Click to return to Main Contents PageClick to return to Main Contents PageWoodside Ferry, Birkenhead
Introduction


Contents Page

Woodside Index
Introduction
Changes 1
Changes 2
Old Light
Recent
Entrance Hall

All photographs on these pages are the property of the photographer Brian Tuohey.

They may not be re-published in any form without written permission, but may be downloaded for personal use.

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History | My Interest and These Pages

This page aims to put the gallery pages into context, both in terms of the history of Woodside Ferry and in terms of my own interest.


History

To start with, a little about the history of the ferry buildings at Woodside.

Origins

The origins of ferries between Birkenhead and Liverpool go back to the days of the Benedictine monks at Birkenhead Priory.  The priory was founded about 1150.  About 1330 (some sources quote 1332), the monks were granted a charter that enabled them to charge passengers to ferry them from Birkenhead to Liverpool, but interestingly not in the other direction.  They continued to do this until the monastery was closed in 1536 as it fell victim to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.  The rights initially passed to the crown and then changed hands a number of times over the centuries that followed.  All of this took place at a time when there was no town or even a village in Birkenhead.  It remained a small township with series of small hamlets and farms until the early 1800s.

The origins of the "modern" ferry service at Woodside began in the 1820s when the town of Birkenhead was in its infancy.  At that time the place looked very different from today.  There was a beach that sloped down from what is now the road in front of the Woodside Hotel to the water's edge, and there were few buildings in what must have been an attractive semi-rural setting.  A small slipway was built on the beach which allowed the boats to berth and this continued for about 20 years.  There are even reports that after the ferry was established, Birkenhead enjoyed a brief period as a health resort!  This must have been very short-lived because the town was developing rapidly and industry and urban development soon changed the area around the ferry slipway.  By the 1840s, Birkenhead had already developed into a busy and bustling new town and there were all sorts of developments happening.  The railway to Chester had just opened, the town was growing at an enormous pace, the park was being laid out and the docks were under construction.  There were also competing ferry services and disputes over the rights granted to the monks, and there was a need to improve the facilities at Woodside.

The 1840s Pier and Light

In the early 1840s, the facilities were upgraded to meet the needs of a young, busy, developing new town.  The old slipway was replaced with a new stone pier.  This ran from just below the Woodside Hotel, which was built in the 1830s, to the edge of the current riverside wall, and must have been a much more prominent feature on the beach, which had long since lost its rural charm.  The pier had a low stone wall, so that people could walk along it and there was a small lighthouse at the end.  On either side, there were slipways, so that boats could berth on whichever side was more sheltered.

The growth of the town was such that the pier soon became inadequate and was being swallowed up by developments around it.  During the late 1850s and early 1860s, the land between the Woodside Hotel and the end of the pier was reclaimed and the current walled water's edge was established.  The new river front was in line with the end of the old pier.  The small lighthouse was left where it was as the area all around it was reclaimed.  The light today stands on land at the water's edge which is very slightly proud of the rest of the river wall.  Whilst this is conjecture, it is my guess that this small section of river wall is the end of the old pier.  I read somewhere that at extreme low tides the bottom of the old slipways can occasionally be seen, but I cannot verify this.

The Floating Landing Stage

The river-front development meant that a completely new ferry facility was required.  It opened in 1861 and was totally different from the previous slipways.  It had a booking hall on the water's edge which was linked to a floating landing stage via covered walkways that were hinged or pivoted so that they could rise and fall with the landing stage.  At various times there was also a similar walkway for cattle at the north end of the landing stage, and a roadway to allow vehicles access to the stage and to the vehicle ferry services.  The old lighthouse had become redundant and was tucked away, almost out of sight, next to the top of the passenger walkways.  There was no public access to it, at least in the times that I can remember, and the best chance of seeing it at close quarters was to use the small path on the outside of the northern tube of the passenger walkway when it was open.  It could also be seen from approaching ferries, especially from the upper deck.

These facilities remained for about 120 years and were replaced in the 1980s.  Just a few years earlier, the landing stage and walkways were used in filming "Chariots of Fire" to represent Dover, when the athletes were boarding the ferry to France.

Changes in the 1980s

By the 1980s, the facilities had fallen into disrepair and were in need of replacement.  At that time, there was even talk of closing down the Woodside Ferry service altogether.  Fortunately that didn't happen and the facilities were replaced with a completely new ferry terminal.  The changes took place in several stages:

1984
Preparatory work on the site, as the old facilities were prepared for demolition.

1985
The year when most of the changes took place.  The middle section, between the booking hall with the ticket or payment kiosks and the walkways at the water's edge was demolished first, so that building of the new terminal could begin.  During this period there were various temporary routes to lead the passengers through the works to and from the old passenger walkways.  The new building began to take shape during the year.  Much of the old landing stage was removed, so that only the southern section remained.  Then, in September, the ferry service was suspended for a short period whilst the old landing stage and walkways could be removed completely.  The new landing stage was brought in, moored in place and the new passenger walkway was secured in place.  Once secured, the ferry service reopened and work to complete the facilities on land, on the walkway and on the landing stage continued.

1986
The new ferry terminal was officially opened on 13th March.  Work continued on the restoration of the shell of the old booking hall.  After completion, it housed a cafe, a gift shop and a tourist information centre as well as continuing to serve as the gateway to the ferry at Woodside.  Outside, the area around the buildings was opened up, giving much improved public access to the river and the work on restoring the appearance of the old light was nearing completion.

Today

In 2007, the tide turned once again.  The ferry services to and from Woodside were cut so that there is no longer any provision for commuters.  Ever since trams were first introduced to Birkenhead in the 1860s, Woodside had been the natural terminus for public transport services and it was a destination for regional and long distance bus routes.  Now, very few services continue to Woodside, many local buses terminating instead in the town centre.  The tourist and visitor services within the old booking hall have been closed.  It is sad to see, but there are also promising signs for the future.  During Spring 2008, the submarine from the Historic Warships exhibition previously in Birkenhead Docks was relocated to Woodside.  Perhaps this might lead to further developments, with more ferry services and the reopening of the facilities inside the old booking hall.

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My Interest

l have been interested in local history for almost as long as I can remember.  As I have local connections, I was aware of the importance and historical significance of the ferries to the town, so I was aware of the need to record images of the old facilities and the changes in photographs.  Between 1984 and 1987, I would frequently visit the area, sometimes taking a ferry trip and sometimes photographing from the land.  Even in those pre-digital days, over the years I took quite a lot of photographs.

These Pages

I first published a small selection of photographs on this website about 2001.  In 2006, I was approached to ask if some of my photos could be used in an exhibition at Woodside.  I agreed and the exhibition was launched in December 2006 and continued until the old booking hall facilities closed in 2007.  Encouraged by this interest, in the weeks that followed the launch, I scanned more of my old prints as well as taking some new photographs, the result being the galleries that you can see on these pages today.

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Updated 03/04/08