The former Birkenhead Town Hall, Hamilton Square
Birkenhead is a town on the Wirral Peninsula of Cheshire. It lies on the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool in Lancashire. Birkenhead is best known as a centre for ship building, as a seaport and for related industries.
Birkenhead is joined to Liverpool under the river by the Mersey Tunnels and across the river by the Mersey Ferry.
Birkenhead is a port town, built on the sea and transport links. It is a part of the Port of Liverpool and the links across the Mersey between Cheshire and Lancashire are important parts of the town's commercial life.
The sea and the river
Birkenhead's dock system is part of the Port of Liverpool, operated by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. From the Twelve Quays ferry terminal direct freight and passenger services run to Dublin and to Belfast.
During winter months, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company operates a service from Birkenhead to Douglas with the MS Ben-my-Chree. (In the summer the Manx service runs from Liverpool on faster craft, the heavier vessels from Birkenhead taking over when weather conditions make this require a more robust vessel.)
The Mersey Ferry at Woodside runs a passenger service to Liverpool, as well as chartered cruising.
Birkenhead had the first street tramway in Europe. The first line opened on 29 August 1860 and ran from Woodside (by the Mersey Ferry terminal) to Birkenhead Park. This early system was horse-drawn, devised by the American, George Francis Train.
A preserved tram was on display in the Woodside ferry terminal booking hall. Two replica trams, imported from Hong Kong, have been brought into service as part of a heritage tramway between Woodside and Wirral Transport Museum.
In 1886 Birkenhead and Liverpool were linked by an underground railway system, which today is part of the Merseyrail network.
The major underground station in Birkenhead is Hamilton Square, the nearest station to the ferry terminal. Hamilton Square station is linked to the "Liverpool Loop" of the Wirral Line, which includes Liverpool's James Street Station, Moorfields, Liverpool Lime Street and Liverpool Central, all of which are underground. Other stations located in Birkenhead itself include Birkenhead Central, Green Lane, Rock Ferry, Conway Park, Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead North and Bidston.
The Wirral Line from Birkenhead goes south to Chester and Ellesmere Port, north to New Brighton and westwards, across the Wirral Peninsula, to West Kirby. The Borderlands Line from Bidston station in the north of Birkenhead runs through the rural centre of Wirral and on to Wrexham in Denbighshire.
View Merseyrail Network Map
In and around the town
- Birkenhead Park: the first publicly funded park in Great Britain, and a forerunner of the "Parks Movement" in Britain and America (it is believed to have influenced Frederick Law Olmsted's design for Central Park in New York.)
Birkenhead Park was designed by Joseph Paxton and opened in 1847. The park's main entrance, modelled on the Temple of Illysus in Athens, and its 'Roman Boathouse' are notable features. There are sandstone lodges at the three entrances, each with a different style of architecture; Gothic Norman and Italianate. There are also two lakes and an ornate 'Swiss Bridge'.
- Hamilton Square: started in 1826, it has more Grade I listed buildings in one place than in any other town, other than Trafalgar Square in London, including Birkenhead Town Hall. The streets around thwe Square are laid out in a grid pattern based on the principles of Edinburgh's New Town.
- Queensway Tunnel Main Entrance and the Woodside Ferry Terminal
- Bidston Windmill on a ridge behind the town
- Flaybrick Watertower and Flaybrick Memorial Gardens
Birkenhead (Welsh: Penbedw) hosted the Welsh National Eisteddfod in 1917 and had held an unofficial Eisteddfod event in 1879. The first local Birkenhead Eisteddfod, a precursor of the national events, took place in 1864.
The 1917 National Eisteddfod was notable for the award of the chair to the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, known as Hedd Wyn. The winner was announced, and the crowd waited for the winner to accept congratulations before the chairing ceremony, but no winner appeared. It was then announced that Hedd Wyn had been killed the previous month on the battlefield in Belgium, and the bardic chair was draped in black. These events were portrayed in the Academy Award nominated film Hedd Wyn. A commemorative stone for the event stands in Birkenhead Park.
The name Birkenhead is possibly from the Old English bircen meaning "birch trees", of which many once grew on the headland which jutted into the river at Woodside. Others believe the name to have grown from the River Birket which empties into the docklands.
The earliest records state that the Mersey ferry began operating from Birkenhead in 1150 when Benedictine monks under Hamon de Mascy built a priory there. Despite its physical closeness to Liverpool, a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, Birkenhead was separated from its neighbour by the River Mersey and remained agricultural until the steam ferry service began in 1820.
Shipbuilding started in 1829. An iron works was initially established by William Laird in 1824, an enterprise which eventually became Cammell Laird.
In September 1932 thousands of unemployed people protested in a series of demonstrations organised by the local branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. After three days of rioting, police were brought in from elsewhere to help quell the rioters.
The Mersey Railway tunnel opened in 1886 and the Queensway road tunnel in 1934, which gave rapid access to Liverpool and opened the Wirral Peninsula for development. The town's population grew from 110 in 1801 to 110,912 one hundred years later and stood at 142,501 by 1951.
The major redevelopment project under consideration is Peel Holdings' Wirral Waters. This would allow for a £4.5 billion of investment in the regeneration of the dockland area. This equates with an investment of over £14,000 for each of the 320,000 residents of the Wirral. At the East Float and Vittoria Dock, the development would include several 50-storey skyscrapers, 5,000,000 square feet of new office space and 11,000,000 square feet for new residential flats. A retail and leisure quarter at the former Bidston Dock site would encompass another 571,000 square feet of space. The whole project is projected to create more than 27,000 permanent new jobs, aside from the employment required for construction and other peripheral employment and would be expected to take up to thirty years to complete.
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- Birkenhead Tramway & Wirral Transport Museum. Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. http://www.wirral.gov.uk/LGCL/100009/200070/1017/content_0000522.html. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
- Brocklebank, Ralph T (2003). Birkenhead - An Illustrated History. Breedon Books. p. 33. ISBN 1-85983-350-0.
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- John Belchem, ed (2006). Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History. ISBN 1-84361-035-0.
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- "Birkenhead-Built: An Unrivaled Historical Legacy". Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. http://nautarch.tamu.edu/PROJECTS/denbigh/Laird.htm.
- Kelly, S.F. (January 1988). Idle Hands Clenched Fists. Spokesman Books. ISBN 0851244467.
- "Cheshire Towns & Parishes: Birkenhead". GENUKI UK & Ireland Genealogy. http://www.ukbmd.org.uk/genuki/chs/birkenhead.html. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
- "Peel unveil plans for £4.5 billion "Wirral Waters" scheme". Peel Holdings. 5 September 2006. http://www.peel.co.uk/peelholdings/source/newsdetails.asp?type=1&page=1&newsid=122. Retrieved 14 January 2008.