How has New Brighton changed over the years?

The Wirral town of New Brighton is certainly an area that’s constantly on the move. Many of the original landmark buildings are no longer standing, but there are enough interesting old and new buildings to attract visitors to the area.

Prior to the 19th Century

Before the 19th century, New Brighton had a reputation for smuggling and salvaging goods from shipwrecks. It is rumoured that the smugglers constructed secret tunnels from the beach that still exist today, but there is no firm evidence of this.

The 19th Century

As the 1800s arrived, New Brighton’s position at the entrance of the Mersey Estuary gave it military significance. The Perch Rock battery was built in 1829 and had 18 mounted guns to act as a deterrent for enemy ships heading up the River Mersey to Liverpool.

In 1830, James Atherton, a Liverpool merchant, saw New Brighton’s potential as a tourist attraction. He purchased 170 acres of land at Rock Point to develop it as a residential and leisure sight for the gentry.

By the late 19th Century, New Brighton was established as a seaside resort, with many hotels catering for visitors. In the 1860s, a pier was built, and a promenade completed in 1901.

The 20th Century

New Brighton in the 20th Century is a story of prominent buildings being constructed, then destroyed.

The New Brighton Tower was opened in 1900, but during World War I it was not maintained and was pulled down in 1921 due to its derelict condition.

In 1934, an Art Deco style swimming pool was opened. At the time it was the largest lido in Britain and cost the not inconsiderable sum of £90,000. The pool survived until 1990, when it was demolished after extensive storm damage.

One building that survives is the St Peter and St Paul’s Church, which was built in 1935.

After World War II, New Brighton declined as a leisure attraction, but the Tower Ballroom remained active and Liverpool groups including the Beatles played there. However, the ballroom was destroyed in a fire in 1969.

Ferries across the Mersey from New Brighton were discontinued in 1971 and the landing stage was dismantled soon afterwards. The pier was dismantled in 1977.

In 1986, photographer Martin Parr’s book, The Last Resort, showed photographs of a decaying New Brighton, with images of rubbish on the streets and shabby near empty amusement arcades. However, there were pictures of people enjoying themselves, sitting on deckchairs in the sun, which showed that New Brighton had not entirely lost its attraction.

The following year, the area featured as a backdrop for a top 10 hit – Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’.

In the last few years, New Brighton has enjoyed a renaissance, with over a million visitors a year. A £80bn leisure and retail centre has been built, and there is now a theatre, marine lakes, well-maintained parks, restaurants, bars and cafes. The community-built driftwood boat, The Black Pearl hosts pirate events.

It seems Martin Parr’s negative vision of New Brighton as ‘The Last Resort’ is no longer true.

The buildings that remain

Though part of New Brighton’s story is about prominent buildings that have not survived, there are still a number of historic and more recently built buildings that are worth seeing.

The Perch Rock defence battery, which was completed in 1929 is still standing. The fort, built on what was known as the Black Rock used to be cut off from the shore at high tide, but due to coastal reclamation, it is accessible at all times. It is made of red sandstone blocks and its guns could easily hit ships that passed 900 yards from them. The fort was decommissioned by the War Office in 1956 and sold to the Darroch family that currently owns it. It is now a maritime and aviation-themed museum.

The New Brighton Lighthouse was constructed in 1827. It was designed by John Foster Jr. in a similar style to the iconic Eddystone Lighthouse. It was constructed from Anglesey marble by Tomkinson & Company. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1973 but restored in 2001. In 2016, the council, local businesses and community groups raised money to restore the light, which was lit for the first time in 42 years.

There are two notable churches in New Brighton. The Anglican St James Church designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott is known for its thin broach spire and its polygonal apse. It houses the New Brighton visitor’s centre. The St Peter’s and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church is a Grade II listed building in the Roman Gesu style with a large dome on a drum-shaped base. Returning sailors heading up the Mersey nicknamed it the ‘Dome from Home’.

The Magazine Hotel is one of the oldest pubs on the Wirral, dating from 1759. It retains much of the charm and character of the traditional pub, with cosy snugs and an open fireplace. The Hotel overlooks the River Mersey.

New Brighton used to have many theatres, such as the Tivoli, the Winter Gardens, Tower Theatre, Pier Pavilion, and the Palace Theatre, but they have all closed their doors.

In 2006, the last remaining theatre, The Floral, was due to close. The management had other ideas though and campaigned to keep the theatre open. Their campaign resulted in the replacement of the 1913 building with the purpose-built Floral Pavilion Theatre, which opened in 2008. This revamped facility has an 800-seat auditorium and around 1,000 square metres of events space. Its futuristic design has stunning views over the River Mersey.

The Floral Pavilion is part of a £80m scheme to provide leisure and retail facilities in the area

The future

New Brighton has had many highs and lows in its history, but over the last few years, the local council, business and community groups have been dedicated to improving the town. Their efforts have resulted in many new developments, including the Floral Pavilion, the Light Cinema and the Marine Point development.

With over one million visitors to the resort expected in 2018, the future looks positive for New Brighton.

Posted by Mark
March 6, 2018

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