Hilbre Island from Middle Eye.
|Location||West Kirby, Merseyside|
|Operated by||Metropolitan Borough of Wirral|
|Open||All year, dependent on tide|
Hilbre Island (// HIL-bree) is the largest of a group of three islands at the mouth of the estuary of the River Dee, the border between England and Wales at this point. The island is administratively part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. It is a Local Nature Reserve and is within the estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest. As of 2012, the island has no permanent residents.
Location and character
Hilbre Island is approximately 47,000 square metres (12 acres; 4.7 ha) in area, and lies about 1.6 km (0.99 mi) from Red Rocks, the nearest part of the mainland of the Wirral Peninsula. The other two islands are called Middle Eye (or in older sources Middle Island), which is about 12,000 square metres (3.0 acres; 1.2 ha) in size and Little Eye, which is considerably smaller. All three islands are formed of red Bunter sandstone. The main island and Middle Eye are less than a hundred yards apart.
Hilbre Island is one of 43 (unbridged) tidal islands that can be reached on foot from the mainland of Great Britain. The island can be reached on foot from the mainland at low tide; this is a popular activity with tourists, especially during the summer months. Until the end of the 1970s, there was a route from Red Rocks in Hoylake, but this has now been closed[by whom?] because of the danger of being caught by the tide and visitors are advised[by whom?] to set out from the town of West Kirby. Little Eye and Middle Eye are both unpopulated, but Hilbre Island has a few houses, some of which are privately owned,
Origin of the name
The island's name derives from the dedication of the medieval chapel which was built on the island to St. Hildeburgh, an Anglo-Saxon holy woman, after which it became known as Hildeburgheye or Hildeburgh's island.
It is believed[by whom?] that the island has been occupied on and off since the Stone Age: several finds of Stone and Bronze Age items and Roman pottery items were discovered in 1926. Although not named directly, it is believed that all three islands were mentioned in the Domesday Book in which mention is made of Chircheb (West Kirby) having two churches: one in the town and one on an island in the sea.
A small cell of monks was established on the islands around 1080. The area was part of the lands of the Norman lord Robert of Rhuddlan. He gave the islands to the abbey at Saint-Evroul-sur-Ouche in Normandy, France who in turn passed responsibility to the Abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester. The island became a common place for pilgrimage in the 13th and 14th centuries. The last monk left the island in about 1550 as it was no longer considered a sanctuary, having become a centre for commerce and a busy trading port – so much so that a custom house was established to collect taxes on the goods traded.
In 1692 a small factory was set up to refine rock salt. There was also a beer house or inn. With the silting of the River Dee trade switched to ports on the River Mersey and the trade vanished from the island leading to the closure of the beer house; part of the structure of this building remains incorporated in the custodian's residence.
The islands were bought in 1856 by the Trustees of the Liverpool Docks, which later became known as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Hilbre Island Lighthouse was constructed here in 1927. The islands were sold to Hoylake Council in 1945 for £2,500, passing to Wirral Borough Council on its formation in 1974.
The most southerly building on the island is the Hilbre Bird Observatory, from which birds are continuously monitored in connection with a national network of observatories and ringing stations.
In January 2011 it was announced that there would be no permanent ranger. Wirral Council said they have had difficulty finding a ranger prepared to live without mains electricity or running water on the island.
- Craggs, J. D. (Ed.) (1978). Hilbre – The Cheshire Island – its history and cultural history. Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0-85323-314-4.
- Burnley, Kenneth J. (1981). Portrait of Wirral. Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 0-7091-9409-9
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hilbre Island.|
- Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council: Hilbre Islands
- The Friends of Hilbre
- Merseyside Views: Hilbre Island
- Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory: Coastal Observatory Project, based around Hilbre Island and the Irish Sea
- Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory: Coastal Observatory Project, Hilbre Island webcam
- Wirral Cam: Hilbre Island webcam (from Hoylake)
- A gallery of Wirral photographs, including several pictures of Hilbre
- Isolation of Hilbre Island Life
- Hilbre Island Photo Gallery