Birkenhead, Cheshire

Historical Description

Birkenhead, a market-town, seaport, township, and municipal and parliamentary borough in the county of Chester. It is situated in the lower division of the hundred of Wirral, on the western bank of the Mersey, directly opposite to Liverpool, about 3 miles from the sea. The name of the town is supposed to have been derived from a small stream, Birken or Birket, which joins the Mersey not far from the present ferry. The origin of the town is somewhat ancient, as it took its rise in connection with a Benedictine priory which was founded about the year 1170, in the reign of Henry II., by Hamon de Massey, Baron of Dunham Mas-sey. Its priors sat in the parliaments of the Earls of Chester as nobles of the Palatinate, and in 1282 Edward I. gave them the right to maintain a ferry, which is still known as Monk's Ferry. A fine crypt and some interesting ruins of the priory still remain. The greater part of the priory estate was bestowed by Henry VIII. on Ralph Worsley, and passed successively to the Powells, the Clevelands, and the Prices. It is only quite recently, however, that Birkenhead has risen to its present important position. Even so late as 1801 Birkenhead had only 110 inhabitants, and twenty years later only 236. The first move towards a town was the purchase from the Corporation of Liverpool, in 1824, by Mr. Laird, the father of the celebrated shipbuilder of Alabama notoriety, of several acres of land on the shore of the Wallasey Pool, an inlet from the Mersey. The pool and the land around it were excellently suited for docks, but it was not till 1844 that the docks were commenced, and they have been constructed upon a great scale. The water area of the docks is 168 acres, and the lineal quay space about 10 miles. In 1857 the docks of Birkenhead were amalgamated with those of Liverpool under the public trust known as The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board; and although the Birkenhead docks have not hitherto realized the expectations that were entertained in regard to them, it is believed that these expectations may be realized at no distant time. At the present time the docks of Liverpool are crowded, and the docks at 'Birkenhead cannot fail to increase in importance with the growing development of trade. In 1862 a landing-stage was constructed at Woodside Ferry at immense expense?800 feet long and 80 feet wide, resting on pontoons in a similar way to the stage on the Liverpool side, rising and falling with the tide. It is connected with the piers by two iron bridges.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Cheshire
Civil parish Bidstone
Hundred Wirrall
Poor Law union Wirrall

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Birkenhead from the following:


Online maps of Birkenhead are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Cheshire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Cheshire, 1580 is available on the Heraldry page.