Two hundred years ago, Birkenhead as a town did not exist. There had long been a settlement in this area on the Wirral side of the Mersey shore, but even by the time of the 1801 census there were only 17 families in 16 houses. Of course, the Priory had been founded in the mid-12th century and the ferry helped to promote a gradual growth, but was not until the 19th century and industrial and mercantile growth, together with precise town planning, did Birkenhead begin to develop into a town. By the end of Victoriaís reign, (and again helped by the ferry, by now steam powered) the population had reached over to 100,000.
By 1861 the town's first M.P. had been elected and Brikenhead became a Borough in its own right in 1877. The docks first opened in 1847 and further impetus resulted following the opening of the great ship-building firm of Cammell Laird. Joseph Paxtonís Birkenhead Park was the country's first publicly funded park, and other firsts were the first street tramway in Europe in 1860, followed by the first underwater railway in Europe when the Mersey Rail Tunnel was constructed under the river in 1886.
Today, shipping and shipbuilding has declined and the town is evolving again as regeneration programmes are introduced and grandiose schemes are discussed to ensure survival into the 21st century.
Author Elizabeth Davey has lived in Birkenhead since 1970, and as a teacher, local historian and author of several papers (included co-authorship of a history of Birkenhead High School, she has wide local knowledge to draw from.
However, this is a slim volume and at 144 pages with 164 illustrations, there is a desire at times for more depth. Nevertheless, this is the nature of the series and Phillimore have already published numerous attractive volumes of town studies in this size and style, including local books on Southport, Ormskirk, Warrington and Chester. Within this brief the author covers a broad historical overview from prehistory to the present with authority and succinct style in an effective and balanced manner. The author sheds light on Birkenhead's fascinating heritage and based on a wide range of local and national sources, Elizabeth Davey provides a readable and accessible narrative which will be welcomed by all those keen to know Birkenhead better.
- Birkenhead before History
- Into History
- Medieval Birkenhead
- Birkenhead in the Early Modern Period
- A Town is Born
- Improvement - 'The Magic Wand'
- The Merchant's Pride - Early Victorian Birkenhead
- The Town Grows - Recovery and Representation
- The Borough - Late Victorian and Edwardian Birkenhead
- Birkenhead in Peace and War
- Challenge and Change
- Select Bibliography
For a detailed study of the Wirral, Phillimore have also published A History of The Wirral by Stephen J. Roberts.
Mike Royden (2009)