Vauxhall, Liverpool


Gerard Street, Vauxhall, LIVERPOOL c.1928 Image Source : The Scottie Press

With the growth of Liverpool in the late 18th and early 19th century, the development of Vauxhall as an industrial area was inevitable. As the city of Liverpool spread northwards, building had at first been on the higher and healthier ground away from the river Mersey. But with the Leeds and Liverpool canal built at the end of the 18th century, the construction of new docks, and the coming of the railways, the low lying strip of land close to the river was the natural location for industry and its work-force. By the late 1840s Vauxhall was already industrialised - it's character in manufacturing consisting of iron foundries, soap, alkali, chemicals, and other manufactories, and it contained a dense population of labouring people, supported to a considerable extent by the abundant local employment.

Between 1841 and 1851 there was an increase of 4,000 houses in the Scotland Road area, which was roughly parallel with the population growth. This was however to prove totally inadequate with the dramatic arrival of Irish immigrants in 1847. By the end of 1847 not less than 300,000 Irish had landed in Liverpool and it is estimated that 60-80,000 had located themselves in the Vauxhall area, occupying every nook and corner of already overcrowded lodging houses and forcing their way into the cellars. It is recorded that some 30,000 people lived in these cellars. The inevitable results of these overcrowded and insanitary conditions was outbreaks of fever and disease, the Vauxhall area frequently recording the highest rates in the city. In the cholera outbreak of 1849, 2,000 of the 5,000 recorded cholera deaths were in the Vauxhall and Scotland Road area.

By 1860 the population of Vauxhall reached its peak and housing conditions began to improve with St Martin's Cottages built in Silvester Street, Vauxhall, and being recognised as the first municipal housing built in Britain. Substandard housing began to be demolished and continued at a pace up to the start of the second world war and subsequent to the war ending. Even more demolition to take place in the 1960s with the displacement of Scotland Road and Vauxhall residents to the city council's over-spill new town districts of Kirkby, Speke, Skelmersdale.

The decline of Liverpool as a port, related industries had less and less reason to concentrate in Vauxhall and many relocated. Between 1967 and 1972 some 20% of the jobs in Vauxhall's industrial strip disappeared and the decline steepened through the 1980s and 1990s.

The development of the Vauxhall area from the late 18th century onwards had created a close knit community with at one time 95% of the population of Irish Catholic origin, the position of the church being central. There was a close identification with the parish of which there was at one time 17 in the Vauxhall and Scotland Road area.

With grateful thanks to Ron Formby at Scottie Press - The Community Newspaper for Liverpool Vauxhall which is well worth a visit.

Vauxhall Road
Vauxhall Road 1930's

In the bottom left corner of the 1930s photograph, canal boats loaded with coal are lined up alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, waiting to discharge their cargo at the gas works. The canal was dominated by heavy industry. Cheap labour was never a problem, with one of the city's heaviest concentrations of slum property on the doorstep. A children's playground in Athol Street breaks up the monotony of rows of terraces, with their infamous court housing.

Liverpool's population has declined considerably since the 1931 Census recorded a population of 852,000. By 1961 the total had fallen to 745,710 with a sharp drop to 698,834 in 1971. The downward trend has continued to 509,834 in 1991 and 480,749 in 1991.

Vauxhall Road 1990's

A major rebuild programme of council housing was begun in the Vauxhall area in 1982, which demolished the terraced streets and tenement flats. Added to this have been private housing estates and two forms of co-operative housing estates, the Eldonian and Athol Villages. The reduction in population and the collapse of industry in the Vauxhall area has also created an opportunity to landscape the canal environment.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway
'The Docker's Umbrella'
Overhead Railway 1891 Image Source : The Scottie PressOverhead Railway 1930s Image Source The Scottie Press
Overhead Railway dock views. Image Source The Scottie Press

The 30th December 1956 saw the closure of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, an event still lamented in many Liverpool hearts. Throughout 63 busy years (1893-1956), the Liverpool Overhead Railway was both a useful asset and a landmark to the residents of Liverpool.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway was not just a railway, it was an institution, an unforgettable experience for those fortunate to have travelled on it. The world's first elevated electric railway running from Seaforth to Dingle, it offered passengers unrivalled views of the city and its docks. Its elevated construction also afforded shelter to Liverpool Dockers who could walk under the railway from dock to dock on wet days and keep dry. Hence it became known affectionately as 'The Docker's Umbrella'.

A total of 17 stations served the docks and other important places along the six and a half-mile route. The railway ran through stretches of intense industry in the Vauxhall area passing many docks and had stations located in the Vauxhall area at Princes, Clarence, Nelson, Huskinson and Canada docks.

Stanley Dock - Tobacco Warehouse

Six Sided Clock. The fortress like edifice was designed by Jesse Hartley and built in 1848. Image Source The Scottie Press(This building can be viewed from the Scottie Press office. The tobacco warehouse is situated in the Vauxhall area alongside Great Howard Street which runs parallel to Vauxhall Road. The tobacco warehouse can be accessed from Regent Road which is a section of the official Dock Road. There is a weekly Sunday Heritage Market located in the Tobacco Warehouse which attracts an estimated 750,000 people every year. Stanley dock has access to and from the River Mersey via Collingwood Dock, Salisbury Dock. These docks were frequented by fairly small vessels and are linked to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal by a series of 5 locks in Lightbody Street. A landmark of captivating interest can be seen at Salisbury Dock in the form of an extraordinary six-sided tower with a clock on each side. The fortress like edifice was designed by Jesse Hartley and built in 1848.)

Stanley Dock, opened in 1848, had warehouses on each quay and locks to link the docks to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. In 1920 a new tobacco warehouse was opened at Stanley Dock which at the time was the biggest building in the world. This piece of Dock Board publicity from the time compares the tobacco warehouse with Liverpool's largest public building St George's Hall.

This drawing shows the Tobacco Warehouse in scale size to St Georges Hall Liverpool's largest public building. Image Source The Scottie Press The tobacco warehouse enjoys a key position at Stanley Dock at the Vauxhall end of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

The first shipment of tobacco from Virginia arrived in Liverpool in 1648. Once trade took off, huge warehouses were needed to supply Liverpool's needs all year round. Tobacco is a seasonal crop and to keep markets stable, ports like Liverpool needed to store enough to last all year. Liverpool built the biggest warehouse in the world at the Stanley Dock to increase trade.

The 14-storey building, designed by Jessie Hartley, covers 26 acres - allowing 180,000 barrels at any one time. The warehouse which, swallowed up 27,000,000 bricks in its construction stood like a powerful guardian over its precious stock - with as few exists as possible to prevent theft.

Tobacco Warehouse, Image Source The Scottie Press

The tobacco warehouse building was state-of-the-art when built but it fell out of use in the 1980s. The building which, is Grade 2 listed is currently under threat of demolition unless a new buyer comes to its rescue.

English Heritage believes that the tobacco warehouse reflects Liverpool's port history- and is an incredible landmark. English Heritage is liaising with the current owner and regeneration agencies in Liverpool to see whether a viable future can be found for the building.

Albert Dock Warehouses Image Source The Scottie Press

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous iron ship Great Britain was launched in Bristol by Prince Albert on 19th July, 1843, she was larger than any vessel then in existence - and the dock entrance was not deep enough for her to pass through. But she found a suitable berth in Liverpool, and from there she operated a service to New York. The man who planned and built the docks that could accommodate what was then the biggest ship in the world was Jesse Hartley.

He was appointed as Civil Engineer and Superintendent of the Dock Estate in Liverpool in 1824. Jesse Hartley's works in Liverpool were extensive. In the 36 years from 1824 to 1860, during which he served the Dock Trustees, he constructed or altered every dock in the city and added no less than 140 acres of wet docks an some 10 miles of quay space.

He is perhaps best remembered by the Albert Dock & Warehouse complex but he also built famous docks in the Vauxhall area of Liverpool namely; Collingwood, Stanley, Clarence, Nelson, Bramley Moore and Salisbury. Situated on the quayside of Salisbury Dock is the Six Sided Tower - which features a clock on each side. This positioning of clock-faces enabled the time to be observed by all sailing on the River Mersey and or working in the dock areas. It is recorded that there are only two of the clock towers in existence - one in Vauxhall, Liverpool the other in Kiev, Russia.


When residents of an area of Vauxhall divided from other areas of Vauxhall by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were asked, "where do you live?" - they would say, "Over the Bridge".

Essentially the area concerned comprised of streets and courts located in and around Athol Street. Athol Street is situated in the north end of Liverpool and runs down between Scotland Road and Great Howard Street. Although intersected by Vauxhall Road and the viaduct which, carries the Liverpool to Southport railway line, it is the Leeds & Liverpool canal which, provides the main divide and sets apart the area 'Over the Bridge' from the top end.

By 1900 the north end of Liverpool was one of the most important districts in the country. Numerous industries associated with shipping and the processing of imported raw materials were located there. By 1881, the 'Over the Bridge' area had taken on the shape it was to retain until the Second World War.

The Welsh builders who erected the houses between 1830 and 1870, left evidence of their identity in the street names which survived them, Menai, Snowdon, Barmouth, Denbigh, Cemeas.

Usually the houses remained in Welsh hands: local people recall inter-war landlords as being of Welsh extraction. Houses were mainly two and three bedroom terraces with cellars, small backyards and outside taps and toilets. When newly built each provided adequate accommodation for a single family. Soon though, population increase accompanied by a desperate demand for housing brought a rapid deterioration of conditions.

Since the beginnings its growth, Liverpool had attracted immigrants in search of work or increasingly, passing through on their way to new areas of settlement abroad. Census returns from the 19th century show the 'Over the Bridge' population had come from a wide variety of places throughout Britain and Ireland. In particular, from the 1840s onward the population was swelled by Irish immigrants. The failure of the potato crop had driven many from their homes in search of survival elsewhere. The rapid increase of Irish (Roman Catholic) immigrants within a very short space of time made it clear that the existing churches of St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and St. Anthony's were not able to serve the needs of the densely populated north end of Liverpool.

St Albans Church Day Out 1900 Image Source The Scottie Press

In October 1848, Father Thomas Newsham purchased a piece of land near the docks on which to erect a new church. Just ten months later on August 19th 1849, St Alban's church was opened.

The May blitz of 1941, hit the area very hard. On the night of May 3rd a particularly heavy raid devastated much of the area. Many of those who lost their homes in the War were evacuated to outlying districts and never returned. Many of the houses destroyed in the war had been condemned as unfit to live in, more than 30 years before.

St Albans Church - Children 1950 Image Source The Scottie Press

In 1949 the city council decided to re-house all residents from 'Over the Bridge' in the outlying districts of Liverpool. But those still living in the area fought against the move. The campaign mounted by the residents at that time did not go ignored and was supported by David Logan M.P. for the Scotland Ward. He insisted that the council's Housing Director and the Housing Committee agree to build houses for small and large families together with new shops in the 'Over the Bridge' area to prevent the breaking up of the community.

The history of conditions endured by 'Over the Bridge' residents since the mid-to-late 1800s and up to the Second World War produced a very close knit community. Many people living in the area were related. Even when someone died, the chances were that the rented house stayed in the same family. Whether related or not, families grew up together, went to school together and later inter-married. In this way close networks based on mutual support grew up.

True to their word the Council built new property. Families were delighted with their new homes. They were spacious, warm, had hot and cold water, bathrooms and indoor toilets. Some of the houses even had gardens.

Throughout the 1970s new industries were being increasingly located in the new industrial estates. The economic recessions of the 70s and 80s together with the building of the Seaforth Container Base had seen a run down then closure of many of Liverpool's older docks. Early in 1987, Liverpool City Council dropped a bombshell. They said they were going to clear 'Over the Bridge' and build industrial units. Residents of this close knit community were devastated and many did not want to move. For the elderly, the period that followed was particularly distressing. There was bewilderment, disbelief and a great sense of sadness that the world that was 'Over the Bridge' would be no more.

Vauxhall Housing Co-Operative
The last mass of St Albans Church Sunday 20th June 1991 Image Source The Scottie Press

Throughout 1989-1990 the Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council advised the residents of the Vauxhall area about the proposed 'Development Strategy' of Merseyside Development Corporation for development of land south of Vauxhall Road, 'Over the Bridge' between Burlington Street and Boundary Street.

In 1990 the Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council was instrumental in aiding local people to get involved in forming, and setting up, a Housing Co-operative. 150 local people became members of the 'Vauxhall Housing Co-operative', holding regular meetings to discuss progress so far and future plans.

In September 1991 site preparation got underway on land surrounding the 'Over the Bridge' area - Athol Street and Boundary Street. The land being prepared for the construction of 150 community houses. The Vauxhall Housing Co-operative was recognised in May of 1992 as the first Tenant Managed Co-operative in Liverpool and at its first Annual General Meeting announced that the building of new houses was hopefully set to start in August. A number of House Build visits had been made by members of the Co-operative's Committee to locations throughout Great Britain to look at completed housing complexes. Selection was then made as to the Builders (Crudens Construction) of what would become 'Athol Village'. The Athol Village name chosen to keep alive the memories and traditions of the old 'Over the Bridge' area and to show the wish to build the old community spirit into the new property. All of the old street names were kept with additional Street, Way and Close names chosen to reflect the proximity of Athol Village to St Alban's church and the Leeds & Liverpool canal hence St Alban's Way and Canalside Close.

On October 27th 1992, Sir Christopher Benson (Chairman of The Housing Corporation) official laid the foundation stone to mark the development of the 'Over the Bridge - Athol Village' site by the Vauxhall Housing Co-operative, Merseyside Improved Housing and Merseyside Development Corporation. Building work on the new houses was set to start in January 1993.

The first brick to be laid for the construction of the new houses was put in place by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Rosemary Cooper on Friday 22nd January 1993. It was hoped that tenants of these new houses would be moving in by December 1993.

An indication of the quality of the new houses was gained in July 1993 with a set of houses and bungalows nearing completion. It was a dream come true for Agnes O'Toole who on Thursday 11th November 1993 became the first new resident of Athol Village. Agnes was presented with the keys to her new bungalow by Steve Jennings from Merseyside Improved Housing and by John Duffy who was then the Chairman of the Vauxhall Housing Co-operative. Another 12 new residents were given the keys to their new homes in the following week. By February 1994 more than 60 families had taken up residence on Athol Village. In July 1994 the Vauxhall Housing Co-operative advised news that all houses and bungalows were occupied.

The official opening of Athol Village took place on Friday 26th August 1994. This was a truly magnificent day for all members of the Vauxhall Housing Co-operative. In just over 4 years they had recreated a new community in Athol Village. Residents could say when asked where they live, "Athol Village - Over the Bridge"

Eldonian Village. Image Source The Scottie Press

A COMMUNITY housing project has been hailed as inspirational. The Eldonian Village in Vauxhall, Liverpool, has been praised as being one of the country's leading social projects. The Eldonian organisation was created in the late 1970s by a group of residents to improve local housing after large-scale factory closures and widespread unemployment in the Vauxhall area.

In 1983 the Eldonians re-developed the former Tate & Lyle Sugar Refinery into a prestige social housing development with 410 houses, a sports centre, nursing home, nursery and village hall. In less than 20 years the area has been transformed from an industrial wasteland into a thriving local community.

With grateful thanks to Ron Formby at Scottie Press - The Community Newspaper for Liverpool Vauxhall which is well worth a visit.

Interesting facts about Liverpool Vauxhall

Kitty Wilkinson
Kitty Wilkinson as an old lady. This picture came from a Washhouse in KentThe first Council Wash House which was opened in 1842, in Upper Fredrick Street, Liverpool. Photo circa 1914.

A great Liverpool heroine from the Vauxhall area was Kitty Wilkinson. Born in 1786 Catherine Seaward from Derry, Kitty took the Irish ferry with her poor parents to move to a better life in Liverpool. During the crossing the ship struck rocks and her father and sister both drowned. She and her mother struggled to survive and at age ten had her first job as a sort of young companion to an old lady.

At age twelve she moved to Caton, near Lancaster, to work in a mill. Later Kitty married but shortly after her second child was born her sailor husband drowned and she was left to care for her young family and her blind and insane mother. Kitty was a very helpful and hospitable person, she took in homeless families and neighbours. On the death of her mother she moved back to Liverpool finding that the housing conditions were appauling - dirty, damp, cramped rooms plagued with disease. She took in washing to help make ends meet. She soon married Tom Wilkinson, who she knew from her Caton days, who was also a hospitable person.

In 1832 Kitty risked her own life to care for the sick and dying during the cholera epidemic. The only wash boiler in the street was in her scullery and she let her neighbours use it to wash affected clothes and bed-linen. Later she fitted out her cellar as a wash-house and disinfecting room for the clothes from both the infected and non-infected homes. She managed her washhouse well and non of her workers became infected. The idea of a public wash-house had been born. She also took in twenty homeless orphaned children and taught that cleanliness was the main weapon against disease.

Kitty promoted the washhouse concept and the first ever council run 'Public Baths and Wash-house' opened in Frederick Street, Liverpool in 1842. Kitty and her husband, Thomas were appointed as its first superintendents. People came from many parts of the UK, Europe and the States to have a look at the Washhouse that Liverpool built. A photo of Kitty hung in most washhouses in England and is still admired today.

The Vauxhall area gave shelter to 300,000 people, victims of the famine in Ireland during the years 1845-49.
With grateful thanks to Mike Kelly (Vauxhall History & Heritage Group) and Ron Formby at Scottie Press - The Community Newspaper for Liverpool Vauxhall