Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Lost Village of Shotwick

Is Shotwick a lost village? Well it is certainly very different to what it once was. Up until the eighteenth century the village in Cheshire was nestled on the banks of the River Dee, it was a crossing point over the river, and would have had boats resting on the bank. Today the river is about a mile away, the result of the silting of the River Dee, silting that has also effected Parkgate. The village is dominated by the medieval Church of St. Michael's and has a number of cottages that line a road that now passes the Church to nowhere. The Church has a variety of historical and archaeological features, from stonemasons marks, seventeenth and eighteenth century gravestones, and remains of Civil War activity.

A beautiful painting in the Church showing how the village once rested on the banks of the River Dee.
St. Michael's Church. The Norman Church of the 12th century replaced a Saxon Church, which was probably a wooden structure.
The beautiful Norman Arch of the south doorway is part of the Norman structure.

When visiting the Church by the entrance, one will notice a series of grooves on the sandstone. The website for the Church tells us that 'by a decree of Edward III, after Mass the rest of Sunday had to be devoted to archery, all other sport being prohibited in its interest. These grooves worn in the sandstone of the porch were made by archers sharpening their arrows before practice at the butts.'

What is believed locally to be a mooring ring on the church wall. The River Dee would have come close to the wall before the silting took place. It's an interesting discussion piece to end on.

All photographs by Dr David Harrison.

© Dr David Harrison 2016.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Lost Village of Knotty Ash

Knotty Ash on the outskirts of Liverpool still retains aspects of the village it once was; St. John’s Church is situated on the Leafy Thomas Lane, along with an old school building, a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century cottages, and a Village Hall where the Beatles once played on St. Patrick’s night in 1962. The Village Hall was also the meeting place for the local Knotty Ash Lodge of Freemasons, which met there in 1938. The remnants of the old bowling greens can also still be seen. Thingwall Hall is located in the area, which is also a hidden gem of Liverpool architecture and will be the subject of another blog post in the future.

The village was said to have been named after a gnarled Knotty Ash tree which was situated near the old Knotty Ash Pub, and, like Old Swan, being a stop-off along the pack horse route of Prescot Road, a number of pubs sprang up, such as the Turks Head and the Wheatsheaf. The Little Bongs is another hidden gem of Liverpool; through an entrance on Prescot Road you can find a row of terraced nineteenth century workers cottages set along a cobbled pathway, the ‘bongs’ are said to refer to the ‘bungs’ that the workers hammered into the barrels of beer at the nearby Joseph Jones’ brewery. A memorial to Joseph Jones can be seen in St. John’s Church and his name can be seen in the window of the Wheatsheaf.

St. John’s Church in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, is a beautiful Gothic church built between 1834-6, and has some interesting Masonic features; there is a stained glass window which displays three Masonic scenes, and the memorial stone of John Gladstone, the son of prominent local politician and Freemason Robertson Gladstone can be found in the church yard. The catacombs themselves are to be found beneath the church, and the brick work certainly reflects a similar style in places to the tunnels of Joseph Williamson. There are family vaults in the catacombs, and some lead coffins can be glimpsed at through rusting Victorian cast iron ‘shutters’. There is also an old soldier buried in his full uniform. Here are a few photos taken from a recent history walk.

The Village Hall
The Wheatsheaf.

The Entrance to the Little Bongs

The Little Bongs

Joseph Jones - in the window of the Wheatsheaf

The old School House on Thomas Lane opposite the Church, dated 1837

The other School building on Thomas Lane built in 1835, extended 1882

St. John's Church

The grave of John Gladstone, son of Robertson Gladstone

Memorial of Joseph Jones in St. John's Church

The Masonic window in St. John's Church

Memorial for a member of the local Thompson family in St. John's Church

The balcony in the Church. The d├ęcor is in-keeping with early 19th century styles

The Catacombs in the depths of St. John's Church

A burial 'compartment' in the catacombs

T.B. Cunston 1860

H. Bland

Road marker - 1776

Eighteenth century cottage owned by Ken Dodd

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison.

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

The Unitarian Chapel of Toxteth is one of Liverpool's oldest surviving buildings; built in 1618 for the local Puritan Community, Richard Mather being listed as the first Minister, Mather later emigrating to New England in the American Colonies in 1635. Mather had been appointed the first Master of the school that had been built in 1611 by Puritan farmers, and he seems to have displayed leadership qualities and intellect, becoming a celebrated Puritan Minister and Teacher in colonial Boston, Massachusetts until his death in 1669. His son Increase Mather was also a Puritan Minister in New England and was somewhat politically active, becoming involved in the Salem Witch trials. His son Cotton Mather, gave unwavering support for the trials, a stance that attracted criticism, and though a prolific author, Cotton Mather didn't have the political career his father had.

The chapel in Toxteth became a central place of worship for the Unitarians during the later eighteenth century, and many famous Liverpool Unitarians were associated with the chapel, and are buried in the grave yard, such as the Rawdon family, the Rathbones, the Holts and the Melly family. The chapel is a historical gem and for anyone interested in Liverpool history, it's well worth a visit.

A memorial for Jeremiah Horrox (Horrocks) who predicted the transit of Venus in 1639.

A grave stone commemorating a member of the Holt family.

A grave stone commemorating a member of the Rathbone family.

Graves commemorating the Holt family.

The mixed coloured local sandstone used in the building of the chapel.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison.

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A history of Old Swan

Old Swan in Liverpool has a fascinating history; named after an eighteenth century public house called The Three Swans, a stop-off place for pack horses and travellers at the junction of what is now Prescot Road (which was a main pack horse route bringing coal from Prescot and St Helens) Broadgreen Road (once called Petticoat Lane), and what is now St Oswald Street. The sign of the swan was inspired by the coat of arms of the Walton family, and there are symbols of the swan feeding three cygnets in various locations in the area. The site of The Three Swans was located over the road from the present Old Swan pub (which was called the Swan Vaults), where the Red House pub used to be, and another pub called The Cygnet (which is now closed) was situated on the other side of the junction. There was also a Blacksmiths located on Prescot Road.

Old Swan grew from being a stop-off place to water the horses and refresh the travellers, into what effectively became a village, with the St Oswald's church being built in 1842 (designed by Pugin) with a school and a Convent being built. Industry settled in the area, with the early glass works situated near to where the present Glasshouse pub is today, and a rope walk which can still be seen at the side of Tescos opposite the church. The glass works which was opened in 1825, was one the earliest manufacturers of clear plate glass and imported around forty French glass workers to make the plain sheet glass. The factory was a success, and Old Swan glass was reputedly used for the Liverpool based Custom House and the Royal Insurance Buildings. The factory was closed in 1855 due to a Fraud Case, and according to one source, was bought out by Pilkington and the Chance brothers. The church had some major rebuilding done in the mid 1950s and the spire was rebuilt in 1989.

There is also the local mystery of the 3561 burials that were discovered in the mid 1970s on the site of the present St. Oswald's Primary School. The corpses - part of a mass burial - were exhumed and cremated, so no known testing was carried out, and all that can be said is that they were buried there before the death records began in 1837. Local historians have debated if the burials were plague victims from the 17th century or victims of the cholera epidemic of the 1830s.1

Old Swan is a historical gem with still a lot of hidden history to see. Here are a few photos taken from a recent history walk with a group of local students.

The old school building and St. Oswald's Parish Club.

From the grounds of the church - it could be in any English village. The Church and surrounding buildings were constructed using Woolton sandstone.

The school and convent buildings by St. Oswald's Church.

Another view of the church that could be any village in England.

The swan feeding three cygnets - from a tomb in the churchyard.

The font of St. Oswald's.

The Glasshouse Pub - the Old Swan glass works was situated in this area.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

1. See the booklet St Oswald's Old Swan 1842-1992 which was printed by the church and celebrates the 150 years of St. Oswald's. It has much information concerning the history, the rebuilding of the church and the mass burial that was discovered in the area.