Land of the Welshman
The area now known as Wallasey means stranger or foreigner, “Land of the Welshman” which is also the origin of the name Wales.
.This remote position at the mouth of the river Mersey was a marshy, boggy area originally known as Rock Point, a place renowned for smuggling and wrecking. Some of the caverns and tunnels are still there to this day. Out on this isolated corner of the Wirral there was a light to guide shipping into the Port of Liverpool, a wooden tripod with a light mounted on a dish or perch. This proved a problem in stormy weather as the unit was consistently being washed away. On one occasion it was recovered off the coast at Southport.
In 1829 a stone lighthouse replaced the wooden perch and at the same time a fort named Fort Perch Rock was built to protect the port of Liverpool following the Napoleonic wars. The fort used the word perch in its name after the original light.
It is said that the first shots of World War One were fired from the fort that was controlled at the time by the local home guard. In August 1914 a Norwegian sailing ship ignored signals from the fort to identify themselves. The CO of the fort, Major Charles Luya, a Wallasey dentist ordered a shot to be fired across the bows. The cannon had too much elevation and the shell sailed over the ship and landed in the sandhills at Hightown on the Liverpool coast. An irate householder recovered the shell from near his home and carried it in a bucket to the headquarters of the Merseyside Defence unit where they displayed it behind their bar with a sign “A present from New Brighton.”
The ship continued to sail up the river and so a second attempt was made with the elevation corrected. However, by this time the ship was further up the river and the shot hit a merchant ship at anchor in the docks.
There is no record of Mayor Luyas comments on the incident, faces were red, embarrassment was acute.
A Liverpool merchant James Atherton looked out of his window across to
Wallasey and dreamed of building a fashionable seaside resort similar to Brighton on the south coast. Therefore in 1830 he bought 170 acres of land and started to develop a desirable residential watering place for the gentry.
These grand villas built on the cliffs had far reaching views to north Wales in
one direction and Southport in the other are now mainly run-down flats.
However, his plans fell apart, as more ferries started to operate across the Mersey it became a place for day-trippers to escape the industry of Liverpool for a few hours and the exclusive up market image was lost.
The New Brighton Tower, at the time the tallest in the county, was opened in 1900 but closed in 1919, largely due to lack of maintenance during World War 1
The wild west came to town in the spring of 1908 when the Cummins-Brown “Wild West” and Indian Congress arrived on 23rd May. (Buffalo Bill had visited the area but that was to Birkenhead Prenton Park now home to Tranmere Rovers football club.)
Colonel Cummins arrived at Lime Street station and paraded through the city streets of Liverpool, 500 men and horses mainly cowboys and Indians, plus a stage coach, to the landing stage for the short trip across the river to New Brighton and the Tower Stadium.
During that summer the cowboys, when not taking part in the show, would go down into the town and shoot off their guns after a few drinks giving the local police extra work. The Indians were banned from the pubs but must have made a colourful sight as they prowled around Victoria road and the promenade.
During their stay in New Brighton, one of the show people died and a large procession was arranged for the funeral at Rake Lane Cemetery. The Indians attended in full costume.
Just along the coast from New Brighton the Irving Theatre was opened in 1899. Sir Henry Irving a famous actor in London gave his name to the theatre.
On opening night Bran Stoker author of Dracula was one of the guests. Two young boys were part of the company of actors, one was Wee Georgie Wood who went on to be a big hit on the variety stage and the other was Stanley Jenkinson, a less than talented young man. He couldn't act, couldn't sing and certainty wasn't funny. He was only in the company because his father owned several theatres. However, several years later he emigrated to America, changed his name to Stan Laurel and the rest is history.
The area can boast several notable events that have gone down in history:
The Wallasey Golf Club was where club member Dr Frank Stapleford developed the Stapleford system of points scoring. This was first used in competition in 1932 and is now used all over the world.
The first guide dog training school, the Guide Dog for the Blind Association was founded in the town in 1931. A statue sits outside the Floral Pavilion Theatre to celebrate the occasion.
The world's first passenger hovercraft service operated from July to September 1962 between Leasowe and Rhyl in north Wales.
Ernest Marples was elected Conservative Party MP for Wallasey in 1945. In 1957 he was appointed Postmaster General and in 1959 Minister for Transport. He introduced parking meters, the provisional driving licence, pander crossings, MOT testing, single and double yellow lines, traffic wardens and seat belt control to the UK. He retired from the House of Commons in 1974 and was made a life peer as Baron Marples of Wallasey in the county of Merseyside.
The Solar Campus on Leasowe Road was the first building in the world to be heated entirely by solar energy built in 1961 to the design of Emslie Morgan.
My thanks to “Hidden Wirral,” and many others for the contents of this article.