HISTORY OF NEW FERRY: 1801-1900
In 1817, steam powered
ferryboats came into service on both the Eastham and Birkenhead ferries.
Suddenly, everything began to change. With land on the Cheshire shore of
the Mersey far cheaper than in Liverpool, Wirral was ripe for
development. Now easily reached by ferry, the shipping magnates and
merchants who were keen to escape from the ever-expanding confines of
the smoky city of Liverpool were offered an opportunity to escape the
consequences of their greed and to live in the clean air and rural peace
she offered. Amongst their number were some entrepreneurs: men ready to
take advantage of the cheap land and eager to make or increase their
fortunes. By 1831, at Birkenhead a whole new town of 2,569 inhabitants
had arisen. Following the coming of the Chester to Birkenhead railway
and improvements to the Chester turnpike, by 1841 the population had
grown to 8,223.
A number of the
tranquility-seeking merchants bypassed Birkenhead, travelling further
afield to take up residence in other local townships, amongst them
Bebington and the New Ferry and Port Sunlight locality which had been an
area of rough land, creeks, marsh and fields. In the wake of the
merchants came other people:- shopkeepers, tradesmen, servants etc. to
service their needs.
Lower Bebington village,
clustered around its church and the junction where the important Chester
and the cross-Wirral, Neston roads met, began to grow. Once combined,
and after having descended the hill to turn northwards to go on to
Birkenhead, a lane or track appeared to run eastwards to meet the
Mersey. This lane followed the line of today’s Bebington and New Ferry
Roads to where the unofficial ferry had operated over the centuries.
The Rock Ferry (shown here)
was painted by leading marine artist Samuel Walters about 1834. It gives
an insight into the type of craft in use before the advent of steam.
Relying upon sails and oars, crossing the Mersey was often
unpredictable. The ferry boat in the painting is the James, built in
1826 by Mottershead and Hayes of Liverpool. Walters shows the return
trip to Liverpool laden with passengers along with fresh fruit and
vegetables from the Wirral.
In the 19th Century, two
Acts of Parliament were to totally change the traditional focus of
importance within the township:
In 1833, permission was
given for the re-routing of the ancient Chester Turnpike between
Bromborough and Birkenhead. This resulted in the building of a
bridge over Bromborough Pool and the construction of a new, shorter,
more level toll road along the line of the present A41, New Chester
Road. The Howey Lane Toll Gate, which stood 100 yards to the south
of today’s Bebington Station, was moved to the new junction of
Bebington Road and New Chester Road – on the site where the now
empty HSBC Bank building stands today.
The second Act in 1837
permitted the building of the Chester to Birkenhead Railway Line.
Designed by the famous George Stephenson, the railway was rapidly
built. Bebington Station became the first station out of Birkenhead
(Rock Ferry and Green Lane stations were built much later as the
Both these important civil
engineering projects were completed by 1840. It was these, along with
the coming of the steam ferryboat, which gave rise not only to
Birkenhead, but also to New Ferry and, at the same time, lessened the
traditional importance of places like Lower Bebington village.
The former toll building at
the junction of New Chester Road and Bebington Road, where tolls were
collected from people using the new Chester to Birkenhead Road in the
latter half of the 19th century.
Bebington Station, seen here
looking as a Chester or Ellesmere Port bound steam train arrives at the
platform circa 1910 when the line was already 70 years old. Note
the ornate wooden station canopies to offer passengers some shelter from
the sun or rain whilst waiting for their trains - these have long since
Through the early decades of the 19th century the river ferry itself had
a somewhat chequered history, at times going out of service. All of this
was to change in 1865 when a local man, a sugar refiner from Liverpool
named MacFie, built – at his own expense (£10,000) – a new iron pier at
New Ferry. It used to project into the river from the cobbled car park
by The Esplanade, where there was also a hotel (replaced by the Derwent
Court residential home in the 1990s) and a row of shops (also replaced
in the 1990s by some small modern houses).
From New Ferry pier, two steam ferryboats of the South End Ferry Company
connected the rising Wirral settlement with South Liverpool via
Harrington Dock. It was from 1865 that the name New Ferry became applied
to a specific area bounded on the east and west by the River Mersey and
the railway line respectively; to the north the rear of Stanley and Thorburn Roads; and to the south by Bromborough Pool (the mouth of the
River Dibbin) - including land
where Port Sunlight village would eventually be built from the late 19th
century onwards. The ferry operated until 1922 in which year a Dutch
ship, enroute to Manchester, ran through the pier demolishing two spans
and putting an end to the ferry service.
The first newcomers to Lower Bebington were a few merchants and
businessmen from Liverpool. Later, others came from Birkenhead and
elsewhere. In the decade following the coming of the railway and the New
Chester Turnpike, the population of Lower Bebington rose from 440 in
1831 to 1,187 in 1841. By 1900 it had reached 8,398. The development of
New Ferry followed a pattern: the richer newcomers tended to settle in
large houses with extensive gardens well away from the new Toll Bar junction
(where tolls were collected from people using the new road). Other, lesser, middle class newcomers
settled in smaller, but still large villas, built closer to the centre.
Some of these can still be seen in Stanley and Thorburn Roads.
This pattern of development continued to the point where, at the very
centre, in the immediate vicinity of the Toll Bar in Woodhead, Olinda
and Grove Streets, large numbers of poor quality, small, crowded,
terraced houses were built. These were necessary to accommodate the
workers who serviced the peripheral screen of larger houses and villas.
At the junction, as the population grew, there arose a commercial centre
to service the needs of rich and poor alike. In many cases, rather than
their being purpose built, earlier, existing residential premises were
converted into shops. New Ferry was evolving to develop a natural, commercial
The final factor in the establishment of the New Ferry District Shopping
Centre came with the building of two local works. The first came in 1853
when Price’s Patent Candle Company built Bromborough Pool Village. The
second and most influential development came in 1888 when William Lever
bought land within the bounds of New Ferry and built his soap works and
Port Sunlight Village. With its already well established road links, New
Ferry grew to serve the needs of an extensive area to the north, south
and west. New Ferry also became the terminus for part of Birkenhead’s
tram system – the first tram shed stood on the site of the current post
office, but a later one was built in New ferry Road (now Rocket
behind Edge the Butchers.
The first tram shed was
situated on New Chester Road. It had
stables to the rear where the horses that pulled the early trams in the days before
electrification where kept. When a new tram shed was built around
the corner in New Ferry Road in the early 20th century, this first tram
shed became a bus depot. It was demolished in the early 1980s and
replaced with the new Post Office. Parcelforce currently has a
depot to the rear where the stables used to be.
the century, the shore at New Ferry was used to break up old ships that
were no longer needed. Much of their interior fittings were salvaged for
auction or re-use elsewhere; most materials were recycled. The
most famous ship to have been dismantled here was the
SS Great Eastern, an iron sailing steam
ship designed by
Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was the
largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the
capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refueling.
Brunel knew her affectionately as the "Great Babe". He died in 1859
shortly after her ill-fated maiden voyage during which she was damaged
by an explosion. After repairs, she plied for several years as a
passenger liner between Britain and America, before being converted to a
cable-laying ship. Finishing her life as a floating music hall in
Liverpool, she was
broken up in 1889 on the shore between New Ferry and
nearby Rock Ferry. The ship's artefacts were auctioned and a
number of these we bought and fitted into the Great Eastern Hotel on New
Ferry Road. The bar and beautiful stained glass window depicting
the old ship could still be seen inside the pub until recently.
Unfortunately, the pub - New Ferry's last iconic building on the eastern
side of the bypass - was demolished in 2010.
In the mid 19th century, quarantine ships used to moor in the river off
New Ferry, to cater for people with tropical diseases such as cholera,
smallpox, chickenpox and leprosy. As a more permanent facility was
required, the New Ferry Isolation Hospital was built and opened in 1875.
Behind its high brick walls and railings were several wards, a laundry
and houses for nurses and doctors. A flight of wooden steps led down the
cliffs to the beach where patients were brought by ship – today you can
just see the remains of a small stone jetty on the beach, whilst the
broken stone pier cap lying upside down on the ground next to a red
brick column on the edge of the woods at the end of Starworth Drive is
all that remains of the surrounding wall.
To look after the community’s spiritual needs, St Marks Church appeared
on New Chester Road in 1866. It is still with us today, but the
Methodist Church that was built on the corner of Bebington Road and
Boundary Road a few years later was demolished in the 1960s to be
replaced with the flat roofed building which now houses Connexions. St
Johns Roman Catholic Church (beside the Bebington Liberal Club) would
not appear until the first few years of the 20th century.
1890s, a regular ferry plied the route
between Dingle, New Ferry and Liverpool. New Ferry became something of a
holiday resort. Throughout the summer months, boatloads of families came
over the water to play on the riverside fields (Shorefields) and take
donkey rides on the shore. A marquee was sometimes erected behind the
New Ferry Hotel, which – like the four shops opposite it – did a
flourishing trade with the trippers.
The New Ferry shoreline at
"Shorefields" was originally developed as a pleasure park,
with bowling greens and tennis courts centred on the Great Eastern pub,
and a park (the first New Ferry park, since relocated) constructed
behind the New Ferry Hotel (now demolished and replaced with the Derwent
Lodge retirement home).
When the pier was damaged in 1922
and the ferry service to New Ferry ended, the tourists and day-trippers
also stopped coming here – resulting in The Esplanade and Shorefields
pleasure park declining in importance.
The nurses' quarters in the
Port Sanitary Hospital (demolished in the 1960s) seen here in the 1890s.
St Mark's Parish Church
photographed in 1910.
The bottom end of New
Ferry Road circa 1895. The terraced houses to the right still
stand today (you can just see the end of Onslow Road). The shops
to the left (a post office, fishmonger, and general store) still stood
until the mid 1990s, although the shops had long since been converted to
flats. They were all demolished and replaced with modern houses
The Great Eastern Hotel
(later just a pub) is now sadly gone - demolished in 2010 to make way
for new houses .... which still haven't been built!
For 200 years, many a
fine ship has been associated with the River Mersey. However, not
many were as well-known as the four training ships - the wooden walls of
England. The ships were the "Akbar", moored in 1856, the Conway
(1859), the Indefatigable (1864) and the Clarence (1864). From
left, this view shows the Conway, Akbar and Indi moored off New Ferry.
The Clarence was set on fire and destroyed in 1899.
See more photos from the 1890s.....
Move on to 1901 to 2000.....