Robert Griffiths wrote “The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth Liverpool” in 1907. This book is a must for anyone interested in Liverpool’s history and has been invaluable to me when researching the area, as such I carry a copy with me to work and often return to it whilst my train cuts through the areas he describes. Over 100 years after it was written, and with the benefit of Google, I often try to find out more of the people and places he mentions. In my next few posts I hope to shed a little more light on some of the locations and people featured and hopefully this may prove of interest to any like-minded people.
Part of the character of the book is that although Griffiths has given each area of Toxteth a chapter: Dingle, St Michaels, Aigburth and Otterspool, some information is scattered throughout and sometimes this can be a bit confusing even though I have lived in the area most of my life. My first subject is one of the ancient lost streams, Dickenson’s Dingle.
From the 1950s to 1970s my Dad worked in the water work department for “The Corpy” (Liverpool Corporation) and he would tell us that our house on Bryanston Road was built near to an ancient stream and beneath some of the houses was sand. Years later I lived in the old Bank of Liverpool on the corner of Ashfield and Aigburth Roads, again built on top of a stream, although this still flows underground and emerges across the road (in weakened form) in Otterspool Park. One winter, after a really bad storm, the basement flat flooded to the depth of several feet, perhaps due to the stream beneath.
As detailed in my first post, Toxteth Park (originally a hunting ground for King John) was a rural beauty spot until the mid 19th Century. The park had four streams leading to the Mersey, Dickenson’s Dingle ran through the area that was to become St Michael’s Hamlet. In most modern sources it is spelt Dickinson’s Dingle, but I will use Griffiths’ (and the original) spelling:
“Formerly a brook rose in the eastern side of Parliament Fields, at the north end of the township, and ran down to the river near the boundary in Parliament Street, being used to turn a water-mill just before it fell into the river. About the middle of the river frontage is a creek called Knot’s Hole, and a little farther to the south another creek once received a brook which rose near the centre of the township; the Dingle lies around the former creek, and round the latter the district is named St. Michael’s Hamlet, from the church. Just beyond the southern boundary is the creek called Otterspool, receiving a brook, known as the Jordan, which rose near Fairfield, formed the boundary between Wavertree and West Derby, and then flowed south to the Mersey; it was joined by another brook, rising in Wavertree and flowing south and west past Green Bank. Portions of them are still visible in Sefton Park, part of the course having been formed into a lake there.”
Townships: Toxteth Park’, A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3 (1907)
Shown below are three maps from 1816 to the 1860s. By the late 1880s terraced housing covered most of the area, luckily the region is still full of green spaces and is often described by estate agents as “leafy South Liverpool”. Hopefully it will stay that way, but recent threats include housing on Sefton Park Meadows, Aigburth Cricket Club and Tesco building houses on the now wild ground next to St Charles Church. Added together these will make South Liverpool a little less “leafy”.
James Sheriff’s Map of 1816 showing the deep gorge of Dickenson’s Dingle and the newly built Church of St Michael’s (built between 1813 and 1815) using cast iron in its structure and built by John Cragg, the owner of the Mersey Iron Foundry.
This gave the nearby beach its name “The Cast Iron Shore”. The path of the stream north can be seen as it predates the landscaping of Princes Park.
Griffiths mentions Dickenson’s Dingle in St Michael’s Hamlet quite a few times, here he details its path (in 1907):
“As a matter of fact the district derives its name from the present Church of St. Michael’s. Before its construction in 1815, the land on which the present “Hamlet” is situated was simply known as “Dickenson’s Dingle.” The stream which gave Its name to this locality was that which flowed past the “Higher Lodge” in Lodge Lane. Its ancient course may still be traced. Almost within living memory, as we have already stated the placid verdure-fringed lake in Princes Park was a running brook flowing onward down the deep declivity in the park, crossing what is now Ullet Road, the deep valley which runs behind the gardens in Alexandra Drive, through the dip in Aigburth Road, the ravine at the bottom of Dalmeny Street*, entering the Mersey through the gorge in Cain’s Fields. This stream is marked on all the older maps of Toxteth Park.”
“When the outlet sewer was being constructed through the low-lying part of Ullet Road some years ago, the workmen came across the ancient bed of this stream, with a gravel bottom, and small boulders at a considerable depth below the surface of the road. A pencil sketch in the Liverpool Public Library, which we reproduce, shows this stream flowing through Cain’s Fields, with the tower of St. Michael’s reflected on its surface, as it appeared one hundred years ago.”
*Update Nov 2017
A photograph of Dalmeny Street, taken in 1908, appeared on the excellent Twitter site of @angelcakephotos. This photo, taken just one year after Griffiths wrote his history of Toxteth, clearly shows the ravine that he mentions.
A Google Street View 100 years later; I had to go back to a 2008 view to match the 1908 photograph as a block of modern houses now obscures the backs of the terraced houses on the right. Seeing the ravine explains why the houses that were built on the old playground we used to call ‘The Tarmac’ are on a lower level.
Dickenson’s Dingle was dammed to make Princes Park, designed by Joseph Paxton and James Pennethorne and opened in 1842. The bed of the original stream can still be seen running parallel to Ullet Road and is known locally as the Roly Poly Hill, its steep, curved bank being perfect for children to roll down.
The path of Dickenson’s Dingle
After leaving the park the stream crossed Alexander Drive, then through the dip in Aigburth Road. After this point I have often tried to work out where the stream joined the Mersey as most of St Michael’s in the Hamlet is a steep uphill climb to the river. Griffith’s says the stream entered the Mersey through the gorge in Cain’s Fields. In fact Cain’s fields are mentioned several times and as yet I have been unable to find it on any map or any other reference to it. At first I thought it might of been a literal description of the land owned by the brewing magnate Robert Cain. Cain lived at Barn Hey, a house on the land occupied by the shops adjacent to the HSBC bank but this is too far to the West of the Church. Instead, by following its logical path down what is now Neilson Street and then Neilson Road (divided for St Michaels School), the stream made its way past the East side of St Michael’s church to what is now the bottom of Tramway Road next to St Charles Primary School. Here was once the Corporation Engineering Works where coaches for trams were built, giving the road its name.
Once you walk through the gates today it is not difficult to imagine the stream on its final leg to the Mersey. At the far end of the field past the St Michaels “Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Field” is a grass bank lined with trees, this corresponds with the trees that separate the grounds of St Michael’s Old Hall and Ivy Lodge on the Ordnance Survey map of 1864. The raised area of the field to my knowledge has not been built on, there were extensive concrete Anti Aircraft Gun emplacements nearby but they were in the grounds of Larkfield. Here by the trees, Dickenson’s Dingle took a right hand turn. Walking up the hill and facing right, a modern housing estate is built over the final part of the stream. By here, after Rosebourne Close meets the Railway, lay the Cave (Ice Cellar) mentioned by Griffiths. Further on to what is now Riverside Drive where the Folly Castle and a Limekiln. (not mentioned by Griffiths).
Here the banks of the Mersey lay, reclaimed in later years.
The cave mentioned, as Griffiths states, was actually a subterranean ice house built on the banks of the stream. This would be filled with ice from the stream in winter and used to store fish. I have found that the man who owned the fishyards and also gave the name to the stream was John Dickenson. Lancashire County Council Archive department hold a record for “Authorization to John Dickinson to take up waifs and strays, etc. Toxteth Park 5 Jun. 1797″. This put me on a false scent as for several days I was trying to find a children’s home or orphanage in Toxteth Park. I didn’t realise that before the term was a metaphor for abandoned children, it applied to property or animals found on your land:
Waif and stray was a legal privilege commonly granted by the Crown to landowners under Anglo-Norman law. It usually appeared as part of a standard formula in charters granting privileges to estate-holders, along the lines of “with sac and soc, toll and team, infangthief and outfangthief” and so on.
A waif was an item of ownerless and unclaimed property found on a landowner’s territory, while a stray referred to a domestic animal that had wandered onto the same land. Both terms originated from Anglo-Norman French. A grant of waif and stray permitted the landowner to take ownership of such goods or animals if they remained unclaimed after a set period of time. Wikipedia
The waifs and strays then refer to articles washed up on the ‘Strand’ or Shore of the Mersey. John Dickenson owned the land and the stream he gave his name to, was on the grounds of Dingle Cottage, later Ivy Cottage. In Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for the year 1855 the whole area and detail of the landowners is detailed. It also mentions most of the figures mentioned by Griffiths:
“John Garter, aged 71, in the employ of Messrs. Troughton and Ryan, Sefton Street, recollects the shore very well between Liverpool and Garston, having lived servant with John Dickenson, at Dickenson’s Dingle, upwards of fifty years ago, (1805) says the fishyards, when he first knew them, were at Jericho, Dickenson’s Dingle, and Knott’s Hole; rent he understood to be paid to Lord Sefton either in cash or fish. He says that about fifty years ago a court or courts were held at Mrs. Gore’s, in Stanhope Street, but never heard what business was transacted, though several of the landlords, particularly Mr. Bisbrown, attended.”
“John Dickenson, aged 68, lives at the Tall House, formerly lived with his father (upwards of fifty years ago), at an estate of Lord Sefton’s, now Mr. Woodhouse’s recollects himself, and has heard his father say, that carts going to and from Liverpool, passed along the shore, particularly in winter time, when the roads inland were so bad they could not be used ; also that a footpath went through the fields on the edge of the river between the same places. Says his father had a warrant or authority to take all strays or wreck on the shore for Lord Sefton, which was continued to him but in consequence of not receiving any remuneration for his trouble, he has now given it up. Recollects a variety of articles being taken, for which Lord Sefton was always paid his demand”.
Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for the year 1855
The articles washed up on the shore and claimed by Lord Sefton include vessels, cotton, a bulk of timber and “a whale being cast upon the shore, near Jackson’s Dam, in the year 1790.”
I was interested to discover on Mike Royden’s history site that one of these still exists in Hale and is detailed by him here: Royden History
The Tall House, home of John Dickenson
Some mystery surrounds the purpose of this house so I was pleased to find John Dickenson as an occupant and shed some more light onto the subject. A description of this unusual landmark appears on the Historic Liverpool site:
“A ferry had been proposed as early as 1775, at around the time Bisbrown was planning New Liverpool, and a tavern and landing stage were built. The tavern was known as the Tall House, due to its loftiness and isolation in this undeveloped part of the region. Unfortunately, the scheme was before its time, and was eventually abandoned. The ferry station was used as a ‘Ladies’ School’, later a tavern itself, and was demolished in 1844. In later years a ferry service began between the shore near the Tall House, taking passengers towards New Ferry.“
Tinted stone lithograph of The Tall House by W.G.Herdman, published in Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843. Courtesy of http://www.ancestryimages.com
A violent robbery at the home of John Dickenson
On August 20th 1789 the Toxteth farm of the Dickenson family suffered a violent break-in. One of the robbers was armed with a poker but Dickenson’s son, also John, managed to hit him in the face with a chair twice and “caused a considerable effusion of blood”.
Derby Mercury 1798. Find My Past Newspaper Archive
In the “Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire” the home of John Dickenson prior to The Tall House was formely “at an estate of Lord Sefton’s, now Mr. Woodhouse’s”. This house was Ivy Cottage also known as “Dingle Cottage” (not to be confused with another Dingle Cottage at the Dingle). The Dickenson’s occupied the house from at the very least 1800 (Griffiths mentions it being on the Sheriffs map of 1768), then the next occupier found is William Woodhouse from around 1832 and Hannah Mary Rathbone (writer and painter. “The Diary of Lady Willoughby”) from around 1860, her family were still there until at least 1919.
William Woodhouse gets quite a write up in Griffiths’ book as he describes in much detail “The Cave” and the Castle mentioned earlier being on the grounds of his house.
“Ivy House” appears in Gore’s, as such, for the first time in 1832. At about that date Mr. William Woodhouse became the possessor, and when, apparently, the alterations and additions were carried out. The “well” and subterranean passage referred to in this lady’s letter, is, of course, another ice-house. “Dingle Cottage” was probably, at one time, occupied by a family of fisherfolk connected with the numerous fishyards which existed on the shore in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centnries. The ice and the numerous cisterns, spoken of as existing in the grounds of “Ivy House” would be used for packing and storing fish. Mr. William Woodhouse was the son of Mr. John Woodhouse of Bronte House, Everton…
..Mr. Woodhouse, a gentleman who in 1770 had founded large wine estates in Sicily, purchased the Pilgrim estate from Mr. Atherton and renamed it “Bronte” from his connection with the Bronte estate on that island, the dukedom of which had been bestowed on Lord Nelson for his great services. The agreement for the supply of Marsala wines from this estate to the British fleet was signed by Lord Nelson on March I9th 1800..”
Griffiths surmises that the Castle Folly was an ornamental summer house built by Woodhouse and that he extended the Ice Cellars to store the wine.
Two maps I have overlayed to show the location of Dingle Cottage/Ivy Cottage, left shows 1864 and right a satellite image. The grounds of Ivy House appear to be Cain’s Fields Griffiths refers to. The numbers are shown slightly away from the location not to obscure them:
1: The House, 2: The Cave, 3: The Limekiln and 4: The Castle Folly.
The Limekiln here is not mentioned by Griffiths but another is further towards Otterspool.
1864 map is reproduced courtesy of The National Library of Scotland.
I’m not sure when Ivy Cottage was demolished but the site on Aigburth Road is now occupied by Givenchy Court, Fleming House, Florey House buildings (built possibly in the 1950’s). On an Ordnance Survey map of 1908 at the time Robert Griffiths wrote his history it appears unchanged from the 1864 map.
Robert Griffiths, “The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth Liverpool”can be purchased from Amazon for around £15. Incredibly a copy of the 1923 reprint can be picked up for almost the same price. Best of all, support to your local Library (as Liverpool Council is threatening to close half of them!), as it was reprinted to Celebrate the 800th anniversary of King John’s Charter.
For further reading on the area visit:
Photograph that perfectly demonstrates the dip in Aigburth Road https://www.flickr.com/photos/radarsmum67/8459868216/in/set-72157631904481699
Toxteth Park and Dingle
King John’s Hunting Lodge, Toxteth Park
Aigburth Road and St Michael’s Hamlet
Maps, National Library of Scotland
This website has an amazing resource of maps dating between 1560 and 1961 relating primarily to Scotland but also have maps including maps of England and Great Britain, Ireland, and Belgium. The maps are incredibly high resolution and can be purchased both printed and digitally, highly recommended. See them here: http://maps.nls.uk/geo/records/