The Wirral Through Time (Book review)


Daniel K Longman and his books have featured regularly on this website and in the pages of The Merseysider magazine. He’s a well known local historian whose interesting and informative articles in the Liverpool Echo have been very popular with readers. His latest book is a selection of photographs, portraying old and present day Wirral. On each page a contemporary photograph is juxtaposed with an image from the past (usually from the 19th or early 20th centuries), so we can see how much – or in some cases how little – particular locations have changed. Accompanying the photographs is Longman’s knowledgeable and perceptive commentary.

The book takes us all over the Wirral, from Woodside to West Kirby and from Perch Rock to Parkgate. Some places have changed quite dramatically. We see Rock Ferry pier in Edwardian times, a busy scene with people looking as if they’re hurrying to catch the next ferry (the service would come to an end in 1939). Today the Refreshment Rooms (now a pub) survive, but other buildings, including the pier entrance with its clock tower, have gone. Longman tells us that Daniel Defoe is believed to have crossed over to Liverpool from here in 1725, and that the stone slipway is thought to be the oldest surviving structure built into the Mersey. Also in Rock Ferry, Kings Lane in the 1920s appears a quiet, treelined road with very few houses. Today a few of the trees remain but mid-20th century housing now dominates both sides of the still gently curving road.

Other locations have changed more subtly. Argyle Street has retained some of its older buildings but appears a shadow of its former self: an early 20th century shot shows a bustling thoroughfare, crowded with shops, small businesses and pubs. The planners who shifted the epicentre of Birkenhead away from its old heart have much to answer for.

Nevertheless the book shows that plenty of Wirral locations have kept their appearance and character. Neston High Street, Caldy village and Warren Drive (New Brighton) appear little changed. Port Sunlight and Thornton Hough have of course been carefully preserved. There are many shots of Port Sunlight, and interesting facts about the village. Hulme Hall, where Ringo Starr famously played his first show as an official Beatle, used to be the soap factory’s Girls’ Dining Hall, with seating for up to two thousand women.

Elsewhere in the book Longman’s commentary is full of such nuggets of curious information. Hamilton Square station’s first passengers used lifts that carried a hundred people at a time. Hamilton Square and James Street, its sister station just across the river, are the oldest deep level stations in the world. Dickens Avenue, a beautiful path through Bebington’s Mayer Park, was named after the famous novelist by his friend Joseph Mayer, whose house with its impressive clock tower can still be seen nearby. Birkenhead’s Grange Road was originally a quiet lane used by monks to transport produce down to the shore. It later became a thriving shopping district, but Longman observes that today’s retailers face stiff commercial challenges. His remarks seem particularly prescient with the recent news that House of Fraser is to join Marks & Spencer in closing its Birkenhead store.

So, a splendid book with much to enjoy, much to learn and much to think about!

The Wirral Through Time by Daniel K Longman is published by Amberley Publishing, priced £14.99