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 Society Information

 West Derby History

 Lowlands Album

 Lowlands History

 West Derby Album



Events for 2015

                                                                                          New Year 2015        


                                                                                         FACEBOOK FILMS

Short videos featuring West Derby buildings and landmarks are now featured on the Society’s Facebook page.

Chairman Stephen Guy has been taking the footage and some of the clips have been attracting a good response – but nothing like printed media.

 A series called Civic Pride? focuses on empty and derelict buildings such as Grade II-listed Rice Farm (above) in Yew Tree Lane , a lovely Regency house apparently left to rot.

   Another  is this fine but seemingly abandoned  house in Newsham Park , overlooking Newsham House.

Hundreds see each film but the highest number so far has been more than 1,500 looking at the site of Vergmont on Mill Bank  - probably because many people worked there.


                                                                                        HIDDEN CHAPEL 



This is the Harkirk Chapel, deep in the woods at Little Crosby. During the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign and throughout the 17th and much of the 18th century many people remained true to the “Old Faith”, writes Alastair Caird.

They were refused burial in their parish churchyards, often being buried in fields or gardens.

In December 1610 the rector of St Helen’s Church, Sefton, refused to bury a local woman. Her relatives and friends interred her body in a shallow grave close by a lane near to common land. Unfortunately the body was disturbed by hogs grazing on the common.

William Blundell (1560 – 1638) of Crosby Hall heard of this tragedy and ordered: “Were best to make readie in this village of Little Crosbie a place fitt to burie suche Catholiques either if myne owne howse of thr Neighbourhoode as should depte this lyfe duringe the tyme of these trobles”.

The piece of land he selected was a plot thought from time immemorial to have been the site of an ancient chapel - known as the Harkirk. The first burial was of an old man called William Mathewson of Little Crosby.

It took place on 7 April 1611 after he had been refused burial at Sefton Church . The last to be buried was a Jesuit priest called Peter Williams who died at Ince Blundell on 26 November 1753 , being interred the following day.

All the burials were recorded in a small notebook by William Blundell and after his death by members of his family. The notebook still exists.

In all 131 people were buried at the Harkirk including 25 priests, not just locals.

No. 12, 31 August 1613 :

“John Synett, an Irishman born in Wexford, master of a bark, excommunicated by the Bishop of Chester for being a Catholic recusant and so dying at his house in Liverpool was denied to be buried at Liverpool Church or Chapel and was brought and buried in this said burial place.”

The first priest was:-

No 15, 24 December 1613 :-

“John Saterthwait, Priest, buried in the Harkirk on Christmas Eve at or about 8 o' clock in the evening.”


 At that time burials often took place at night. The use of candles, vestments, prayers, invocations and other “Popish practices” were prohibited. The marking of graves with crosses and similar artefacts was banned.

The burial ground was very important to the local community and because of what he had done and other activities, William Blundell became known to the authorities as “an obstinate recusant”.

In 1630 the Sheriff was instructed by the Court of the Star Chamber to destroy this illegal burial ground. Walls and fences that William Blundell had erected were pulled down, grave markers and headstones broken and scattered. Some graves were disturbed.

But the burials continued, the last being :-

No 131, 27 November 1753 :

“ Mr Peter Williams, Priest of S.J., died 26th November 1753 and was buried in the Harkirk 27th November in the evening.

After this last burial the Harkirk was almost forgotten and nothing of significance happened until another Blundell, Col Nicholas (1811 – 1894) built a chapel on the site in 1889. He noted in his journal:

“I built a small chapel at the Harkirk out of the old stones that were lying about the place, to commemorate the site of the old burying ground dedicated to the use of such Catholic recusants during the time of the Reformation as were refused burial”.

The chapel was built as near as possible to the centre of the burial ground. During the excavations a few human remains were found and reburied under the chapel. 

  These three undamaged headstones were found and built into the north wall near the door.

There are very few recusant burial grounds throughout the country and possibly none so well documented as the Harkirk. It is a very important part of Catholic heritage.


Long-time West Derby Society (WDS) member Ken Lightfoot was good enough to send me this photo of an old boundary stone of the West Derby Hundred ending at Lathom. It is difficult to find and much overgrown, standing on the main A59 before Rufford near to the Causeway Farm Shop. 

It’s worth a visit - thanks to Ken for his observation and interest.


Although the following (undated) conditions relate to the Metropolitan Police Force, I am sure that in general terms they also applied to our local force at about the same time. 

PAY – Merit Class Police Constables : 3s 4d per day.

1st Class 3s 2d.

2nd class 2s 10d.

After 3 years service in 2nd class 3s.

3rd class 2s 6d.

(With uniform and an allowance in lieu of boots.)

To be aged between 23 and 40 years of age and 5ft 7ins in stocking feet.Your working hours will be 8, 10, or 12 hour shifts seven days a week.

Every encouragement will be given to officers to grow beards which must not exceed 2 ins in length.

The uniform provided will be worn at all times with a duty band to indicate whether on duty or not.

You will walk about 20 miles per shift.

You will not gossip with the public - in particular avoid conversation with female servants.

No meal breaks are given, however the top hat may be used to hold a snack.

Before attending for medical examination and interview it is advised to have a bath

You are NOT allowed to sit down in public houses at any time.

You must be prepared for a hostile reception from sections of the public and be prepared to be seriously assaulted, stoned, or stabbed in the course of your duties.




The first known Mersey ferry service was provided by Birkenhead Priory monks about 1150 - they charged a small fare to row passengers across. Early references describe the ferry as “The Kings bote in Mersee”. In 1318 Edward II allowed the Priory to provide board and lodgings for travellers waiting for good weather to cross the river. This could sometimes take days!

On 13 April 1330 his son Edward III confirmed the Royal Charter to operate the ferry. Translated from the original Latin the Royal decree stated:

“That they and their successors for ever might have the passage over the said arm of the sea, as well as for man as for horses as for other things whatsoever and may receive for the passage what is reasonable without let or hindrance”.

This made the Birkenhead to Liverpool ferry a royal highway, still marked today by the crown on the gangway posts at Woodside and the Pier Head. The Royal Charter remains valid today.

In 1538 Henry VIII began the dissolution of the monasteries in England and ferry rights were granted to Sir Ralph Worsley. His descendants sold the rights in 1833 to Liverpool MP John Cleveland whose heirs sold them to the Birkenhead Commissioners in 1842.


 There were several other private ferry services upstream from Birkenhead at that time, including the Rock Ferry (pictured above) in Merseyside Maritime Museum ’s collection. Over the history of the ferries there have been 11 points of service on the Wirral shore.

Until 1887 when the railway tunnel was opened, a ferry was the only means of crossing the river. People, animals and vehicles crossed on ferry boats rather than take the 40-mile route around the river. 

It was thought that the opening of the railway would herald the demise in business for the ferries but that never happened. 

However, ferry traffic reduced significantly with the opening of the first road tunnel under the Mersey - Queensway Tunnel - in 1934.

When the Tunnel first opened horse-drawn vehicles, steam lorries and others carrying hazardous freight were prohibited – they had to continue using the luggage boats. 

This vehicle-carrying freight service ended in 1947.


     During the First World War the Mersey ferries Iris (pictured) and Daffodil were commandeered to act as additional troop carriers for the raid on Zeebrugge. This was due to their large carrying capacity, shallow draughts enabling crossing over minefields, double hulls making them hard to sink. 

The boats were also able to navigate the shallow waters close to the target – the Mole. Nevertheless their superstructures were reinforced in anticipation of intense bombardment. 

On 22 April 1918 the ferries, along with other vessels, made their journey to Zeebrugge from south of Clacton . During the raid a total of 214 men were killed, 383 wounded and 13 taken prisoner but still the raid was a success and the target destroyed. In total 200 medals were awarded for gallantry and eight Victoria Crosses. 

Both ferries survived and the battered flotilla limped home to a heroe’s welcome.

The King decreed that because of their exploits the vessels and their successors should henceforth be known as the Royal Iris and Royal Daffodil, titles still in use today.

* WDS 2015 subscriptions are now due.


                                                                                     1920s RAMBLES

Some members may remember features in the Liverpool Echo by Rambler – articles that appeared over many decades.

They describe  the countryside and local environments and today make fascinating reading, when whole areas have been transformed and recording a vanished world.

 Below are two local walks taken from this 1920s Rambler paperback designed to fit in a pocket or back pack. Each walk gives details of bus and rail fares and other important information for walkers.

   Meadow Lane to Gillmoss (Car fare 4d)

Leaving West Derby Village , turn round to the right into Meadow Lane , winding between the village school and the churchyard wall and you are immediately in the country.

Just where this lane ends, at a lodge and gateway, you will find a little turnstile on the left, beyond which runs for some distance a well-kept path between groves and hedges until it brings you into the highway called Hornspit Lane

Turn to the right along here, having a small pond on the same side and avoiding Dwerryhouse Lane on your left.  This side road would take you on but it is regarded as the longest way round.

The scattered houses here are indeed very picturesque. They are mostly of durable old red brick , partly matted with ivy, and in a sense indigenous to thye very soil on which they are raised.

Each has its small orchard and well-kept kitchen garden within close hedges of healthily thriving evergreens. The larger houses are surrounded by well-stocked barns with rain-washed stone stairs leading to high , dark lofts.

Behind frosty panes kitchen fires are burning brightly, and not one of them but looks a cosy rooftree to which one would gladly return on a winter’s evening.

The road is somewhat bare and the wind can be keen, but it would be much more so but for a sheltering belt of the Croxteth woods running round to the north-east. Where the road forks turn to the left, and soon after, where the houses increase slightly, you will find yourself in the village of Dog and Gun.

Another turn of the road brings you to another clump of high trees and a farmyard beyond which runs the Alt under a rustic bridge and between a selvage of icy borders.

“Where is Gillmoss?” I asked as farmhand coming across the bridge. “There,” he said, raising his thumb towards his left shoulder. “You’ll find it there – all of it.”

“All of it” meant a farmhouse or two, a well-built school, some cottages, and inside a lichened wall, and thick-set hedges which sheltered it from the wind, a little graveyard surrounding a strongly-built but unpretentious-looking place of worship. 

…This is the venerable Catholic mission of St Swithin, and the quaint building is the lineal descendant of the domestic chapel at Croxteth Hall… 

      Around  Knowsley  (Car fare to the Blue Bell Inn 4d; from West Derby 2d.)

Those who live on the Edge Lane tram route can go,and will no doubt be recommended to start by a path opening into the fields on the left near Broadgreen Station. I did this, and found it a very pleasant path winding through green meadows  and ripening corn. It is crossed, after a few fields by Pilch Lane , and continues beyond and opposite stile through some more fields behind a farmhouse, but only to suddenly come to an end amidst the dust and traffic of Prescot Road .

Rambler then walks along Stockbridge Lane

The one outstanding feature of this long road is the great entrance to Knowsley Hall. The brown  towers, surmounted by the winged and antlered crest of the Stanleys , rise majestically amidst the ancient trees, and are impressive as a picture of medieval grandeur…

In  a short time you come to a lodge and swing-gate, and privilege of “pedestrians only”, you pass into the path , which winding through the estate, past the Hall, leads you at length into Knowsley village.

The large signpost just here points to the broad and open road by which you can return, if you prefer a very plain and longish  round. 

It takes you from the village crossroads till you come to Knowsley Delph - a dark and rocky pool sacred to Prescot anglers , and here you turn to the left into a lane which is firm and dry, and which runs its quiet way past a cottage and farmhouse or two into the leafy clearance of Croxteth.

… Passing under the arching branches and over the Alt, you skirt ther lawn of Croxteth Hall, and soon the hardness of the rocky avenue on which you are now walking makes the square tower of West Derby Church a welcome assurance of rest.


                                                                          Thornhead Lane


Another ramble featured in the book describes taking the tram to Knotty Ash.

Straight in front as you leave the car a narrow path between railings opens in the fields to the left, past the Carmelite convent.

At the end of the path turn to the right for a few yards, and then to the left along Leyfield Road .

Coming down Leyfield Road , a footpath will be found turning to the right round the garden hedge of a thatched cottage, and opposite a finger-post showing the way to Eaton Road .

Taking this facing towards the open country, and follow it as it winds between the hedges, past West Derby golf links, and until you come  to the isolated Mab Lane Farm …

The path marked with a finger-post is Blessig’s Stile, the ancient bridle path closed – possibly illegally – by magistrates in March 1965.

Its continuation is Thornhead Lane , which is still open to the public as far as the rugby club gates. However, the path leading to Princess Drive was gated by the City Council and has been inaccessible to walkers since March 2013, on the grounds of alleged crime and anti-social behaviour. The decision is due for review on the second anniversary of the gating order, which WDS opposed with some local residents.

WDS and others hope to be involved in the review and will be urging a site visit. 


                                                                          Chairman’s Comments

The Internet is one of the latest communications tools that have developed over the centuries – and the West Derby Society is among its many beneficiaries. 

Perhaps the earliest equivalents were cave and rock paintings. People produced hand prints or sketches of hunting scenes, things that were relervant to their erveryday lives. 

The close of the Middle Ages saw the invention of printing which transformed access to the written word. 

This was the only form of mass communication for centuries. It was cinema and wireless that added new dimensions to transmitting news, facts and all manner of entertainment.

We are talking about millions of people simultaneously seeing or hearing the same thing. Television was the next to transform people’s lives becoming the more powerful medium because vision and sound were available at the flick of a switch.

For me the digital age arrived with laptop computers around 1985. I had first seen a prototype being used by an American journalist in the late 1970s – he had to dismember a conventional phone to connect with his office.

For years all we could do was send stories on our laptops and they were not very reliable.

The Internet arrived about 10 years later. I first connected at home in 1997 and it was quite a performance with a long, complicated password. I arrived that year at Liverpool museums and our office had just one computer linked to the Internet.

Now with hand-held tablets, smartphones and similar devices everyone can be a world correspondent, or think they can. 

In reality, unless you are a Stephen Fry or Russell Brand, few people by comparison are reached.

Traditional mass media – TV, radio and print – may still hold sway but for how long?

  Stephen Guy