Five must-see buildings on the Wirral

The Wirral Peninsula might only be about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide, but within this small area there are many impressive buildings.

For example, did you know that Hamilton Square in Birkenhead is notable for having the largest number of Grade I listed buildings in any area outside of London?

It doesn’t end there though – here are five other must-see buildings in the Wirral area:

1. Fort Perch Rock

Fort Perch Rock is a structure situated in New Brighton and is a coastal defence built between 1825 and 1829 to protect the Port of Liverpool. It occupies an area of around 4,000 square yards and could hold 100 men at the time.

The fort was originally cut off from the mainland at high tide and was accessed via a drawbridge. The building is now a museum and is accessible at all times without the bridge.

The fort was armed with 18 guns mounted on platforms and. It also contained a lighthouse to guide shipping. Interestingly, a gun was fired at a Norwegian ship at the start of World War I because it was sailing up a channel that had been declared closed. The fired shell missed, landing on the other side of the Mersey. The Norwegian ship captain claimed that he had no idea that the war had started and the channel was closed. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.

Built from red sandstone, the walls of the fort range between 24 and 32 feet high with 40-foot towers and cost £27,000. Locals nicknamed Perch Rock ‘The Gibraltar of Merseyside’.

2. Birkenhead Priory

Birkenhead Priory is located in Priory Street, Birkenhead. It was founded in 1150 and is a Grade I listed building.

A lot of the original building remains and the rest has been restored. Constructed from red sandstone, the Priory is probably the first building built in the Wirral area. It originally occupied an isolated position on a headland looking over the River Mersey, but is now surrounded by the remains of docks and industrial buildings.

Monastic buildings surround cloisters and to the east is the chapter house, a rectangular building in the Norman Architecture style featuring two rib-vaulted bays and Romanesque sculpture. A second story was added in the 14th Century and includes the Scriptorium where manuscripts were transcribed by monks. The chapter house is now used for Anglican church services.

To the north is the refectory added in the 14th Century. In the west are the prior’s lodgings and the guest quarters.

Today, the site houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the Priory.

3. Leasowe Lighthouse

Leasowe Lighthouse is the oldest brick built lighthouse in Britain. Rising to a height of 101 feet, it is situated on the sand dunes at Leasowe Common, which is between Moreton and Wallasey

The lighthouse has seven floors reached by a spiral staircase made from cast iron. It was built in 1763 by the Liverpool Corporation’s Dock Committee and used as a guide for ships entering the Rock Channel on their way to the Port of Liverpool. It operated until 1908 and was notable for being run by Britain’s only female lighthouse keeper, Mrs Williams. After its closure it became a tearoom for a while, then was disused until 1989.

It now houses a visitor centre, which is open to the public on the first Sunday of the month in winter and the first and third Sundays of the month in summer.

4. Lady Lever Art Gallery

The Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight houses what is claimed to be the UK’s finest decorative and fine art collection. The collection includes Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Wedgwood jasperware.

William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Port Sunlight, dedicated the gallery to his wife Elizabeth Lever. The couple were avid art collectors and used the gallery to display their extensive collection.

The architecture of the gallery was based on classic architecture and was inspired by American art galleries that William Lever had visited. The gallery was designed by Lever and his architects William and Seger Owen.

The building is low with set back corners and, although it contains a large floor space, it does not dominate the cottages that surround it. The building has few windows, relying on roof lights to provide illumination.

The foundation stone for the Lady Lever Art Gallery was laid in 1914 by King George V, who operated a button 500 yards away that caused an onsite switch to lower the foundation stone. The building was opened in 1922 by Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria.

At the opening ceremony, William Lever declared:

“Art and the beautiful civilise and elevate because they enlighten and ennoble.”

5. St Bridget’s Church and the Hogback Stone

There are many historic churches in the Wirral. One of the oldest is St Bridget’s in West Kirby, which dates back to 1150, though many of the existing features were added later. The church was founded by the Christian Vikings who came over to the Wirral from Ireland.

The church tower was built in the 16th Century around an original core. The east wall of the chancel and the chapel were constructed in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

A curiosity of the church is the Hogback Stone, which is a grave cover stone kept by the pulpit. The stone is curved and is thought to resemble the back of a hog. Made from nonlocal hard grey sandstone, it is of Anglo-Norse origins from the 11th Century. The stone was discovered during the restoration of the church between 1869 and 1870.

The restorations was carried out by the architects Kelly and Edwards, who rebuilt the aisle walls and replaced the arches. Stained glass and interior ironwork features were added. The stained glass of the East Window was crafted in 1870 by Charles Kempe, a leading Victorian designer. The restoration work also added a large font designed to totally immerse children, but presently no children are fully submerged.

The nearby West Kirby museum houses an exhibition of St Bridget’s Church history.

As you can see, there’s more to this fascinating peninsula than golf and beaches, so be sure to take some of it in during your next visit.

Posted by Mark
January 28, 2017

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