The architecture of Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square

In the centre of Birkenhead is the impressive Hamilton Square, which is said to contain the most listed Grade I buildings of any area outside of London’s Trafalgar Square. It will be a familiar name to anyone who regularly travels between Chester and Liverpool by train.

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The square was built between 1825 and 1844 by William Laird, and the architect of the square was James Gillespie Graham from Edinburgh. It’s a fine example of a late Victorian, Early Georgian architecture and is protected as a conservation area.

Monuments

There are a number of monuments in Hamilton Square, including a statue of John Laird, who was William’s son and Birkenhead’s first member of parliament.

In the centre of Hamilton Square is the Queen Victoria Monument, which is in the form of an Eleanor Cross similar to those erected by King Edward I, once visited Birkenhead. Its designer was Edmund Kirby and it was completed in 1905. The monument was first conceived by Wirral Council after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. This Gothic-styled monument is 23 metres high and is built from sandstone sourced from Darley Dale in Derbyshire. It stands on steps made from granite that was imported from Newry in Northern Ireland

There is a cenotaph situated in front of the Town Hall which is the focus for the annual Remembrance Sunday celebration. The cenotaph was constructed in 1925 and now commemorates the fallen soldiers of World War I and II. In 2014, restoration work was carried out to clean the monument and repaint the names written on it.

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The market

A market was opened in the square in 1835, built at a cost of £4.400. The population of Birkenhead at that time was just 2,569. By 1845, it had more than tripled, and a new larger market was needed. The new market was known as the ‘Old Market’ and was built by Fox, Henderson & Cox. It was the second largest market building in Europe.

Fox, Henderson & Cox built London’s Crystal Palace in 1851. Both buildings were claimed to be fireproof, but this was disproved when Crystal Palace caught fire in in 1936, and Birkenhead Market in 1969. After restoration, Birkenhead Market caught fire again in 1974.

The market once featured a large clock whose face was destroyed by fire. The clock mechanism was saved and now forms part of the Birkenhead Shopping Centre.

The Town Hall

The Birkenhead Town Hall in Hamilton Square was completed in 1887, designed by local architect Christopher Ellison. The building is no longer the main location of Wirral Council but still houses the registry office and the council’s Children’s and Young People Department, and Birkenhead Magistrates’ Court is also situated in the Town Hall. The building used to house Wirral Museum, but that has closed.

The Town Hall comprises council chambers and offices, as well as a concert hall and function rooms. Functions and events are held in the function rooms, which are known locally as the Assembly Rooms. Rising above the building is a 200-foot clock tower with four clock faces. In 1901, fire reared its head again, destroying part of the tower that was rebuilt to a design by Henry Hartley. As part of this restoration, a stained-glass window was installed in the tower. This depicts Edward I’s visit to Birkenhead Priory in 1277.

In the 1902, work was carried out to restore the external stonework and much of the interior was refurbished.

The Terraces

Along the North side of the square are rows of Georgian terraced houses. Many of them have been converted to apartments for rent, either for long-term accommodation or short-term holiday apartments.
Online housing site Zoopla describes a Hamilton Square apartment as:

“A stunning 2 bedroom apartment available to let, with beautiful views of Hamilton Square.This property is fully renovated to a high specification with new carpets and decor throughout. The kitchen includes a cooker, inbuilt fridge freezer and a integrated washing machine. With traditional sash windows opening onto the stunning views of Hamilton Square, with a perfect mixture of a traditional building and modern interior.”

Within the square are gardens that were once for residents of the Terraces, meaning other residents of Birkenhead were not allowed to enter. In 1903, the council acquired the gardens and provided free access to the public.

Hamilton Square railway station

Underground trainThe nearby Hamilton Square railway station opened in 1886. It was designed by G.E Grayson and has an Italian inspired brick and terracotta design. It features glazed roofs and large bays with louvred windows. Rising above the station is a four-stage tower with arched windows and clustered shafts. The booking hall features glazed tiled walls, and a queen post and column roof supported with iron tiles.

Today, commuters travelling from the Wirral towns of West Kirby or New Brighton, to the West Cheshire locations of Chester and Ellesmere Port (or vice versa) use the station as a connection.

The future of Hamilton Square

Hamilton Square is peaceful, as very little traffic is allowed. This was threatened in 2015 when Wirral Council published plans to open the square to traffic by removing pedestrian-only areas around the square in a move that would have cost about £1.1m. After much opposition from businesses and the general public to the scheme, the plans were scrapped and the funds the project would have cost were allocated to work on the square’s regeneration.

Local developers Goodman Wells, who converted some of the Hamilton Terrace properties to luxury apartments, believe that Hamilton Square is becoming one of the North of England’s most desirable places to live. Paul Burgess, Director of Goodman Wells, said:

“The square is an absolute gem and potentially one of the most desirable and characterful places to live in the entire city region.”

From Victorian times to the present day, Hamilton Square and its gardens have been a peaceful, safe haven for residents and tourists. The redevelopment of the terraces skilfully combines the best of the original architectural features with modern interiors, keeping the square’s fine history and character intact.

The listed status of the Hamilton Square buildings mean that their architectural designs will be preserved for future generations of Birkenhead residents and visitors to enjoy.

Posted by Mark
December 1, 2016
Features

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