Rock Ferry shown within Merseyside
|Population||13,676 (2001 Census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||North West England|
Rock Ferry is an area of Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula, England. Administratively it is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Before local government reorganisation on 1 April 1974, it was part of the county of Cheshire. At the 2001 Census, the population of Rock Ferry was 13,676 (6,444 males, 7,232 females).
In the 17th century Derby House, an occasional seat of the Minshull family, covered most of the grounds covered by present day Rock Ferry. Thomas Oakshott, Mayor of Liverpool, lived there in the 19th century. The house, located on Rock Lane West close to the New Chester Road, was demolished in the early 20th century.
Residential building did not really happen until the early part of the 19th century, the rise of the ferry and the railway, and the establishment of the Royal Rock Hotel and bath house in 1836. Between then and 1870, the area received an influx of luxurious housing, the villas of Rock Park and many other large houses around the Old Chester Road making Rock Ferry one of the most desirable addresses in the North West. In the later part of the 19th century, Rock Ferry expanded due to the need to house the increasing population of workers, especially at Birkenhead's Cammell Laird shipyard. By 1901, the population stood at 2,971.
In 1910, the Olympian Gardens were opened adjacent to the Royal Rock Hotel. These pleasure gardens were considered a great attraction and customers travelled from the whole of Wirral and, using the nearby ferry terminal, from Liverpool. The gardens hosted classical piano concerts and also slapstick comedy shows, with performers including Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley. At times the gardens held a prestige similar to the more famous Vauxhall Gardens in London. Shows were held in a large tent set amongst the trees and shrubs of land owned by Charles Boult. The gardens closed in the late 1920s after Mr Boult's death.
The decline of local industries in the 1950s took its toll, and by the 1980s the area had a bad reputation for crime. Many of the spendid buildings were dilapidated and unrestored, while the building of a large council estate towards Tranmere did little to help matters. This decline was reflected in the loss of the Royal Rock Hotel, as well as many of the shops in the Old Chester Road and Bedford Road; whereas before Bedford Road had supported a wine merchant, a jeweller, two tailors, three banks, and two bookshops, most shops stood vacant. Large-scale regeneration work in the 1990s, which involved the demolition or restoration of many such derelict properties, and the building of new housing, means that the area has improved considerably, although many buildings of considerable character have been lost.
Architecture and famous residents
The best-known part of Rock Ferry is Rock Park, on the banks of the River Mersey, an area of large Victorian villas of sandstone from Storeton quarry. In what was one of the first residential park developments in Britain, the houses were built between 1837 and 1850, and were the first early Victorian properties to be designated listed buildings. The lodge and nine other houses were demolished in the 1970s to make way for the New Ferry By-Pass (A41), including Hawthorne House, number 26, the former house of Nathaniel Hawthorne when he was consul to Liverpool in the 1850s. The property was subsequently owned by astronomer Isaac Roberts, who installed a seven-inch refracter in a revolving dome on the top floor. Immediately after the building of the bypass, the remainder of Rock Park was quickly designated a conservation area in 1979.
Other areas of architectural significance include Egerton Park, an oasis of late nineteenth-century villas in a leafy setting, and the Byrne Avenue Baths, a 1930s swimming pool with plenty of Art Deco features, which closed in February 2009. The row of semi-detached houses on Rockville Street, built in 1837, is one of the earliest rows of private houses in Britain to use Gothic detailing on their exteriors, while St Anne's Catholic Church on Highfield Road was designed by E. W. Pugin. The writer May Sinclair was a Rock Park resident. F. E. Smith, later Earl of Birkenhead, also briefly lived in a house on Green Lawn. Former Australian Premier Sir Charles Gavan Duffy lived at Rose Cottage, which still stands on Rockville Street, where his son, Irish politician George Gavan Duffy, was born in 1882.
Highfield United Reformed Church, completed in 1871, is a sizeable place of worship within Rock Ferry and a Grade II Listed building.
Ferry service and shipping
There are records of a ferry service from Rock Ferry pier to Liverpool from 1709 onwards, until being discontinued on 30 June 1939. Although the ferry landing stage was removed in 1957 and the terminal building demolished, the pier now forms part of Tranmere Oil Terminal, although much modified. A stone slipway originally used by the ferry service also remains.
The Royal Mersey Yacht Club was founded at Rock Ferry in 1844. Rock Ferry was home to a number of boat builders. Samuel Bond built four Royal Mersey Restricted Class boats in 1913, including Mefanwy and Phyllis. The Enterprise Small Craft Company, built a number of notable boats. Among these were 11 Seabird Half Rater one design sailing yachts in 1924, Robinetta and Fairwind in 1937 and 18 Hilbre One Design craft between 1959 and 1962.
The Naval training school vessels HMS Conway and HMS Indefatigable were moored at the Sloyne, in the River Mersey near the pier. These were ships converted for the purpose of training boys for a life at sea. During the nineteenth century, the reformatory ships HMS Akbar and HMS Clarence were also moored there. In the early years of the Second World War, both the Conway and Indefatigable were moved from the Mersey to avoid damage.
The area is served by Rock Ferry railway station on the Wirral Line of the Merseyrail commuter rail network. Regular underground services (6 trains per hour) operate northbound cross-river to Liverpool via Birkenhead and surface services southbound to Chester (every 15 minutes) and Ellesmere Port (every 30 minutes). There are also several scheduled bus routes that run along New Chester Road into Birkenhead and central Liverpool.
The area is home to Rock Ferry High School, which became an Associate College of Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) in 2006. Rock Ferry also has many local primary schools, such as Rock Ferry Primary, St Annes Primary and Well Lane Primary. The Dell Primary School closed in 2006 and has since been demolished.
Liverpool band Deaf School released the song Rock Ferry on their 1977 album Don't Stop The World.
Welsh singer Duffy revealed in a 2008 interview with British music magazine Uncut that her single Rockferry, released in the UK in 2007, and the album of the same name, were named after Rock Ferry, where her grandmother lives.
- 2001 Census: Rock Ferry, Office for National Statistics, retrieved 2 July 2007
- Cheshire Towns & Parishes: Rock Ferry, GENUKI UK & Ireland Genealogy, retrieved 2 July 2007
- Ward, Mary (1991), The Changing Years, Rock Ferry Local History Group / Wirral Metropolitan College
- Pool closes - so is THIS what they mean by 'community transfer'?, Wirral Globe, 17 February 2009, retrieved 22 February 2009
- "Highfield United Reformed Church, Birkenhead". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
- Port Cities: Ferries across the Mersey, E. Chambré Hardman Archive, retrieved 28 October 2007
- Maund, TB (1991), Mersey Ferries - Volume 1, Transport Publishing Co. Ltd., ISBN 0-86317-166-4
- Goulding, Kevin. "Phyllis". Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- "Fairwind". Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- School ships in the Mersey, E. Chambré Hardman Archive, retrieved 9 January 2008
- Online newsletter, Rock Ferry High School, retrieved 19 August 2007
Rock Ferry see the Story of Bebington by W.Lowndes (1953 Coronation Souvenir) The Wirral Peninsula by Norman Ellison (first published 1955 reprinted 1955, 56, 58,1962.)
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