A Local History of the Wirral Peninsula
Bidston Hill and Village
To the north of Birkenhead lies a ridge known as Bidston Hill. The hill lies between Wallasey Pool and the marshlands that extended from Moreton right the way up to Prenton prior to the Leasowe Embankment being constructed and Moreton Marshes being drained. The hill is an extension of the Storeton Ridge that runs down the Wirral as far as Storeton Quarry, where the Storeton Tramway (an early railway) conveyed the rock quarried at Storeton to docks at Bromborough Pool (Port Sunlight) on the banks of the River Mersey.
Historically, the hill was a deer park used by the gentry before Wirral was disafforested (removal of hunting rights). The hill covers approximately one hundred acres and contains many features of historical and local interest. Close to the car park near Tollemache Road is “Tam O’Shanter’s Cottage”, now an appreciation centre for the hill and a children’s farm. Close by was situated a grand house called “Hillbark”. In 1910, the house was dismantled and transported brick by brick to a new location at Frankby adjacent to Thurstaston Hill where it still stands today.
St George’s Way is a public footpath that threads its way over the hill and guides the visitor through the natural beauty spots and interesting features that the hill has to offer.
Through the centre of the hill runs Vyner Road North. The road is sunken in a stone “cutting” and is spanned by a steel bridge, which connects the two parts of the hill. Close to the bridge is Bidston Windmill. It was built on the hill’s summit in 1800 and was used to produce flour in 1875. It has suffered through the ravages of time but has since been restored and received new sails in the 1990’s. There are frequent open days when the interior and operating machinery can be inspected.
Heading north along the ridge towards the Observatory, a “Trig” point is passed. This point is marked on Ordnance Survey Maps and gives the exact latitude and longitude as well as the height above sea level. Cast into the platter of the trig point are distances to various locations throughout the World.
To the east of the trig point is a wall that marks the boundary of Taylor’s Wood. The wood contains Scotch Pine amongst many other types of trees in addition to numerous species of fauna and wildlife including Common Lizards, Foxes and Badgers lurking in the rocks and multitude of Rhododendron bushes. Adjacent to the footpaths that run through the wood are the remains of what looks like railway track sleepers. Maybe there was a tramway running through the wood similar to that at Storeton, although I have found no documentary evidence to support this theory.
Before the observatory is reached, holes sunk into the rock outcrop can be seen. These holes once were the foundations of signal posts used to convey information to Liverpool about incoming ships. There was also a cast iron sign that forbade the lighting of fires in the vicinity if the signal posts.
Carrying along the ridge, the Bidston Observatory is reached. Originally built in 1866, it housed telescopes for astronomical confirmation of the correct time for the “One O’clock Gun”. This was a cannon that was fired at exactly one o’clock, notifying workers that their lunch break was over. A Lighthouse was constructed in 1872 to replace the Mockbeggar Lower Light (see Wirral Lighthouses) and last shone in 1913.
In later years, the Observatory calculated tide heights for all major ports throughout the World, based on sample readings taken at certain times. There is a tide height meter at Hilbre Island where the warden takes the readings and passes them on to the Observatory. A mechanical "analogue" computer was constructed in 1924 by Arthur Thomas Doodson, the Head of the Birkenhead Tidal Institute, for this purpose. The tidal computer was the most accurate calculator of its type in the World and was operated by Doodson's daughter in law until well into the 1960's.
Today the old computer has been relegated to the Observatory’s museum with the tidal calculations being accomplished by modern digital computers.
The Observatory is now part of the “Proudman Oceanographic Institute” and its future is uncertain due to the operations being possibly moved to Southampton.
Situated on the lower slopes of the hill near to the Observatory is an old cock pit were the barbaric “sport” of cock fighting took place. Close by is an ancient Sun God carved into the sandstone by the Norse Irish, dating from about 1000 ad. There is also a carving of a horse in the same vicinity but this has almost been obliterated by the ravages of time, weather erosion and countless thousands of feet.
Nestling at the base of the hill is Bidston Village. The village has a very rural atmosphere to it and contains a farm that uses “traditional” farming techniques. The village is dominated by many stone built houses including a fine church, a farmhouse with each room on a different level (thirteen in all) and Bidston Hall where the Lord of the Manor once resided. At one time, the main Birkenhead to Moreton Road ran through the centre of the village but a by-pass built in the mid 80’s has saved the village (and the buildings’ foundations) from the onslaught of modern transport.
It is well worth taking the time to explore Bidston Hill and Village. The effort from doing this will be rewarded with an insight into the flora and fauna of, as well as to the fascinating history of the area.
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Updated - 25-09-09