Shorefields Nature Park

The large green field overlooking the river is another jewel in New Ferry’s crown, and is a large flat green open space on top of steep cliffs on the western bank of the River Mersey giving spectacular views over the wildfowl rich estuary towards Liverpool on the opposite shore.  

As rich merchants settled along the edge of the River Mersey at Rock Ferry and the Rock Park area, what had originally been flat farmland overlooking the river at Shorefields started to become the edge of ever expanding suburbs.  


By the 1860s, a large private house had been built at "Merseybank".  It had two long entrance drives: one which connected with New Ferry Road to the north (along the course of today's Merseybank Road), with another road connecting with New Chester Road to the south west (following the course of what is today Mayfields North).  The house was surrounded by a number of ponds that had originally been shallow pits dug to extract clay for making bricks; the house owner is believed to have kept a stock of ornamental fish in the pond closest to his home.

By the 1860s, a large private house had been built at "Merseybank".  It had two long entrance drives: one which connected with New Ferry Road to the north (along the course of today's Merseybank Road), with another road connecting with New Chester Road to the south west (following the course of what is today Mayfields North).  The house was surrounded by a number of ponds that had originally been shallow pits dug to extract clay for making bricks; the house owner is believed to have kept a stock of ornamental fish in the pond closest to his home. 

Meanwhile, to the south east of Merseybank House, the Port Sanitary Hospital was built in 1877 to treat merchant sailors who returned to Merseyside from working abroad but returned with various diseases such as smallpox.  Previously, patients had been confined to surplus sailing ships permanently moored in the centre of the river opposite New Ferry, but the sanitary conditions on these ships had been appalling.  Patients were brought to the hospital on the shore by small rowing boat to a wooden jetty, then came up the cliffs via a wooden staircase.  This meant that patients with suspected potentially lethal diseases could be delivered direct to the hospital without having to come into contact with anyone in the town of New Ferry itself.

 

Further south from the hospital, clay extraction was carried out on an industrial scale, with a brick works being built next to the river in the early 20th century, along with a jetty where small barges could moor whilst being loaded with bricks destined for the growing townships of Liverpool and Birkenhead further downriver.


After a pier was built in 1865, bringing eager day-trippers over to New Ferry from Liverpool's Harrington Dock, New Ferry became a popular place to visit to take in the fresh air in what then seemed like a welcoming piece of green countryside by the side of the river.  The Great Eastern Picnic Hotel was built next to a bend in New Ferry Road, and this soon had its own bowling greens built to the rear.

Over time, the Shorefields area was improved - with an athletics ground being laid out in the area between what is today Merseybank Road and Shorefields (including Field Close and Pollitt Square). This is shown on later maps as being a "football ground".  Although not on the same scale as Eastham Country Park with its bear pits and ornamental gardens, Shorefields offered a flat area overlooking the river, with its ponds in the old clay pits and several trees planted for people to sit in the shade to take in the views across the river.  With the cliffs being as high as they are, Victorian children played with their buckets and spades in the sand nearer to the pier.  The shoreline off Shorefields was used for many years for breaking up old ships (such as the famous SS Great Eastern in 1888/9), but by the early part of the 20th century the beach was being used by the military as a rifle range for shooting practice, particularly as local troops were readied for war between 1914 and 1918.


The untimely accident when the pier was destroyed after a drunken Dutch captain drove his ship into it in 1922 saw an end to New Ferry's time as a tourist resort.  The day-trippers stopped coming and the Shorefields pleasure park was no longer needed.  Part of the area (the football pitch and an adjacent field) disappeared in the early 1930s under bricks and concrete as the Council built a new housing estate (Merseybank Road, Shorefields, Field Close and Pollitt Square), whilst the then abandoned site of Merseybank House was redeveloped as a large open air swimming pool – called New Ferry baths. At a cost of £12,000 to build, it opened in July 1932 and was described as the most up-to-date open-air swimming pool in the country. It was 330 feet long, by 90 feet wide with a depth varying from three to sixteen feet. High diving boards were located at the deep end, nearest the river. The 1 million gallons of water needed to fill it were pumped up from the River Mersey and filtered and cleaned, chemically treated and aerated before being delivered to the shallow end. The baths closed in 1981 and remained derelict until 1986 when Wimpey bought the site and built a housing estate on it.

Of all of this “pleasure area”, the main part which survives is the green field overlooking the river. However, the field was not always clear of buildings as it is now.  During World War Two, an anti-aircraft gun position was constructed here and manned throughout the early years of the war by Polish soldiers who lived in concrete barracks which were hastily constructed to house them.  When the Luftwaffe attacks finished after January 1942, the gun was taken away and the barracks were used to house Italian and subsequently German prisoners of war.  There was no fence around the site, and the POWs were allowed out during the day to work in local farms and businesses; some of them even dated local New Ferry girls!  After the war ended, the barracks were converted to temporary homes for people who had lost their own homes in bombing raids.  Concrete pre-fab homes were also added, and stayed here until the early 1970s when they and the barracks were all finally demolished. 


Until the late 1970’s, an old boat near the junction of Shorefields and Shore Bank was used as an informal piece of play equipment by local children.


In 1990, Wimpey Homes made an application to build more houses on the field, but the application was turned down and the field is now regarded as “protected coastal land”, which means it can never be built on.

At the foot of the cliffs are the mudflats – a nationally important feeding site for wading birds. In 2002, the beach was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), giving it protected status. It is also part of the Mersey Estuary Special Protection Area for birds (a European designation showing international value). Throughout the winter, the New Ferry shore supports numerous waders and wildfowl, feeding at low tide on the many invertebrates in the mud. There are nationally important numbers of pintail (a type of duck) and black-tailed godwits (waders) as well as many redshank, shelduck, ringed plover, knot, dunlin and turnstone. Obviously, the site is very popular with bird-watchers.

At low tide in winter, please do not disturb the feeding birds by going down onto the beach or letting a dog run there. If disturbed, the birds will fly up, losing valuable energy and feeding time. Watching the birds quietly from the cliff-top does not disturb them: Shorefields is the best place along the south shore of the Mersey to see waders and wildfowl at relatively close quarters. 

During 2008 and 2009, a series of clean-ups were organised at Shorefields by New Ferry Residents Association.  Local residents Julie Fitzgerald, her husband Kevin and June Hancox secured over £25,000 of funding from various sources for a tidy up of the beach, the cliffs, and for the footpath around the woods to be improved.  Vegetation was also cleared to make the paths wider and safer.  Local residents, the local fire service and many others helped with the tidy-up, which was featured on local radio and television as part of the BBC's "Breathing Places" campaign.


In the summer of 2015, the pathway along the edge of the cliffs and through the woods around the edge of the Shorefields estate was significantly improved as part of the Wirral Circular Trail project.  New paths were created and existing paths through the woods were resurfaced with tarmac, whilst a series of heritage signboards were erected with funding which the New Ferry Residents Association managed to win from the National Lottery.