The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth has occupied the corner of Park Road since 1618. It is a remarkable survivor but somewhat of a lonely figure, surrounded by modern buildings. The Turner Home is one of its few neighbours that were built before the 20th century. But facing Aigburth Road, on the corner of Park Road and Ullet Lane there used to be a group very interesting properties, these comprised of Elm House, Chapelville and confusingly another later property The Elms – nicknamed ‘Cooper’s Folly’ by Robert Griffiths in 1907.
In the late 18th to mid 19th centuries, The Chapel was the cornerstone of a small community of wealthy merchants and clergymen. The Dingle then was a place were slave owners and abolitionists lived cheek by jowl, a community where ideas of liberty and human rights where championed, writers and poets gathered, and where scientific thought flourished – from the discovery of Hay Fever to early railway pioneers.
All three properties appear on the Tithe Map of Toxteth Park in 1847 but Elm House can be seen on the Yates and Perry’s map of 1768. The house could have been a lot older as nearby an old property called Rimmer’s Cottage that stood on ‘Farm Field’ was built around 1688 (now demolished). At the back of the three properties, at High Park, was the home of clock makers Thurstan Lassell and his son William.
Yates and Perry’s map of 1768 showing Elm House (shown red) opposite Dr. Kennion’s house. Park Chapel is shown as well as Rimmer’s that was built around 1688. The stream leading down to the beauty spot of Knot’s Hole gave the ‘Dingle’ its name.
A small detail taken from an aerial drawing of Liverpool in 1859.
Full zoomable map here: Library of Congress – thanks to Liverpool Fragments @Waite99D for the link. Although the drawing isn’t 100% accurate (not surprising as it covers most of Liverpool and was drawn from a tethered balloon), it is the only picture I can find that shows Chapelville.
A Google Earth image of the site today, the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth can be seen in the middle of the picture, situated on the corner of Park Road. On the opposite corner is the old Gaumont Cinema building (built in 1937 – now just used as a mobile phone mast). In the foreground is the Turner Memorial Home (built 1884). To the left is Dingle Lane and to the right is Ullet Road turning down to Aigburth Road.
The houses in the mid 1800s, where Park Road meets Aigburth Road via Ullet Road.
The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, Chapelville, Elm House and The Elms or ‘Cooper’s Folly’.
A map from 1928 showing the tram shed that was built on the site of Chapelville
Chapelville was demolished to make way for a Tram terminus for Liverpool Corporation Tramways in the 1890s. The first electric tram left from there on the 16th November 1898, according to www.gracesguide.co.uk by 1901 the trams had carried a staggering 101 million passengers.
Elm House was demolished in the early 20th century when an extension to the Tram Terminus was required. Robert Griffiths wrote in 1907 that the owner, May Williston, (who had lived there since 1848) had often been asked to sell her house to the Corporation and to brewers but she had always refused. May died a year after Griffiths’ book was published, and with her death went any chance of saving this old house for posterity.
In turn, the Tram Sheds were demolished in 1993 (See Philip Mayer’s Flickr page). Apart from the Ancient Chapel the area is now covered with modern houses, although several older properties have survived in the The Elms street.
Another house, in the Gothic style, also called Elm House stood on the opposite corner of the street The Elms was built in the first half of the 19th century and survived for over a century, being demolished in the early 1960s.
In 1907, when Robert Griffiths wrote his history of Toxteth Park, Elm House and Cooper’s Folly were still standing, Chapelville had already been demolished to make way for a tram-shed, and by the mid 20th century, Cooper’s Folly would meet the same fate,
Making research even trickier is another property close by that was called Elms Cottage. So to avoid confusion from here I will refer to later property called The Elms as ‘Coopers Folly’.
Elm House, said to be one of the homes of William Roscoe, from Robert Griffiths’ book.
Elm House stood on Ullet Lane (now Ullet Road), facing Aigburth Road. The house and later the street next to it called ‘The Elms’ were named after the six ancient elm trees in the garden of the house. Here is how Griffith’s described Elm House in 1907:
The old stucco-fronted house, next to the tramsheds where Roscoe is said to have once resided, was up to recently in the possession of Mrs. Williston, who lived here since 1848. It was formerly occupied by
the commander of the district. General Gascoigne sat as M.P. for Liverpool for many years, being first elected in 1796; was defeated by Roscoe, 1806, and in 1812 was one of the three candidates in the memorable seven days’ polling which resulted in a victory for
The General’s stables, together with the old house called “Chapelville” were pulled down to make room for the present tram-sheds. The Corporation, and representatives of several brewing and other firms have endeavoured to induce Mrs. Williston to sell them the property, but the old lady remains true to a pledge given to her dying mother, and refuses to part with the old house for any consideration. In the garden of this old building may still be seen the remains of the six ancient elm trees which gave the name to “The Elms,” the street running through to Peel Street. This house was known originally as “Elm House.” On the lawn is the dry bed of an ornamental fish pond.
Griffiths tells us William Roscoe is said to have lived at Elm House. Roscoe was an historian, abolitionist, art collector, M.P., lawyer, banker, botanist and writer. He wrote a poem about the area called ‘The Dingle’ in 1790 so this would have been the time that he lived there.
It seems Griffiths wasn’t completely convinced this was Roscoe’s house but it does seem a likely candidate. Roscoe was a prominent Unitarian so what better a place to live than right next to the Unitarian chapel of Toxteth? Elms House was also just over the road from ‘Ellerslie’, the home of James Currie, Roscoe’s close friend and a fellow abolitionist who co-authored ‘The African” with Roscoe. The house was also very near the homes of the Yates and Cropper families.
The biography of Roscoe below mentions that his house was in ‘the immediate vicinity of a small but beautiful dingle, leading to the shores of the Mersey’. Elm House, standing right opposite to the entrance to The Dingle does seem a very likely candidate for Roscoe’s house:
“Mr. Roscoe had been entirely confined to the town of Liverpool; but, in the course of the year 1790, he removed to a house pleasantly situated at Toxteth Park, about two miles from Liverpool. The principal attraction of this residence was the immediate vicinity of a small but beautiful dingle, leading to the shores of the Mersey, and presenting many delightful prospects of the river, and the country beyond. The distance from Liverpool was not such as to prevent Mr. Roscoe either from attending to his professional engagements with punctuality, or from enjoying the society of the friends to whom he was attached, some of whose residences were, indeed, brought nearer to him by the change. It was the beauty of “the Dingle” that suggested to his mind the following little poem, certainly one of the most pleasing productions of his pen”…
The occasional meetings which took place in an evening at the houses of Mr. Roscoe and his friends, assumed so agreeable a character, that it was determined to give them a more permanent form ; “The literary Society” was consequently founded. Among the members of this friendly association were Dr. Currie, the Rev. W. Sheperd, The Rev. John Yates, Professor Smyth, Mr Rathbone, Dr Rutter, and Mr Roscoe. Their meetings where held every fortnight, at their respective houses.
The life and times of William Roscoe by Henry Roscoe 1833
Elm House, a likely contender for the home of Roscoe, when he wrote ‘The Dingle”. The house is shown in red “in the immediate vicinity of a small but beautiful dingle, leading to the shores of the Mersey. The Dingle, shown by a pink line, is the path of the lost stream and winds down to Knott’s Hole at the Mersey. This map is from the mid 1800s when the area was far more densely populated but shows the houses of the Cropper, Yates and Currie families – Ellerslie House being the home of Roscoe’s friend James Currie.
The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in 1850, before the Turner Memorial Home was built, with a clear view of the Mersey beyond, a gate opposite the chapel leads to the Dingle beyond.
Image: The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire: www.hslc.org.uk
Roscoe’s poem “The Dingle” lamented the old stream that once ran though the Dingle to the Mersey and told the story of a mythical water nymph or Naiad, who’s urn was the source of the stream. A statue of this water nymph was erected at the Dingle, (the whereabouts of the statue today is not known, the last location was the Turner Home at the time of Griffiths).
Stranger! that with careless feet
Wanderest near this green retreat,
Where through gently bending slopes
Soft; the distant prospect opes;
Where the fern, in fringed pride,
Decks the lonely valley’s side;
Where the whitethroat chirps his song,
Flitting as thou tread’st along:
Know, where now thy footsteps pass
O’er the bending tufts of grass,
Bright gleaming through the encircling wood,
Once a Naiad roll’d her flood…
Ere yon neighbouring spires arose,
That the upland prospect close,
Or ere along the startled shore
Echoed loud the cannon’s roar;
Once the maid, in summer’s heat,
Careless left her cool retreat,
And by sultry suns opprest,
Laid her wearied limbs to rest;
Forgetful of her daily toil,
To trace each humid tract of soil,
From dews and bounteous showers to bring
The limpid treasures of her spring.
Illustrated plates from ‘The dingle’, a poem by William Roscoe and illustrated by
Sophia Tennyson D’Eyncourt, 1860.
Sophia knew The Dingle well as she was the daughter of John Ashton Yates and was born at Dingle Head. She married Louis Charles Tennyson-D’Eyncourt a relative of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The first plate shows an accurate drawing of the statue ‘The lady of the Dingle’ that stood at the Dingle, sadly now lost.
The second plate shows an illustration of Dingle Point as can be seen from this postcard below held in the Liverpool Record Office, via Ken Roberts
Full Dingle poem can be found here: Google Books
Dingle Glen with the brook and visitors. c.1900 LRO
From ‘The Dingle’ Glen, in old photographs’ by Dazza on Yo! Liverpool
Summer House at Dingle Glen, LRO
From ‘The Dingle’ Glen, in old photographs’ by Dazza on Yo! Liverpool
According to Griffiths, Elm house was occupied by General Gascoyne after William Roscoe. Apart from Griffiths, I cannot find any proof of General Gascoyne living at The Dingle, but his father Bamber Gascoyne Senior married Mary Green of Childwall, and from 1848 the house was owned by Anne Green, wife of George Green of ‘High Pastures’ in Mossley Hill. It is possible then that these two families were related and had come to Gascoyne through them.
Griffiths mentions the General’s stables being pulled down to make way for the tram sheds:
1843 – A stable, coach house and shippon for two cows behind the chapel.
British Newspaper Archive
General Isaac Gascoyne (1770–1841) by James Lonsdale (1777–1839). Wikipedia
The addresses I could find for General Gascoyne are listed as Roby Hall which was built by John Williamson (his daughter Mary married Isaac Gascoyne in 1794) and another address, 71 South Audley Street in Westminster, London where he died in 1841. It is very possible though that he had lived at the house as the area then was a beauty spot and a popular location for a country retreat.
Issac Gascoyne was born in Barking, Sussex in 1763, the son of Bamber Gascoyne (ancestor of the University Challenge presenter) and Mary Green. As well as being a British Army General he was a Tory MP for Liverpool from 1796 to 1831. On entering politics he had succeeded his brother, Bamber Gascoyne, as a member of parliament for Liverpool.
As Member for Liverpool Gascoyne, with his colleague (Banestre) Tarleton, set his face against bids to abolish the slave trade during the sessions of 1798 and 1799. Other Liverpool business also occupied him: the defence of the port against the enemy, 23 May 1798; the public grant-in-aid of £500,000 to the distressed merchant community, 30 Sept., 2 Oct.1799, and his constituents’ objections to the corn bill report, 7 Mar. 1800, and to the Combination Act of 1799, which placed workmen ‘a great deal too much at the mercy of the masters’: he undertook its repeal and helped bring in a less objectionable measure in July 1800.
Assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval
In 1812 Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister, was assassinated by John Bellingham. After shooting Perceval, Bellingham was recognized by Isaac Gascoyne and his friend and fellow MP Sir Banastre Tarleton. Gascoyne managed to restrained the assassin.
Bellingham was born in Huntingdonshire but had been a broker in Liverpool with an office in Duke Street. In 1804 Bellingham been falsely imprisoned for debt in Russia, The British embassy would not help him and when he was released he returned to England. He asked the compensation from the British government but it was refused. This grievance led to the assassination.
Gascoyne had recognised Bellingham because he was Liverpool merchant who asked the General to present a petition to the House of Commons but as the case was not supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gascoyne refused to help.
An early Library in Toxteth Park
In 1847 an article appeared advertising the ‘Elms Reading Room’, as their were three nearby properties with similar names it is difficult to be sure which house it refers to but as it states that the building is only small, it cannot be the huge Gothic residence known as The Elms (Cooper’s Folly) and is more likely to be Elm House. The innovative idea of a library possibly inspired by James Rollins, a gardener to James Cropper, who in 1827 had sent a letter to the Liverpool Mercury stating the need for a circulating library in Toxteth Park that would:
“consist of works which treat on horticulture, agriculture, &c. It is intended to be chiefly for the use of the humbler class of society…. I have mentioned the subject to my employers, who have generously promised their support, by subscriptions and a donation of some books; and I trust their example will not be overlooked by our well-meaning neighbours.’
James Cropper of the nearby Dingle Bank was a merchant, philanthropist and abolitionist. The article pleading for a circulating library appears below a letter entitled “Negro Slavery” by none other than James Cropper. This was a rebuttle of a letter by ‘Vindex’, a pseudonym of Alexander MacDonnell, a “vigorous propagandist for the slave-owning sugar planters in the West Indies”. MacDonnell was secretary to the Committee of Inhabitants of Demerara in 1827 and then appointed secretary to the pro-slavery Committee of West India Merchants. www.ucl.ac.uk
The first census of 1841 show the house as listed as Elm Cottage and is occupied by Henry Musgrove, a Cotton Merchant, he leased the house from John Wood Thomas (more about him later).
1841 census for Elm Cottage showing Henry Musgrove. Findmypast.com
From 1848 Elms House was occupied by the Green family. Ann Green, a widow, and two of her children Thomas and May. Anne had another son, George, who died at sea in 1860 when he was a passenger onboard the ship ‘Robert Kelly’ that sank on its way to New York. Seven months after the 1851 census was taken May Green would marry John Sylvester Williston, this May Williston is who Robert Griffiths refers to and proves that her family had owned the house since 1848.
1851 census for Elm Cottage, now Elm House, owned by Anne Green mother to May Williston who was 19 at the time. ‘Chapel Villa’ is also shown. Findmypast.com
May was the only daughter of George Green, a wealthy merchant who had a mansion in Mossley Hill called High Pastures. This stood near to Mossley Hall, otherwise known as Carnatic Hall. The family has two graves in Toxteth Park Cemetary.
John Sylvester Williston (1818-1891) was a Sail Maker and Ship’s Chandler from Maryland, USA. He was one of 12 children from Rev. Ralph Williston, born 1775 in West Springfield, a Methodist minister and then became a Lutheran minister. John’s company, called Williston and Whitney, was situated in Greenock Street in the 1840s and Waterloo in the 1860s, in the 1870s whilst trading as Williston and Braithwaite, he became bankrupt.
John and May had two children Ralph and Myriam Sylvia. In 1894 Myriam married an American, Charles Armstrong Field, of the ‘Vermont Marble Co.’: “at San Francisco he introduced the use of New England marble in the Orient, and those countries whose shores are washed by the Pacific Ocean”.
May’s Mother Ann died on the 30th December 1862 and her father died in 1891, aged 73, and was buried in St. James Cemetery. The announcement in the newspaper got his age wrong by 21 years.
British Newspaper Archive.
May died in 1908 and the house was put up for sale in 1910. Her years of battling with the tram corporation to prevent them building on the property was over and the fate of this old house was sealed, the tram shed extension was opened in 1938.
Elm House as painted by Fred Beattie in 1910. Next door can be seen the Tram Shed that was built on the site of Chapelville in 1898. Elm House is up for sale here and would later be demolished to make way for an extension to the Tram Shed that was built in 1938. The road sign for The Elms can be seen on the right.
Village Liverpool by Kay Parrott · Bluecoat Press.
Chapelville was built sometime before 1830 as in that year an announcement was printed on the death of ‘Mr. John Wood Thomas, formerly of Gainsboro’ who died of spasmodic cholera at Chapelville. Cholera had arrived from Asia to Britain in 1831 via Russia and Germany, and the first case in Liverpool was 1832. 5,000 victims were infected and over 1,000 killed.
In the summer of 1832, a series of cholera riots occurred in various towns and cities throughout Britain, frequently directed against the authorities, doctors, or both. Liverpool experienced more riots than elsewhere. Between 29 May and 10 June 1832, eight major street riots occurred, with several other minor disturbances.
liverpoolhiddenhistory.co.uk/the cholera riots of 1832
John Wood Thomas
John Wood Thomas born in Gainsborough in 1779, he was the son of a carpenter and became a wealthy timber merchant and importer. He had married Rebecca Chamberlain Rasor in 1806, Rebecca was born 1786 in Billingborough, Lincolnshire. After John died Rebecca must have returned to her place of birth as she died at Billingborough in 1838.
He moved to Liverpool around 1815 and had offices at Dukes Place and he had a counting house in Wapping. He appears in a list the Report of the State of the Blue Coat Hospital in 1831.
It is probable that John Wood Thomas had erected Chapelville before 1830 but it looks like he owned most of the properties around the chapel. After his death the land around Chapelville was put up for sale, along with an impressive property portfolio that included houses in the occupations of William Smith Esq., Mr Thomas Orford, William Rotherham Esq., Mr T.S. Ashburner, Mr Stavert, Mr Kearnsley, Mr Cox, and Mr. Musgrove and various plots of land unoccupied. The last name mentioned is Henry Musgove of Elm House.
British Newspaper Archive
Chapelville comprised of two properties as there are often two wealthy families living there at the same time. From at least 1838 Joseph Harris lived there, his daughter Sophia Sarah married Rev. T. H. Steel the Assistant Master of Harrow for 39 years, In 1840 Chapelville was occupied by James Baird Esq.
On the 1851 census, Chapelville is home to two families, the first is the family of Edwin C. Healey, a Tea Dealer from Holme, Nottinghamshire. The other is the family of Quintin Fleming, a Timber Broker from Ireland.
Fleming had been a partner with Edward Chaloner, they had branched out from importing timber into publishing a book on the commercial properties of exotic species of wood. In 1850 they published a book called ‘The Mahogany Tree: Its Botanical Characters, Qualities and Uses’. This became the standard reference for the timber industry.
In the British Newspaper archive there are several accounts of dogs straying from Chapelville between 1869 and 1870. ‘Prince’ seems to have been a particularly unlucky name as a large Mastiff by that name strayed in January and it’s namesake, a small Terried also went missing in December the same year.
The Elms; Cooper’s Folly
Tram turning onto Aigburth Road 1951. Cooper’s Folly can be seen in the Background.
Image from Pinterest.
An earlier photograph showing Cooper’s Folly behind the tram on the right and the garden of Elms House on the left.
With its eccentric Gothic Revival architecture, this property is easy to spot on old photographs. It was built sometime before 1830. In 1907 Robert Griffiths wrote that it was nicknamed ‘Cooper’s Folly’:
” ELM HOUSE.”
The building now known by that name, at the other corner of “The Elms,” was probably built about 1840. It is said that when this house was first built it was known as
” COOPER’S FOLLY,”
on account of the first painting being bright crimson, and, perhaps, because of its peculiar construction, which would be something strange at that time, and
which lends to it a rather picturesque appearance.
This house was afterwards purchased by Mr. Maples, the wine merchant and christened by him” Elm House.”
I have been unable to find the Mr. Cooper who was responsible for the flamboyant bright crimson paint, this this clipping below could possibly be him, an ironmonger that owned property bounding The Elms street:
A Mr. Cooper, Ironmonger who owned a property close to The Elms in 1845.
British Newspaper Archive.
The wine merchant Griffiths mentions is William Maples. On the 1851 he is living at 14 The Elms. Born around 1794 he was a wine merchant from Spalding, Lincolnshire. On the 1852 Electoral Register he is living at number 2. In October of the same year, tragedy struck when Maples’ ten year old son Alfred was crushed to death when he fell into the machinery of Whites Mill in Falkner Street – the crown wheel he had fallen onto had turned three times.
Liverpool Mail 2nd October 1852. British Newspaper Archive
The 1851 census showing William Maples, Wine Merchant. He has 7 children and 3 servants living at the house, His 9 year son Alfred would die the following year in an horrific accident.
Cooper’s Folly can be seen behind the Toxteth Congregational Church and the Tram Shed extension that was built on the original Elm House can be seen on the left corner.
Judging by the Triumph Herald (from 1959 onwards) and the style of the buses I would guess this is from the mid 1960s and must be pre-1964 when the road was widened. Possibly part of a group of photographs taken by surveyors in that year.
From an excellent Youtube video by Tom Brown: Liverpool Memories. Aigburth Road, Dingle to Garston
For a history of Liverpool’s first electric tramway and an incredible selection of old photographs of the Dingle, I highly recommend ‘A Tram Ride To Dingle Paperback by
The Dingle’ Glen, in old photographs by Dazza on Yo! Liverpool