South Liverpool
Wavertree including Mossley Hill
Last updated 4th June 2017
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Walk: Historic Wavertree
Walk: Mossley Hill and Sefton Park
In the text below, whole paragraphs in italic are quotations from original sources, as follows:
LIV   Liverpool, Walter Dixon Scott, 1907
TDE   A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, 1848.
VHL   The Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, ed. William Farrer and J Brownbill, 1907.
Wavertree on the Yates and Perry Map of 1768
The Monk's Well
Wavertree Mill in 1905
Wavertree Hall c.1800
Holy Trinity Church
Wavertree Clock Tower
Green Bank c.1815
Sudley House
A Brief History of Wavertree
Wavertree is a fairly large and, on the whole, densely populated suburban area bounded by the townships of Everton, West Derby, Childwall, Allerton, Garston and Toxteth. The parish of Mossley Hill, which is part of Wavertree, has its own identity to a certain extent. For much more comprehensive coverage of Mossley Hill see A History of Allerton and Mossley Hill.
Wavertree appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Wavretreu from the Anglo-Saxon for wavering tree, possibly the alder tree.
The oldest structure surviving in Wavertree is the Monks' Well, which may well date from the early 15th century. The base of the cross, added with the cross itself in the late 19th century, bears the inscription 'Qui non dat quod habet Doemon infra ridet' and 'Anno 1414', roughly meaning 'The Devil is laughing down there at him who does not give what he has'. On the cross itself is the inscription 'Deus dedit homo bibit' or 'God gives, man drinks' (I'm thinking of adopting that for my coat of arms). The whole lies on the site of a spring where pure water once bubbled out from the sandstone of Olive Mount. The archway, now bricked up, once led to steps giving access to a stone cistern containing water.
Also surviving in Wavertree Village is White Cottage, which is probably 17th century. By the early 18th century, Wavertree was still mainly farmland - in 1731 there were only about fifty houses. The village grew around the junction of what are now High Street and Church Road North.
The principal landowners by the later 18th century were Bamber Gascoyne, Thomas Plumbe and Rev. Thomas Dannett. Gascoyne was an M.P., who acquired the Manor of Wavertree in the mid-1700s. There had been a windwill near the village since the 15th century. This was owned by Gascoyne for a time and was in intermittent operation until 1890 but was pulled down in 1916 following irreparable storm damage in 1895. There were large sandstone quarries on either side, probably the source of the stone for Holy Trinity Church and Wavertree Lock-Up. Nearby Mill Cottages date from 1730.
Wavertree Hall was located near the southern edge of the present Wavertree Park (the former Botanical Gardens) with a lodge on the corner of what are now Wavertree Road and Botanic Road. The house was built in 1719 by John Plumbe of the local landowning family. Lancashire Illustrated in 1831 informs us that, 'Without much pretension to architectural elegance, it exhibits a degree of quiet old-fashioned comfort and sober antiquity, which is almost peculiar to itself in the immediate neighbourhood of Liverpool, where every thing speaks of modern affluence and recent acquirement.' It was demolished in 1843 following the arrival nearby of the railway.
The Coffee House is probably Wavertree's oldest surviving pub, already listed in 1777 and a popular venue for day excursions from Liverpool; no doubt some of the more exuberant trippers ended up in the local lock-up. By 1900 it was owned by Liverpool brewer Robert Cain and the sumptuous interior (much altered since) was his doing.
Holy Trinity Church dates from 1794 and was described by John Betjeman as 'Liverpool's best Georgian church'. Its construction marks the arrival of rich merchants' habitats in the area at this time.
Wavertree Lock-Up, a small sandstone building sometimes known as the Round House, was built on Wavertree Green in 1796 for the overnight accommodation of drunks and other prisoners. The present pointed roof, complete with weather-vane, was added in 1869 as part of a restoration by James Picton, who saved the lock-up from demolition. After 1845 the new police station took over its function as a jail, but it was occasionally used to isolate cholera victims from the rest of the community. The triangular village green on which it stands is the only surviving piece of common land in Liverpool and the last vestige of the much larger Wavertree Green, much of which was enclosed by an Act of Parliament brought by Bamber Gascoyne in 1768.
By the end of the 18th century, rich merchants already had their eye on the area as a place to build their villas away from the increasingly polluted atmosphere of Liverpool.
  [Wavertree's] proximity to Liverpool, and the salubrity of the air, have made it the residence of numerous wealthy families, and the land is fast increasing in value. The high grounds on the east form a fine shelter to the lower parts, which include the Wellington road. [...] In the township is an extensive brewery, established in 1836, and subsequently much enlarged by the proprietor, Mr. John Anderton. [TDE]
The Picton Clock Tower was presented to the people of Wavertree by architect Sir James Picton in 1884, having been designed by him as a memorial to his wife Sarah. He chose the site, at the centre of the old village, so that the clock could be seen by as many people as possible. It is described in the Pevsner Guide as 'an eclectic renaissance curiosity in brick and stone'. An inscription reads: 'Time wasted is existence; used is life.'
  The highest land is in the centre and north, rising to an elevation of over 200 ft.: the surface slopes away in the other directions, especially on the Liverpool side. The old village stood on the higher part of this westward slope, beside the road from Liverpool to Woolton, here called High Street; it has now grown into a town. The eastern half of the township still retains a rural or suburban character. [...] The Liverpool tramway system extends to the top of the High street. Near the terminus is a small green with a pond, and close by is Monks' well. [...] Close by is a clock tower commemorating Sir James Picton, the Liverpool architect and antiquary, who lived in Olive Mount. To the east is a piece of ground which by the terms of the enclosure award must remain an open space for ever. Near it is the old windmill. Lower down, towards the railway, is the fine children's playground presented to Liverpool by an anonymous benefactor. [VHL]
However, as the end of the 19th century approached, Wavertree began to merge into Liverpool and there was a rapid expansion in the population. In 1901 this stood at 25,303. Parts of the township had started to lose their appeal:
  Wavertree [...] is, as it were, one of the arms which, like other great towns, Liverpool, in the manner of a vast octopus of bricks and mortar, stretches into the country along the main roads which lead into it. At the point where this area of Wavertree joins on to the body of the city we have the brick and mortar plague now passing through its acutest stage [...] streets of cottages awkwardly fitted in anywhere, or leading into other streets, which seem in turn to lead nowhere. There are villainous-looking wastes, whose surfaces present an alternation of stagnant pools and hillocks of tipped rubbish, a lonely public-house or two built as speculations in 'futures' on what may turn out to be 'desirable corner lots', a grimy brick church, and board schools [...] but [...] the wastes are slowly and by degrees disappearing before the enterprise of the inevitable builder. [from the Liverpool Daily Post of 1895].
Wavertree on Sherriff's Map of 1823
White Cottage
Mill Cottages
The Coffee House
Wavertree Lock-Up
Wavertree Village and High Street
Greenbank House today
The Drawing Room
The southern part of Wavertree became known as Mossley Hill relatively recently, but it has a distinctive character of its own. The name probably came from an 18th century house called Mosley Hill, which burned down in 1891. It came formally into being as a parish when the magnificent church of St. Matthew and St. James was completed in 1875.
The house originally known as Green Bank (Greenbank Lane) was built sometime in the early 1700s on part of the Toxteth Park Estate. At that time it stood on the west bank of the Upper Brook, a stream that crossed Wavertree, which was dammed to form a lake. In 1788 William Rathbone leased the house and 24 acres of land from the Earl of Sefton and the family lived there until the 1940s. In 1897 the family sold part of the land to Liverpool Corporation for the formation of Greenbank Park on the condition it remain a public space. The remainder of the estate was eventually donated to Liverpool University.
The land upon which Sudley (Mossley Hill Road) stands was part of the possessions of the Tarleton family from the middle of the 16th century to the early 1800s. The land was split up and sold in 1809. The part that became the Sudley estate was eventually bought by shipping magnate George Holt in 1882. It is now run by National Museums Liverpool.
By the late 19th century, many wealthy professionals had chosen to build their mansions on the higher and more wooded ground here. By the early 1900s, suburban encroachment into the north of Mossley Hill was just beginning. The following gives an idea of the character of the area at this time:
[In Mossley Hill ] grave roads, filled with that indescribable hushed exclusiveness which only tall, ripe, sandstone walls and overarching leafage have power to confer, lead up the hill towards the Church. There are deliberate lodges and sudden glimpses of deep-breathing lawn; life grows leisurely and communicative; the silence is full of confessions. The Church itself, bulking monumentally against the sky, continues the warm, grave intimacy: even the green stillness that encircles it seems fuller of humanity than all the acres, dense with flesh and blood, over at Everton and Anfield. It is always worth while, therefore, to step through to the farther wall. There, in a flash, you find you have come again to the uttermost edge of the town. A great landscape leaps suddenly out from beneath your feet, woods curve distantly about it, sweet airs bring a company of quiet sounds. [LIV]
The Lamb
Wavertree Village
The Lamb: The present Lamb, an imposing Georgian-style brick building, dates from the 1850s and was built on the site of smaller pub of the same name. The brick archway was used for horse-drawn omnibuses plying between Wavertree and the centre of Liverpool at a fare of six pence (beyond the reach of ordinary folk). In the early nineteenth century, township meetings in Wavertree were advertised as taking place at 'the Sign of the Lamb'.
No. 102 High Street: This shop has a rare Georgian bow-fronted window, the only surviving example in Liverpool. For this reason the building is Grade II listed, along with the properties on either side. It has been the home of craftsmen for most of its days. An 1846 map shows it as a sadler's shop and around the end of the 19th century a cycle manufacturer and then a boot repairer took over. By 1980 the shop was occupied by Wavertree's last surviving traditional cobbler and the window was on the verge of disintegration. Fortunately it was saved and expertly restored by the wood-turner who then began to sell his wares from the premises.
No. 102 High Street
No. 95 High Street
No. 95 High Street: This house, now merged with the Cock and Bottle pub, is known as 'The Smallest House in England' (which is no doubt disputed). Just 6 ft (2 m) wide and 14 ft (4 m) from front to back, it was occupied as a house until 1925. There are stories of a husband and wife having raised eight children here and of the original staircase being only 8 inches (20 cm) wide. The frontage was renovated in 1998 by the pub owners in an attempt to restore its original appearance. The house itself was probably built around 1850 in what had been a side passageway (the Cock and Bottle was then a temperance coffee house). The building on the other side may date back to the 1760s although its appearance has been aesthetically ruined by the new shop front.
Orford Street: Orford Street, Sandown Lane and Salisbury Terrace form a charming area of unspoilt 19th century housing to the north of busy Wavertree High Street. Non-locals (until recently including me, and I only live a few miles away) will probably be unaware of this area, which genuinely evokes more tranquil past times. Orford Street is one of the most attractive streets in Wavertree Village and every house is a listed building, mostly built between 1848 and 1852. The laying-out of Orford Street was the idea of one Dr. Kenyon, whose High Street residence backed onto it. Professional men acting as local property developers seems to have been quite a common occurrence in Victorian Wavertree. Sandown Lane has houses dating from 1837 and the stuccoed Sandown Terrace of 1837-45. Salisbury Terrace is another well-hidden corner of old Wavertree.
Orford Street
George Harrison's Birthplace
George Harrison's Birthplace: Beatle George Harrison's birthplace was at 12 Arnold Grove. George's parents moved to this house following their marriage in 1930 and George was born here in 1943. His three elder siblings Louise, Harry and Peter were also born here. The family moved to Speke when he was only 6 years old. George has recalled: 'It was OK that house [...] Outside there was a little yard [...] and for a period of time we had a little henhouse where we kept cockerels.' Unlike the houses associated with the early lives John Lennon and Paul McCartney, this one does not seem to have warranted the commemorative English Heritage Blue Plaque, though maybe the owners weren't too keen on being inundated with geeks like myself.
Statue of William Rathbone V in Sefton Park
The Rathbone Family and Green Bank
The house originally known as Green Bank (Greenbank Lane) was built sometime in the early 1700s on part of the Toxteth Park Estate. At that time it stood on the west bank of the Upper Brook, a stream that crossed Wavertree, which was dammed to form a lake. In 1788 William Rathbone IV leased the house and 24 acres of land from the Earl of Sefton. Just before he died, he purchased the estate and his widow Hannah Mary undertook many alterations to the house according to his wishes. William Rathbone IV was a ship owner and merchant. He was a cultured man devoted to liberal public causes, a committed opponent of the slavery and a founder member of the Liverpool Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. In his abolitionist activities he was a great supporter of his friend William Roscoe, but also fell out with other Liverpool merchants.
The house was taken over with the family's commercial interests by William Rathbone V, the eldest son, when his father died in 1809. He was involved in parliamentary and municipal reform and as a result became Mayor of Liverpool in 1837. He helped establish public baths and washhouses in Liverpool following the cholera epidemic and was in charge of a relief fund for the Irish Potato Famine.
William Rathbone VI became a partner in his father's firm in 1841. He built up the fortunes of the business, which had been slipping, by broadening its sphere of operations, particularly in China, and expanding the shipping fleet. He decided when young to devote a significant proportion of his income to public projects with a focus upon the needs of the poor, especially in effective management of charity work, establishment of district nursing and educational provision. He became chairman of the local liberal party and in 1868 one of the three MPs for Liverpool. This was the year his father died and he bacame head of the family at Green Bank. In 1882 he helped to found the University College of Liverpool, which went on to become Liverpool University. In 1897 he sold part of his land to Liverpool Corporation for the formation of Greenbank Park on the condition it remain a public space.
William's widow Emily remained in the house until her death in 1918, when his daughter Emily Evelyn and her husband and cousin Hugh Reynolds Rathbone took over. They both had strong connections with Liverpool University and donated part of their land for student accommodation. Derby Hall was opened there in 1939. Eleanor Rathbone (1872-1946), William's youngest daughter, a reknowned MP and campaigner for women's rights, also lived in the house for part of her life. Hugh died in 1940 and between then and 1948 the remaining parts of the estate were donated to Liverpool University.
Statue of William Rathbone VI in St. John's Gardens
George Holt by Robert E. Morrison (1892)
The Robinson and Holt Families and Sudley
Sudley (Mossley Hill Road) was built for corn merchant Nicholas Robinson in 1821. The house was eventually sold to George Holt in 1884. Holt served his apprenticeship in Liverpool with T. and J. Brocklebank and became a shipowner and merchant, founding the Lamport and Holt Line in 1845. He married Elizabeth Bright and they had a single child Emma Georgina. The family made a number of changes to the house, including relocation of the main entrance from the east side to its present location on the north side, construction of the garden verandah on the south side and construction of the tower. They also transformed the interior.
George II was a strong supporter of Liverpool University College (later Liverpool University), where he founded and endowed the chairs of physiology and pathology. He was also a noted art collector, a passion acquired from his father, and filled the house with works by Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais, J.M.W. Turner, George Romney, Henry Raeburn, Camille Corot and many others.
After George's death, Elizabeth and Emma lived on in the house, Elizabeth dying in 1920. Emma was a bright and gifted child and studied the history of architecture at Liverpool University College. Like her father, she was a noted philanthropist (a friend of Eleanor Rathbone) and supporter of Liverpool University, in particular the higher education of women. She and her mother funded a new physics laboratory, which was opened in 1904 and named the George Holt Laboratory in honour of her father. Emma was elected to the council of the University in 1909 and served until 1934.
Emma never married. She remained in the house until 1940 when failing health caused her to move to her country home Tent Lodge in Coniston, Cumbria. She died there in 1944 and was buried at Toxteth Unitarian Chapel. On her death, she bequeathed the house and estate, complete with all of the art works, and 20,000 for their upkeep to the City of Liverpool. It is now run by National Museums Liverpool.
Sudley House from the South
The Back Garden at Sudley
Mossley Hill Church
The Church of St. Michael and St. James, Mossley Hill
The Grade II Listed Church of St. Matthew and St. James, commonly known as Mossley Hill Church, is described in the Pevsner Guide as 'one of the best Victorian churches Liverpool'. It was built in red sandstone in 1870-5 and named after its founder and benefactor Matthew James Glenton, a Liverpool born merchant who left the 28,000 for its construction in his will. Some of the original stained glass windows were designed by William Morris. In 1922 a new chapel, the Ritchie Chapel, was added to the north-east corner of the church.
In August 1940, during the Second World War, the church was the first in England to be damaged by enemy bombing. The roof was badly damaged and all of the stained glass was destroyed. The church was restored in 1950-2 and the original windows were replaced by clear glass except for two magnificent stained glass windows at the east and west ends.
Mossley Hill Church
Nook Rise
Wavertree Garden Suburb Institute
Wavertree Garden Suburb
The construction of Wavertree Garden Suburb, originally known as Liverpool Garden Suburb began in 1910 on farmland made available to tenants on favourable terms by Lord Salisbury. The original plan had been for high density terraced housing, but the terms allowed rents for the new plan, the brainchild of Henry Harvey Vivian, Liberal MP for Birkenhead and urban planner, to be similar to those being charged by the landlords of conventional terraces.
The first house was completed in 1910 and when construction ceased in 1915, 360 of the originally planned 1800 houses had been completed. The site was chosen for its proximity to Queen's Drive, a major boulevard ring road that was opened in 1910, although a railway station, which never materialised, was intended as well. The plans proposed a 'simple leafy layout and low, rough-cast cottages [yielding an] understated effect'.
Although the Garden Suburb Movement was founded on Socialist principles and the belief that the working class deserved better and more affordable housing, the first tenants of Wavertree Garden Suburb were largely middle-class, as they needed to be able to afford a compulsory down-payment in rent and a purchase of shares in the development, which was run as a tenants' cooperative. They would have found themselves in an isolated location in houses quite different from any built in Liverpool before, with gardens front and back.
A pair of unusually designed early 19th century stone cottages on Thingwall Road was converted for temporary use as Wavertree Garden Suburb Institute in 1912, a role that it retains to this day, as the originally intended institute was never erected.
Fieldway Green
Sandy Knowe
Sandy Knowe: Architect James Picton (also surveyor, historian and promoter of public libraries) designed Sandy Knowe for himself in 1847, having selected the highest point of Olive Mount at 215 feet (65 m) above sea level for its situation. It is built of red sandstone in a Jacobean style. Picton was also a literary scholar and named his house after the farm where Sir Walter Scott was brought up. He died here in 1889. The house has been converted into sheltered flats.
Olive Mount: The Georgian mansion Olive Mount, built of local cream sandstone, set the pattern for a whole series of similar houses standing in their own grounds and forming a ring around Wavertree Village centre. It was built in the early 1790s for James Swan, a prosperous grocer and tea dealer who had business premises in Castle Street, Liverpool. The whole area is known as Olive Mount, one of Liverpool's highest points, but it is not known which name came first. The mansion now houses Mersey Care NHS Trust Learning Disabilities Directorate.
Wavertree Lodge: An old outbuilding on Old Mill Lane is all that survives of Wavertree Lodge, another of the grand mansions built in the Olive Mount area of Wavertree.
Holmestead: The earliest part of Holmestead is the early Victorian Tudor style south side, c.1845. The house was bought by the the cotton broker Michael Belcher in the late 1860s, who doubled it in size and added the entrance tower and conservatory. In the 1890s, the house was bought by retired shipowner and art collector William Imrie. The house later became a convent and then apartments.
Other mansions of note in Mossley Hill include Godwyn, Besford Grange, Beechlands, Linwood, Elmswood, Mossley House, Dovedale Towers and Kelton.
Olive Mount
Wavertree Lodge
The Bluecoat School
The Bluecoat School: Pevsner describes the imposing Edwardian Baroque Bluecoat School as 'without doubt the most impressive building in Wavertree and one of the most impressive half-dozen of its date in Lancashire'. It was opened in 1906, when the pupils were transferred from Bluecoat Chambers (1718) in the town centre to 'the countryside'. The school had been founded as a charity for poor children and retained an 'orphanage' role until the late 1940s, the boys and girls in their old-fashioned dress having been a familiar sight in Wavertree during the interwar years. Bluecoat schools date back to Tudor times and the long blue coat is a survival of the ordinary attire of schoolboys and apprentices of that time.
St. Barnabas's Church: St. Barnabas's Church had its origins when the increasing population density in the area around Smithdown Road and Penny Lane warranted a separate church from that of St. Matthew and St. James. The Perpendicular styled church was consecrated on St Barnabas's Day 1914. It is constructed in multiply sized red sandstone blocks and brick in an elaborate pattern. The Pevsner Guide speaks of a 'cool and dignified interior [...] a serious, sober piece of work'.
St. Barnabas's Church
The Mystery
The Mystery (Wavertree Playground): In May 1895, an anonymous donor purchased the Grange estate, between Smithdown Road and Wavetree High Street, following demolition of the house of that name, and presented the whole 108 acres to the City of Liverpool. He had levelled and grassed the area and suggested the name Wavertree Playground. It was to be a venue for organised sports and a place for children to run about in, not a park in the Victorian tradition. The Playground was opened by the Lord Mayor amid great rejoicing, a march past of 12,000 children and a fireworks display watched by 60,000 people, on 7th September 1895. The new park was immediately nicknamed The Mystery on account of the anonymity of the donor.
Wavertree Park (Botanic Gardens): Liverpool's first botanic garden had been opened in 1803 at Mosslake Fields near to Abercromby Square in the Georgian Quarter. William Roscoe, among others, took a central role in raising the capital required and it housed his famous botanic collection. By the late 1820s, a new, less polluted site was sought away from the city centre and the result was the site now known as Wavertree Botanic Garden, finally opened in 1836. The original walled garden was acquired by Liverpool Corporation 1846 and by 1856 Wavertree Park, the 25 acre (10 ha) surrounding site, was laid out. This was further extended to the present park in the late 19th century. In the 1870s the walled garden became home to large Kew Gardens style glasshouses. They were destroyed during World War II. The botanic collection was finally moved to a site within Calderstones Park, opening in 1964. That site was destroyed in the 1980s under the auspices of the Militant Labour regime on Liverpool City Council.
Wavertree Park (Botanic Gardens)
Greenbank Park
Greenbank Park: Greenbank Park was originally part of the Toxteth Park Estate. The land was traversed by the Upper Brook, which had its source in Sandown Lane, Wavertree. A house known as Green Bank was built sometime in the early 1700s and the brook was dammed to form a lake. It became the seat of the Rathbone family and in 1897 William Rathbone sold part of his land to Liverpool Corporation for the formation of Greenbank Park on the condition it remain a public space. Today much is open parkland with trees around the perimeter. It had Liverpool's first Old English Garden, part of the original estate, and boating lake.
Olive Mount Cutting: Olive Mount railway cutting is a sandstone chasm through which cuts the Liverpool to Manchester railway. It was one of the engineering wonders of the age when it opened in 1830, at half its current width, to the world's first railway passengers. It is nearly 2 miles (3 km) long and up to 70 ft (21 m) deep. The work was carried out by an army of navvies with the help of horses and explosives but very few mechanical aids. People from a wide area would travel to the Mill Lane bridge to gaze down at George Stephenson's Rocket locomotive and others - it must have been quite a sight. The cutting was increased in width from two to four tracks later in the 19th century.
Olive Mount Cutting
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
For a thorough discussion of the architecture, Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West (The Buildings of England, Pevsner Architectural Guides), Richard Pollard & Nikolaus Pevsner, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006 is a must read. The photo of Wavertree Mill is from the Mills Archive. Wavertree Hall was engraved W. LePetit after a picture by S. Austin, published in Lancashire Illustrated, 1831 and made available by Ancestry Images. The engraving of Green Bank c.1815 is from Nicholson's Views in the Vicinity of Liverpool, by Samuel and George Nicholson (1821). My thanks to these sources.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.