meant that it was
ignored by the Industrial Revolution that started elsewhere in the
country. Even the presence of Liverpool, one of the biggest and fastest
growing cities of the 18th and 19th centuries, only two miles away
across the Mersey, had failed to have an effect. At this time, Lower Bebington was one of the bigger of Wirral’s townships with a population
of about 300, three times that of
Birkenhead. The majority of people lived in the immediate vicinity of St
Andrew’s Church and the nearby junction of the Chester and Neston
Turnpikes. In what is now New Ferry, just half a dozen houses were
But it was the 19th century
which saw things change for New Ferry.