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 Lowlands History

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Events for 2014

         Autumn 2014 


                                Village Landmark Refurbishment

Work has resumed on the restoration and refurbishment of the Yeoman’s House in West Derby Village

The West Derby Society (WDS) has been concerned about the future of the landmark, a feature of the Village since late Tudor times. 

  The Grade II-listed building, seen about 1900, has been empty for many years.

 Work began in 1987 and extensive repairs and improvements were made including an extension at the rear.

  Builders are now active on the site, working with City Council conservation officials. WDS is closely involved in the project with the owner and local councillors to secure the future sustainability of the property.

This is how the Yeoman’s House will look with its original features restored.

                                                            Canal Turns

While riding on the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath recently I saw a plaque set into the wall of a cutting east of Haskayne which stated : “The first spadeful of earth dug 5.11.1770 by Hon Charles Mordaunt of Halsall Hall”, writes Alastair Caird.

This canal was the first of the Trans Pennine canals to be started and the last to be completed. The length and complexity of the route meant that the canal took 46 years to build at a cost five times the original budget.

The canal originates from a proposal in 1765 to construct a canal from Preston to Leeds carrying woollen goods from Leeds and Bradford plus limestone from Skipton. Prospective Lancashire backers argued for the canal to start from Liverpool .

The 1770 Canal Act set a route from Liverpool to Leeds via Parbold, Walton-le-Dale, Colne and Skipton. Branches led from Burscough to the Ribble, Parbold to Wigan and Shipley to Bradford .

In 1773 the first part to open was the lock-free section from Skipton to Bingley (above). By 1777 the canal was open between Liverpool , Parbold, Gathurst ( Wigan ) and from Leeds to Gargrave, including the branch to Bradford . At this point all the funds had been spent and work came to a halt. By 1781 enough money was found to complete the branches to Wigan and Rufford.

Ten years later in 1791 work restarted on building the canal west from Gargrave. In 1794 a new act was passed, changing the route to run via Burnley and Blackburn instead of Whalley - Walton le Dale. Foulridge Tunnel opened in 1796 making the canal navigable from Leeds to Burnley .   The section from Burnley to Blackburn took a further 14 years to construct - the missing link west of Blackburn to the Lancaster Canal at Johnsons Hillock was not completed until 1816.


The plan to continue the canal as planned from Johnsons Hillock to Parbold was abandoned through lack of money. An arrangement was made to use the section of the Lancaster Canal between Johnson Hillock and Wigan , incorporating the Wigan branch into the canal’s main line. In 1820 a branch was opened between Wigan and the Bridgewater Canal at Leigh, thus linking the rest of the canal system. In 1864 the Leeds - Liverpool Canal took over the southern section of the Lancaster Canal .

The engineering of the canal is very different from other Trans Pennine canals. Most of the locks are concentrated in groups with long level sections between. Tunnels and cuttings are avoided where possible with the canal following the contours round bends and loops. In some sections the distance between points by canal is twice the shortest distance. The earliest locks between Leeds and Bingley are often grouped together to form staircases of two or three locks. 

The most spectacular feature of the canal is the five rise lock staircase at Bingley.

The canal prospered through the 19th century and was used for carrying stone, coal and many other goods. The impact of the railway age was not as great as with other canals but the coming of the lorry finally saw commercial traffic on the canal dwindling. Commercial traffic continued along the main canal until 1964 and the Bradford canal closed in 1992. 

Through the latter part of the 20th century the leisure potential of the canal began to be appreciated. Boatyards, marinas and boat hire companies have developed along the canal which is now very popular with boaters for its stunning scenery and long lock-free sections ideal for cruising.

The Rufford branch between Rufford and Sollom was built around 1760. A branch from Burscough to Rufford opened in 1781. The final section from Sollom to Tarleton opened in 1805 as part of the Croston drainage improvements.

Old West Derby

The township of West Derby is older than Liverpool . The manor of West Derby as recorded in the Doomsday Book is ranked first and most important in the list of manors lying between the Ribble and Mersey . It was a royal manor belonging to Edward the Confessor. Within the manor was a game reserve, forest, woods and a hawks’ aery (nesting place). The lesser theyns in the manor held land, partly by service. Their duties included taking care of the King’s fisheries, making enclosures in the woods and deer hays - places where deer might be hunted without difficulty. They also had to work in the King’s house and cut his corn in August.

The Courthouse is adjacent to the former tram terminus building, housing tram crews and horses the building later becoming the Robewell furniture factory before being demolished and the site redeveloped in 1986.

The courthouse has never been used as a police or county court, although the interior fittings resemble both. It was a manor court presided over by the steward.

Unique in Britain , the freestanding post-medieval courthouse was built to enable copyholders’ important business to be transacted and made legal. At that time the only evidence that the owner of an estate (copyhold) had of his right to the land was an entry in the manor court rolls which the lord of the manor was obliged to allow tenants to inspect and copy.

The Manor of West Derby eventually came into the hands of James, 7th Earl of Derby and at a later stage passed to the Marquess of Salisbury. Henrietta Countess of Ashburnham, only surviving daughter of William 9th Lord Derby sold it to Isaac Green of Prescot. Green was born in Liverpool in 1678 and baptised at St Nicholas’s Church. By the time he was 50 he had acquired many of the manors of the West Derby Hundred. When he died, aged 71, he owned Childwall, Everton, Hale, Speke, Much Woolton, Little Woolton and West Derby

He boasted that if time allowed he would own all the manor lands of South Lancashire . Green’s daughter Mary, West Derby heiress, married Bamber Gascoyne, MP for Truro . They had two sons, the eldest Bamber became MP for Liverpool from 1780 to 1796 – he built Childwall Hall. His only daughter Frances Mary, married the 2nd Lord Salisbury thus bringing the manors to her husband. It is interesting to note that when Adam Dugdale proposed the building of Knotty Ash Church he had to pay £20 to the Marquess for enfranchisement of the land in 1834. 

Until 1910 the courthouse was used about once a year and all copyholders summoned to attend but in reality most stayed away.


The division of the country into hundreds took place in Saxon times and is generally accredited to Alfred the Great. Basically the notion was that the country be brought under military rule - each “hundred” was responsible for 100 fighting men.

The Wapentake Court was of Danish origin, an ingenious attempt to improve administration of the law. The Wapentake Court of the Hundred of West Derby existed before County Courts, Courts of Passage etc and was used to settle disputes and collection of debts etc. An 1199 King John document in the Central Record Office confirmed the grant of these offices to Henry de Walton.


Two hundred years ago the main road through the Village, Almonds Green - Town Row ran to Honeys Green Lane . Present-day Meadow Lane was known as Castle Lane . St Mary’s had not been built - there was a chapel of ease in the centre of the Village. 

In the centre of the Village is a richly-ornamented Victorian monument. In the past it was called Heywood’s Monument as it was erected by Mrs P Heywood of Norris Green House, on the site of the ancient chapel altar.

The first mention of a chapel in West Derby is recorded in a law case. A certain John del Brakes struck and apparently wounded Richard le Jay in the chapel on the Sunday after Ascension Day 1360.

In 1494 it was reported as being in bad repair and Henry VII allowed five marks out of his Manor of West Derby towards making it suitable for divine worship. In 1552 it was described as a poor, ancient, chapel with only two small bells. After the Restoration it is recorded that a curate looked after the chapel on a stipend of £43.2s.8d.The steeple was rebuilt in 1745 and the chapel itself in 1786.

When it was finally demolished about 1853, among the debris were found stones shaped in a way indicating they were once part of a thatched roof. 

It has been suggested by others that the first chapel may well have been a wooden building thatched with straw. One old legend says that during the Reformation Commissioners came to the chapel but the priest had hidden the sacrament vessels and plate beneath the pulpit but they were never recovered. 

One of the bells from the old chapel hung in the tower of West Derby School.

The interior of the chapel had high pews, so high that children were not able to see the minister. It also had a three-decker pulpit. The clerk, Thomas Lawton, a local blacksmith, occupied the clerk’s pulpit. 

The minister went into the vestry before the sermon to exchange his white surplice for a black gown: in those days it would have been unorthodox to preach in any colour other than black.


                                                  Society’s Summer Outings 

The WDS evening mystery tour on Wednesday 18 June had an added twist this year – the coach broke down.

We set off in a westerly direction and halted alongside Kirkby parish church, St Chad ’s, to see the graves of the Molyneux family in regimented lines. 

Burials switched from ancient Sefton Church in Victorian times when the 4th Earl paid for St Chad ’s. The last internment was the Hon Sir Richard Molyneux – known affectionately as Uncle Dick – in 1954. 

The last Earl, Hugh, told staff: “I don’t want anyone walking on my grave.” The Earl’s ashes, along with his wife’s, were placed in the wall of the Shepherd’s Church on his Abbeystead estate, Lancashire .

The coach broke down just after we left the Queensway Tunnel at Birkenhead . After a one-hour delay, we are pictured boarding the replacement coach which took us to our destination – New Brighton and a glorious sunset.

The Caernarfon day trip on Saturday 5 July went without a hitch. The sun was shining when we left the Village at 9 o’clock and shone all day.

Caernarfon was busy but not packed and there was plenty to see – from the picture postcard quaysides to the towering majesty of Edward I’s castle.

The latter was a magnet to most of the party. Braving the hazardous spiral staircases was rewarded with stunning views.

The trips were again well supported with just one seat free on both coaches. 


                                                          Alder Hey Memories

West Derby ’s world-famous children’s hospital is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a new hospital – due to open next year – is nearing completion on an adjacent site.

The hospital asked WDS chairman Stephen Guy for his memories which were published on the hospital website (see extract, below).

This prompted Society member:

 Joan Langeveld to write:

What awful memories I have of Alder Hey Hospital , in the 1950s.

A wonderful place but very frightening for a child.

Aged three, I was in for one week - no memories really, except I was very sick, having been poisoned by a green lolly ice made locally in a tin container.

I still like iced lollies but won't eat green ones.

Aged 10, in the summer of 1954, for a couple of weeks with ‘pains' - diagnosed as rheumatic fever.

By early 1955 I was re-admitted, re-diagnosed as pericarditis resulting in several months at Alder Hey.

It’s too sad to go into all the details but I do remember being wheeled on to the balcony of the ward, in my bed (I couldn't walk), wrapped up in blankets and left alone, just staring across at the shops. 

I wondered what I'd done wrong to deserve such punishment.

I was told the fresh air would be good for me.

There was a weekly ambulance ride to the Southern Hospital for some procedures which were not available in children's hospitals.

Having said all that, I am eternally grateful. My life was saved at this wonderful place, and am so glad that children nowadays have brighter and more cheerful environments when they are poorly.

Isn't it good that we can look back with such mixed emotions and gratitude?

Pain, misery, fear and missing my mother.

Visiting hours were very strictly timed. Lying in bed staring at the door, waiting for it to open and let my mummy come in. She always had a lovely smile on her face as she 

walked towards me and I really didn't notice anyone else.... 

Everything was wonderful while she was there but when visiting time was over (was it only half-an-hour?), I always cried and asked her to take me home with her.

How dreadful she must have felt.

I almost feel as if I am re-living that part of my young life (the medical problems didn't stop there, but I'm not about to write a personal medical journal - heaven forbid!) but it is good to remember, and to know the medical team were wonderful people.

Stephen writes:

My memories of Alder Hey Hospital go back to the early 1950s, both as an in-patient and out-patient. 

I contracted measles and my parents noticed I had a squint or lazy eye, as it was called in those days.

I had two operations at Alder Hey, in 1952 when I was four and at the age of six in 1954.

The operations, while successful, left me short sighted and I have worn glasses since the age of four.

I was a shy boy who was very finicky about food. My stays in Alder Hey – both lasting about a fortnight – were ordeals.

In those days the hospital was very different from today. A grim lodge with a glowering attendant guarded the main entrance in Eaton Road .

Once inside the main building, the smell of anaesthetic gas pervaded everywhere. It churned my stomach and created nausea. 

Sister ruled the ward firmly but compassionately. Boys and girls occupied alternative beds. I used to admire the older girls in their pretty nighties or pyjamas and the younger ones were fair game for teasing. “I’m going to eat you for plum pudding!” I told the girl in the next bed – she was about my age. She pulled a face and hid under the bedclothes.

Visiting hours were strictly controlled. I was delighted one day when gran brought me some of new multi-coloured chewing gum wrapped in cellophane.

Nurse sniffed: “Don’t swallow it Stephen or it will wrap itself around your heart.”

To this day I have a dread of swallowing chewing gum.

Food was served using sensible unbreakable tin bowls, mugs and plates. The ward was filled with weird scratching sounds as we finished off our corn flakes.

If the weather was fine we were moved into the open air at the end of each ward. We sat in chairs in our dressing gowns with blankets over our legs.

I was utterly homesick and felt I was in prison. I would look wistfully over at the busy shops on Eaton Road and choked back tears as I longed to visit them with mum.


The real terror started after the operations. Both my eyes were covered and I was plunged into darkness. 

Meal times were the biggest ordeal, times of unimaginable horror. 

The squeaking of the trolley and smell of over-cooked food filled the ward. I could hear the tinny scraping as the food was dished out.

“Open your mouth Stephen,” instructed nurse.

There was no clue or indication of what was being shovelled in. I was not keen on savouries and remember gagging as a mass of garden peas filled by mouth. Puddings were fine. 

Each meal time was torment but I was well brought up and did not spit anything out. I simply swallowed to get rid of whatever it was.

I remember vividly when the bandages were taken off and I was back in the familiar world. They gave me my stitches as souvenirs and I kept them until they fell to bits.


                                                    Chairman’s Comments 

I have recently acquired a soup maker – a type of food processor producing delicious piping hot soup in less than 30 minutes.

This was prompted by the milkman delivering a box of fresh vegetables once a week.

You don’t know what will be in the box filled with seasonal, locally-sourced veg.

There are usually potatoes, onions and carrots supplemented by cabbages, cauliflowers, peas, parsnips and courgettes. 

Inevitably there are some left over. Enter the soup maker.

Open the lid, chop up any combination of goodies, add some stock and water, switch on and – hey presto – delicious soup.

This had me musing on how labour-saving devices have transformed food preparation.

I still have mum’s old cookery book, acquired as a young bride in 1939.

The recipes involve all manner of manual food preparation – folding in, beating, chopping and kneading.

I’m sure some meals must have led to repetitive strain injuries. 

Food preparation is often a great pleasure yet some people avoid it like the plaque. 

I read somewhere that 30% of British men live off takeaways and beer, a sad reflection on modern lifestyles.

A reporter colleague used to have most of his meals at Little Chef restaurants – he spent a lot of time travelling. Admittedly, the cost was often reimbursed as legitimate expenses.

I asked him why he never cooked.

“This way I never have to do any washing up,” he replied, which I suppose is fair comment.

WDS has sometimes successfully objected to takeaways being opened where there are already enough operating. I think there is scope for tighter legislation.

“You are what you eat” says the old adage yet many people ignore it at their peril. The majority of British adults are now overweight or obese.

  Stephen Guy