March 7th, 1939


A legend which cannot be disproved was that potatoes were first grown in England there. A seaman who was a member of the expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh obtained some potatoes when the explorer was bringing the first consignment to England and planted them near the dunes where he lived in Formby. It is, however probable that the potatoes were washed ashore from a shipwreck and took root themselves.

Formby was once a fishing village situated on land which has long since been cover by the sea and Formby Point was well known as a treacherous place for mariners. About a quarter of a mile out to sea from the present Raven Mills was a hill. Stretching a mile further than this, to the north, was the old Formby Point, where the village used to be. To the south was another village last referred to in documents 150 years ago. This was Alt Mouth, this has also been submerged by the sea. For centuries the only road to Formby was on the seashore, over the flat marshes pony tracks twisted and redoubled their way in a manner only known to the natives.

Until the building of the railway and the linking up of the pony tracks to make the Liverpool Southport Road, Formby was an isolated place. Coal for Formby Hall was brought in yearly supplies during the summer. It came by canal to Burscough Bridge and from there was carried over the moss by the tenantry. The tenants had to do this under the lease of their farms. The arrival of the coal was such an event that a great feast was provided at the hall when the last of the yearly coal load arrived. The custom existed until the turn of the last century.

Another legend about Formby is that King Henry V111, stayed at the hall for the falconry. The hawk room is still in existence. Formby Hall, which is close to the Liverpool Southport Road, is one of the most interesting houses in South West Lancashire and traces of its early days can still be seen. It has been in the Formby family since 1100, by direct descent from father to son with only one exception when a cousin inherited the estate.

The name Formby was spelt Fornebie in the Domesday Book, and it has been Fornebi, Forneby and Formby, which has been in general use since the start of the 16th C. The present St Lukes Church is close to the site of the ancient chapel, which was built before the 14th C. This fell into decay and was totally destroyed by a storm about 200 years ago.

When the present St Lukes was built in 1852, the old graveyard was found eight feet under the sand. In the porch is the tombstone of Richard Formby, which was placed there in recent times, the stone and remains being brought from York Minster. During a fire at York Minster one of the beams fell on the stone and broke it and the bones of Richard Formby were discovered. He was armour bearer to King Henry 1V and was killed on one of the northern expeditions. He must have been a remarkable man, for he was just over 7 feet in height. An ancient stone cross stood on the village green in Formby, but it has been since removed to a safer place. At its base hollows were scooped out during the plague scare at the time of Charles 11. These were filled with vinegar and all money had to pass through this, as it was believed that vinegar was a disinfectant.

March 13th, 1939

Transporter bridge between Widnes and Runcorn

The Transporter bridge between Widnes and Runcorn , the romance of it, John 6th Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester was responsible for the running of a regular ferry across the Mersey at this point . From his castle at the top of Halton Hill he could see the river and knew the best point for a crossing. The castle, built on the feudal plan was like a Rhine castle, being circular and protected by the natural rocks and overawed the countryside. Its walls were at least 20 feet think and constructed just after the Norman conquest. At one time John of Gaunt used it as a hunting lodge, but it remained a residence until the time of Queen Elizabeth when it became a prison. In the Civil War it was a Royalist stronghold, but little is left now of even the outer shell. The broken windows with remains of tracery work are pathetic reminders of what was once a noble building.

This part of Cheshire is full of history, for close to Halton are the remains of Rock Savage, the home of the SAVAGE family whose name is linked with Cheshire history Sir Thomas SAVAGE, who fought for the future Henry V11 at the Battle of Bosworth, was one of the notable members of the family, his brother was Archbishop of York.

The Baron of Halton granted the passage across the Mersey to the Knights Hospitallers, part of the obligations of the Order was to help Christians in every possible way, and they were particularly anxious to assist pilgrims.

The crossing between Widnes and Runcorn was dangerous, here the river narrowed and ran swiftly, and frequently overflowed its banks at unusually high tides.

The Knights ran the ferry themselves for some years, but in 1190, the year the Baron was killed while on a Crusade in the Holy Land, a change was made. The Prior, whose name was Garnerde Nablous, decided to develop the ferry on modern lines. He granted certain lands to Richard de la More, a yeoman, on condition that he and his descendants would maintain a strong boat for the purpose of carrying passengers across the Mersey during the day or night.

When the Hospitallers had the ferry a charge was made, but under the new agreement the passage was to be free to any person who asked to be ferried across, For the love of God.

As the years passed the commercial aspect crept in, and the MORE family disposed of their lands. Although for centuries the crossing was free to travellers, the money was made out of the dealing of land. Now you have to pay for using the transporter. Alongside the transporter is the railway bridge, and at the side of the bridge is a footway for the public. Perhaps the tradition of a free crossing of the Mersey is perpetuated in this, whether or not one of the finest views you can have is obtained from the bridge. The great curve of the Cheshire coast is fascinating, and beyond you can see the Welsh hills.

Runcorn is not a place of beauty, yet just over a century ago it was a fashionable watering place, and popular with Liverpool people as a picnic place for a days excursion up the river. Its name was Montpelier and its spring waters were noted for their health giving properties. At the canal side at Runcorn is a church with a curious name, it is the Navigation Church and is one of three churches built by the Weaver Navigation Company for seafarers and dock workers.

April 3rd 1939

Sectarian disputes on Merseyside are fortunately a thing of the past, but every now and then the dying embers are fanned up, but never into such a flame as burned consistently during the last century.

Turning up some records on the question it was found that Birkenhead was at one time seething with quarrels either on a religious question or on Irish labour problems

One of the first of these occurred when the Chester-Birkenhead railway was being constructed in 1839. The labourers were Irish and the rioting reached serious proportions. Exactly ten years later there was a further disturbance. This was caused by the Pope establishing the English Hierarchy which was regarded as a personal insult by many non-catholics in Birkenhead.

Probably the severest of the lot occurred in 1862 and was known as the Garibaldi riot. It started in a very small way. A debating society decided to hold a discussion . The subject was, “Sympathy with Garibaldi and Italy”. A crowd of people, principally Irish who were working on the construction of the docks attempted to break up the meeting which was adjourned. Instead of letting the matter drop the members of the society decided to hold a discussion to weeks later. The magistrates advised them to cancel, but replied by demanding as ratepayers protection by the police in enjoying their right of free speech.

Contretemps received more publicity and people all over Merseyside took sides on the question. More than 3,000 men volunteered as special constables and the 49th Foot Regiment from Manchester was called in. The town and county police available at Birkenhead amounted to 80 men and they were stationed at the hall where the debate took place. The 3,000 volunteers were supplied with oak staffs and were stationed in the basement of the market. The troops were billeted in a hotel at Monks Ferry.

The crowd assembled and marched to the meeting but seeing the mounted troops did not disrupt the proceedings. Instead windows were broken local public houses were entirely wrecked. The windows of private houses were smashed. Looting continued from 8pm until midnight during which time the looters went about their work entirely unchecked. The military remained at the hotel, the volunteers in the market basement and the police at their posts.

There was a terrible outcry that day when it was discovered that nothing had been done to stop the riots. The authorities were blamed for not stopping the disturbances. The reason given by the magistrates was that the special constables were so determined to suppress the riot and bring the offenders to justice that if they had been allowed to act the rioters would have suffered severely.

How many people from Birkenhead know that Chester Street was known as “The flags”, this section was between Ivy Street and St Mary’s Gate. It got its name from the fact that this section of the road was an unofficial open-air market on Saturdays it was thronged with farmers with dairy produce and traders selling stores to the farmers. With the opening of the official market “the Flags” lost its popularity but its name still lingers in the memory of a few.

April 18th, 1939

Mersey Forge

Liverpool was responsible for the construction of a gun which, in its time, was the largest gun ever made. This was the gun known as the Monster Horsfall Gun which was made for the Crimean War. Its weight was 21 tons 17 cwts, and it was tried out on the shore at Waterloo Crosby.

Liverpool were very proud of the gun and on the day when it was taken from the Mersey Forge, Toxteth on May 21st, 1856, to the North shore the route was hung with bunting and enormous crowds gathered, not only to see it pass but to accompany it to Waterloo and celebrate the occasion in the manner which Liverpool people have observed for centuries.

The trials proved that the gun could fire a shot of 300 lbs a distance of 5 miles. Unfortunately for the future of the gun the trials were held exactly three days before the Crimean War came to an end.

The Mersey Forge closed down some years before the Great War. During its existence it had been responsible for many famous guns. It was founded in 1810 by William CLAY and was identified with the original Toxteth ironworks. The site was in Sefton Street, but was moved in 1864 to make way for the Garston railway cutting. It's second position was divided into three sections by Horsfall Street and Grafton Street, the three sections having communication by means of tunnels under the roadway.

In one section there used to be a huge heap of scrap iron. Boys were paid 15s per week piling up the scrap. When the forge was in full swing as many as 1600 workmen were employed there.

A feature of the works was an immense steam hammer which weighed 15 tons. When this hammer was in action householders in the district had to leave their windows open for fear of their breaking. The noise was so terrific that it could be heard rattling the windows of houses across the river. Eventually a law suit was raised against the company to suppress the noise and succeeded a few years before the Forge was closed down.

The crack volunteer corps of Liverpool was attached to the Forge and was known as Clay's Artillery, the headquarters were at the foot of Beresford Road.

Beresford Road, brings to mind the ferry service which ran from Toxteth to New Ferry, but was discontinued after a few years. There were two small boats on the service the, SYREN and the SYLPH, paddle steamers with yellow funnels. The landing stage at Beresford Road was built with money raised from Toxteth people. The scheme failed through lack of support. New Ferry pier passed into the hands of the Birkenhead Corporation in 1899 and was closed down in 1922 when the long pier was cut in half by a ship crashing through it in the fog.

New Ferry pier has been entirely removed but the offices are still standing, and there are still old notices giving directions to the pier. On the embankment at New Ferry are a number of old houses built about 150 years ago in the Colonial style. This spot affords one of the finest views of Liverpool particularly if it is high tide and the sun is shining. Sefton Park and the wooded slopes of Mossley Hill provided a pleasant patch of green to the landscape.


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