Mike Royden's Local History Pages


Otterspool

[Yates 1768]

Extract from Yates & Perry's Map of Liverpool 1768


Otterspool was a small creek used by fishermen for centuries. This article looks at the history of the pool from Roman times to the present, including its use as a salmon fishery and its development during the construction of the Mersey Tunnel. The map above is an extract from a full map of Liverpool and its environs. The map also shows the 'C' plan of Stanlawe Grange alongside Aigburth Hall.

The Otter's Pool

It was with great personal interest that I began delving into the history of Otterspool. I was born nearby and lived close to the park gates while still in the pram. My parents regularly took me for walks through the park, which continued even after we had moved to the rural outskirts of the City. I vividly remember sheltering underneath the huge railway bridge during a violent thunderstorm, aged 4 or 5, glad that we had a cavernous refuge close to hand in case of emergencies. I was surprised how easy it was to bang one's head on the underside when I returned for a visit a short while ago. Of course, it had all seemed so big as a child. My childhood fascination with the place never waned and even from an early age I felt there was a history to the Park which did not readily reveal itself to visitors; something was missing. Strange footpaths, tunnels, dried up pools and river beds, and a cafe which I always felt did not belong on the raised terrace, the steps and walls of which I was sure once surrounded something a little more grand.

Extract from Benson's Map of Liverpool 1835 Otterspool to the left, showing the upper pool, the River Jordan, Otterspool House (ie. John Moss' House), the lower pool and Oil Mill, and Jericho Lodge.

For centuries, the 'Otter's Pool' was a prized fishery, where all kinds of fish were caught, including an abundance of salmon which once ventured into the small inland creek.

Early settlers taking advantage of the Otter's Pool's resources in the creek and the Mersey below may well have been Roman. Evidence of occupation was discovered last century, when in 1863 a gardener employed by Oliver Holden at his house bordering the inlet, turned up with his spade a hoard of 12 brass Roman coins dating from the years 268-324 A.D. Two were 'lost' shortly afterwards, but the remaining 10 came into the hands of Henry Ecroyd-Smith, a local antiquarian, who recorded them. Their whereabouts today is unknown.(1) Later that year, a second coin hoard was found nearby during the construction of the Cheshire Lines Railway through Otterspool Park. The coins were very small in size, with large letters for such limited discs, which led Ecroyd-Smith to be believe that they were of the style common in the later Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria or Deira. His conclusion was just as unreliable, '...it is more probable, however, that should any of these pieces, reported to have been divided between the finders, be ever available for examination, they will be found of the same class as the preceding small lot, viz., small brass of the Roman Empire or imitations made to supply a dearth of small coinage in the troubled time succeeding the retirement from this county of the Roman legions'.(2)

A few years before, in 1853, a section of Roman pavement, presumed to be part of a road which possibly ran towards the Mersey crossing at Hale, was uncovered five feet below the surface in Otterspool Park, and a second section similarly paved, was unearthed in Grassendale in 1855, 300 yards east of St. Mary's Church, during excavations for the laying of sewers. The coin hoards had been found only yards from the Otterspool section.

Continuity of settlement into the Saxon period is suggested by the origin of the name of the Park. The modern spelling of Otterspool appears to be consistent only from the mid 19th century. Medieval documents record it as Otirpul, or Oterpol, otir being the Old English for Otter. The Pool which once lay there was no doubt a haven for the creatures, with its plentiful supply of food.

Otterspool Cascade 1820 (situated below the upper pool).

Two brooks fed the Pool, one of which, known as the 'Lower Brook', rose in two ponds near Edge Lane. It then crossed Wavertree Road, near Bridge Road and Smithdown Road at Mulliner Street; onward through Toxteth Park cemetery, and crossing Ullet Road before meeting the second brook where Sefton Park boating lake now lies. Today, it can be traced near the Grotto, where it enters Sefton Park, and on through a series of small pools before reaching the lake.

The second, the 'Upper brook', rose near Sandown in Wavertree and ran down to Smithdown Road at Lidderdale Road (where the original Brook House Inn dating from 1754 stood), before entering Greenbank Park. There the brook was dammed to form the lake. Its continuance can still be traced to the dell in Sefton Park, near the end of Queen's Drive. This watercourse is now channelled into the main boating lake, the formation of which was due to the harnessing of both brooks. Today, the brook flows out of the lake via a culvert passing under Aigburth Road, through the low lying former garden of Brooklands, (on which housing has recently been erected), re-emerging on the left of Otterspool Park gates.

The stream ran into the large Otter's Pool shortly after entering the Park, then on into a second Pool, probably tidal, which widened into the creek. Before the water was checked upstream, and the creation of the Upper Pool, this was a sprightly brook with cascades, known as the Osklesbrok, as it danced through the picturesque woods towards the Mersey. In 1204, the stream formed the southern boundary of King John's newly created hunting estate of Toxteth Park.

The quality of the fishing along the length of the river was well known and rights were keenly sought after. In 1264, Adam de Gerstan granted to the conversai monks of the grange at Woolton, permission to construct a fishery on his land anywhere between Garston Mill Dale and Otterspool. The 13th century Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey recorded, '...he [Adam] has also given and conceded a place for a fishery wherever they [the Monks] may think most expedient, in all his bounds, between their said fishery of the lake and Otirpul, with all his right, which he has or may have between the aformentioned fishery and the said place of Otirpul...'(4)

This is one of the earliest documentary references to Otterspool, although sadly there is no mention of the actual site chosen by the monks for their fishery.

In 1596, the ancient hunting park of Toxteth, which had for 400 years been inhabited only by deer and their keepers, was disafforested by the Earl of Derby. By 1604 the Park was in the hands of Sir Richard Molyneux, who began to clear and enclose part of it into smallholdings. On the southern boundary, many of the new tenants were part of a community of Puritans, most of whom came from the Bolton area. The nature of this lease was rather surprising, considering the Molyneux's were staunch Roman Catholics.

The farms behind the ancient deer park wall soon became known as the 'Holy Land' and the sect took their religious fervour to the extreme by renaming the Osklesbrok the 'River Jordan' and one of the nearby farms 'Jericho'. Other local names were 'David's Throne' and Adam's Buttery'.

Before the disafforestation, there were two hunting lodges erected in the Ancient Park; the Higher Lodge at the junction where Lodge Lane originally met Ullet Road, and the other, the Lower Lodge, lay next to Otterspool, just inside the boundary wall of Toxteth. (The Lower Lodge was demolished in 1863 and Otterspool Station built on the site). Having no further use of the building as a hunting lodge, Molyneux leased it to the Puritans. Here in 1618, of humble parents, was born a man destined to become an outstanding Mathematician and astronomer, regarded by Sir Isaac Newton as being among the two or three greatest pioneers of English astronomy. His name was Jeremiah Horrox.

As a young boy, Jeremiah was educated by a local schoolmaster, Richard Mather (the first preacher at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth), and after showing early signs of genius was sent up as a sizar to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, at the age of fourteen.

He left Cambridge without taking his degree and returned to occupy the pulpit of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park.(5) Jeremiah entered into correspondence with William Crabtree, a gentleman interested in astronomy, who introduced him to the works of Keplar amongst others.

Jeremiah Horrox Jeremiah Horrox (1618-1641), preacher of Toxteth Chapel and astronomer, who was born at Jericho Lodge, Otterspool.

In 1639, Jeremiah was ordained to the curacy of Hoole, near Preston, where he continued his observations with a cheap telescope he had been able to purchase. He became convinced that a transit of Venus across the sun, (which had been overlooked by Kepler, but roughly predicted by Lansberg, the constructor of well used, but imperfect astronomical tables), would take place in the afternoon of November 24th 1639. Having precisely calculated the time by means of a simple mechanism made by himself, Horrox informed Crabtree of the looming event and the two men prepared to observe for the first time in history, the disc of Venus crossing the sun. The method adopted was to throw the image of the sun onto a screen in a darkened room. This was the beginning of a remarkable series of observations and calculations continued under the stresses of ill health and financial embarrassment.

Sadly, his brilliance was all too fleeting within the world of science, for he died at Otterspool on the 3rd January 1641, at the age of only 23. The greater parts of his works were collected, edited, and posthumously published in Latin in London in 1672, as the Opera Omnia. His treatise on Venus was never actually published, although it is preserved in Manuscript in the Library of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. A memorial tablet in his name was placed in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, where he was buried.(6)

In the late 18th century, the break up of the Manor of Garston commenced. Liverpool Corporation purchased manorial rights covering Otterspool in February 1779, and in December of that year the snuff manufacturers, Messrs Tate, Alexander and Wilson, took out a lease enclosing a portion of the Strand at the mouth of the Otterspool. There they erected a Snuff Mill at a cost of 2,439, together with cottages for workmen. The Mill was probably worked by the water of the pool.

Conduit through dam wall Exit of the conduit through which the Jordan once flowed beneath the dam wall, upper pool. (Photographed 1992 MR).

Maps of the early 19th century show the pools in a variety of sizes and forms, and the present lower carriage drive through the Park once formed part of the bed of the upper pool and stream. The low field opposite the cafe building is the dry bed of the lower tidal creek. At the end of the upper pool, just before where the railway now crosses, there was a large stone dam known as the 'Water-Lily Dam', due to the great numbers of plants growing on the surface of the water. Over the dam ran a lane which led up to Otterspool Farm, which stood on land to the south of St. Anne's church. Robert Griffiths described the 19th century scene: 'A roadway passed along the top of this dam and through it ran a conduit. The remains of this dam and conduit may still be seen on the right hand side of the high embankment which forms the side of the present drive. This conduit is thirty yards long, is cut through the solid rock, and at the entrance there still exists a portion of the old wooden sluice door. Near this dam, there was at one time a boating house and on the other side of it a stone landing place. The stone steps still run up the side of the embankment, and up these was borne, by his faithful retainers, the body of the late Sir Thomas Edward-Moss, on its way to its resting place at St. Anne's Church, close to'.(3)

Otterspool House Otterspool House, the residence of John Moss. Demolished 1931.

The route of this lane can be traced from the gates facing Aigburth Road where immediately after entering the park, a path branches away to the higher ground on the right. This track obviously overlooked the pool below until it reached the dam, which it crossed before sweeping upwards towards the farm. The dam was cut through during the construction of the carriage drive and its position can be clearly determined at the point where the banks either side of the drive are at their steepest and most narrow. The conduit still remains, although the sluice door is long gone. It is quite safe to walk through the tunnel to the other side.

By 1812 a fine new house had been built within the creek of Otterspool. The new occupier was John Moss whose father, also John Moss, had established a reputation as a timber merchant in the latter part of the 18th century with a flourishing business near Salthouse Dock. On his death, John Moss jnr. inherited the business at the age of 23, which he in turn expanded by opening a banking house. Once he had settled at Otterspool he went into partnership with a George Forwood and turned the snuff mill into an oil mill. Embankments were built to give barges direct access to his factory.

The Otterspool 1810 Estate map prepared for John Moss, 14 March 1810

In 1792 the manorial rights of Garston had been purchased by John Blackburne, who soon afterwards began the transfer of his salt- works to a site adjacent to the present Garston Docks. Blackburne also carried out a programme of improvements to the shoreline, (the Strand), between the salt-works and Otterspool Creek. In 1816, during the construction of the embankments and the new gut for his mill, John Moss entered into a quarrel with Blackburne over the alterations. Blackburne had reiterated his legal claim as lord of the manor of Garston and owner of the Strand of the River Mersey, claiming that alterations could not proceed without his permission. Moss disputed this, also claiming manorial rights for the land he owned. Legal proceedings commenced and a compromise was arrived at by Mr Moss paying 500 for the Strand between the High and low water mark, thus enabling work on that section to continue unhindered.

Flats, sailing up to the new mill laden with coconuts and other raw material soon became a frequent sight. Yet Moss was continuously looking to wider fields. In 1822, in company with other business associates, he commenced the struggle to obtain powers to build the Liverpool to Manchester Railway and was elected Chairman of the new undertaking - one that was to spur an avalanche of compulsory purchase Acts. (How ironic that only a few years after his death, a second route to Manchester, the Cheshire Lines Railway, should be constructed straight through Otterspool, only yards from his house, still occupied by his family). Prior to the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, it is believed that George Stephenson, engineer of the "Rocket", stayed at Moss' Otterspool House and constructed a trial model of the first passenger railway in the world on the dry bed of the Jordan.(7)

During the construction of Cheshire Lines' Otterspool Station, the higher carriage drive that led to the Lower Hunting Lodge, which also branched off to Moss' House, was brought down from the embankment and re-constructed on what was the dry bed and upper pool of the River Jordan. Before he died, John Moss gave land on Aigburth Road to the new Aigburth parish to build St. Anne's, and he was buried there in 1837. Thomas and Gilbert, his sons, continued the banking business while another son, John, entered the ministry. A fourth son, James, founded the Moss Line shipping company of Liverpool. In 1864, the bank became the joint stock company, North Western Bank.

Despite the progress being made, both in the Park and along much of the shoreline in the late 19th century, one little haven remained as a reminder of the former attractions of the river bank. A small, quaint structure of stone, brick and timber, and then reputed to be over three hundred years old, was still standing on the shore. Perched on the verge of the sandstone cliffs at the bottom of Jericho Lane and overlooking the river, was Jericho Cottage, known locally as the "Fisherman's Hut" or "Squatter's Hut". Approaching from the shore, Griffiths described what he saw, '...Round the base of the cliff, immediately below it, are arranged a number of sandstone blocks, in the form of a wall, to protect it from the encroachment of the water. These are carefully propped and buttressed with beams of timber. The cottage and garden are also protected with planks of timber, which almost hide them from view...'(8)

Fisherman's Cottage, Otterspool Shore Photographed in 1907, the Fisherman's Hut was occupied by the Kennerley family from the 19th century until it was demolished in 1933.

The cottage had been home to generations of fishermen who maintained their occupation despite many attempts to dislodge them. In the second half of the 19th century several such attempts were made by the Cheshire Lines Committee who had purchased the adjoining land, and in 1898 the Corporation tried to levy rates on the occupant, Mr.Samuel Kennerley. Fortunately for Mr. Kennerley, a judicial decision was made in his favour, which ruled that in the eyes of the law he ranked as a squatter. At the turn of the century, however, the day's of the fisherman were over. Kennerley complained; "Twenty years ago, there was plenty of fish to be got on the Mersey waters. At this spot, salmon, codlings, whiting, fluke sole and shrimps (none better) - but now...", he added with a sigh, "...the dirty water has driven them away. Garston Docks spoiled the fishery, and the Manchester Canal has given them the finishing touch".(9)

After his death in 1927, the cottage was occupied by his son- in-law, who no longer protected by squatter's rights, was evicted in 1933. The Corporation, desperate to proceed with a new waterfront development, offered him employment and accommodation to encourage his departure. The cottage was swiftly demolished and the last tangible reminder of the Mersey fisheries was swept away.

The Old Dock, Otterspool Otterspool Dock c.1930, shortly before filling in. The old mill structures can still be seen. The site was levelled off and used as a car park.

In 1909, an American, Mr. P.B. Clarke, leased almost an acre of land, lying immediately to the south of the site of the old pool, from the Cheshire Lines Railway Committee. There he began to construct a dock. Sidings were to be laid and it was to serve as a loading berth for coal barges, which would then be moored into the Mersey, to enable vessels to take on fuel at any level of the tide. The scheme went bankrupt after only the walls of the dock were constructed. The connections with the railway and river were yet to be made, which was rather fortunate regarding the conservation of the Park.

During the 1920's, suggestions came from sections of the City Council that the dock should be made into a yachting basin, but this idea floundered due to the problems posed by the silting up of the access into the Garston channel. In 1923, a firm of London promoters applied for permission to erect a large exhibition hall and a swimming pool. The land was leased, preliminary surveys made and large sums spent on promotion, but again nothing came of the plans.

The Otterspool Old Mill 1907 Otterspool Old Mill showing the small dock where the flats laden with raw material once berthed and through which the River Jordan entered the River Mersey.

Moss's Otterspool House, meanwhile, had become the headquarters of a small zoo which had been established within the Park. The days of the menagerie were numbered however, when Liverpool Corporation purchased 138 acres from the Cheshire Lines Committee in 1926, for 106,813. In 1931, the House, which had fallen into disrepair, was demolished and the only visible reminder today is the balustrade which once fringed the broad terrace.

The Corporation were now moving with a purpose, although their plans could be traced back to 1919. In that year John A. Brodie, the City Engineer, began to devise a scheme to enclose 43 acres of foreshore from Dingle Point to Garston Docks by the construction of a River wall and the land to be reclaimed by the controlled dumping of clean household refuse. Brodie may have had a measure of personal interest in the scheme, living on the corner of Aigburth Hall Avenue opposite Riversdale Road. No doubt he had been inspired by the view of the foreshore from his house and the potential for recreational development in the area.

In fact, no action was taken at that time, but in 1925 the Corporation was requested by the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee to allow material excavated from the new Tunnel to be tipped on the Otterspool Foreshore. Consequently, the City Engineer was instructed to prepare a suitable scheme and to suggest arrangements for reclaiming the area. Provision of a promenade fronting the river was also part of his brief.

Construction of Otterspool Promenade wall c.1931

In 1928-29 schemes for the construction of a river wall and embankments were submitted to the City Council by Mr. T. Peirson Frank, Brodie's successor. Costs were estimated at 114,730 for the River Wall, 71,470 for the embankments, and 8,500 for extensions to sewer out-falls. On average, land two hundred yards wide was to be reclaimed along the length of the foreshore, without any alteration or restriction the tides or the forming of cross currents.

Tipping commenced in September 1929, while the embankments were protected from the action of the waves by a clay puddle core and a paving of concrete blocks. The construction of the River Wall began in July of the following year. All the foundations were carried down to rock level, on average 12 feet below the foreshore, although at one point where the bed of the River Jordan crossed the line of the wall foundations had to be dug to 18 feet.

The Wall was completed in 1932. In the meantime, the area behind it was divided into 5 almost equal square sections by the tipping of groynes. The work of filling the voids between the original bank of the River and the new wall and embankments was well under way, domestic refuse being used for this purpose.

This new, although temporary, 'tip' proved an economical masterstroke, for the disposal of this waste matter dealt with the bulk of Liverpool's requirements up to July 1949. Approximately 2 million tons were disposed of and the saving in cost of incineration more than offset the original cost of the construction of the river wall and embankments and the even the layout of the promenade, paths, and open spaces.

The Old Dock site was filled in to form a car park. Here the little inlet was once spanned by an ornamental rustic bridge, but this, together with the mill, had been burned down during the 1870's, leaving only a small portion of the original buildings. These old dock structures, which now stood above ground behind the new car park were filled over to created a raised viewpoint for observation across the River.

The original gardens were also redeveloped, with new paths laid, putting and bowling greens created (now sadly overgrown), and a cafe built on the site of Otterspool House (usually closed). The Riverside Promenade was opened to the public on 7th July 1950. Tipping continued towards the Dingle until the Garden Festival site was constructed in the early 1980's.

The story of development at Otterspool may not yet be complete while there is wind in the air of a possible Aigburth Road by-pass to link the Garston by-pass and the Liverpool south dock road. One suggestion already mooted is the creation of a covered road on the seaward side of the promenade.

Mike Royden (1992)


Footnotes


1. Ecroyd-Smith. H, 'Notes of the Architectural and Natural history of the Mersey District', Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire (1865) vol. p.197
2. ibid. p.199
3. Griffiths, R. op.cit. p.110
4. The Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey, extract translated from the Latin in Boult, J. 'The Historical Topography of Aigburth and Garston', T.H.S.L.C. vol 20 (1868), p.150 & p.156
5. This was the chapel used by the Puritan community of his home, and still stands at the foot of Park Road, Toxteth.
6. The Times 28th Dec 1921 and Saunders-Jones,R. 'Jordan & Jericho', Ancient Liverpool (Old Liverpool Industries), (1924) p.16
7. Griffiths, op.cit. p.113
8. ibid. p.115
9. ibid. p.116-7


Bibliography


Ecroyd-Smith. H, 'Notes of the Architectural and Natural history of the Mersey District', T.H.S.L.C. (1865)
Griffiths, R. The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, Liverpool (1907)
Millington,R. The House in the Park, Liverpool Corporation (1957)
Boult, J. 'The Historical Topography of Aigburth and Garston', T.H.S.L.C. vol 20 (1868)
Saunders-Jones,R. 'Jordan & Jericho', Ancient Liverpool (Old Liverpool Industries), (1924)
The Opening of the Otterspool Riverside Promenade, Publicity Brochure, Liverpool Corporation, 7th July 1950


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