2012: Friday Walks, Thurstaston Common

So, a new walk. Now you probably don’t know this, why would you, but Sarah doesn’t really like new things. As she’s just said herself:

‘The only way to get a Horton to do something new is to find a way of making them think it was partly their idea.’

So I don’t know how I managed that but here we are. Starting on fairly familiar ground, but then moving on to new places. A day about the joys of common land and the frustrations, not to say rage, of enclosure.

We begin up the hill from The Shining Shore, in fact we were last here in the summer on Shining Shore, the LP version.

Rich, red, sandstone Thurstaston Hill.

Worn by the footsteps of centuries.

It’s a slate grey misty day high up on the Wirral peninsula.

Liverpool’s over there. In the mist.

And The Shining Shore and the Dee Estuary are down there. Somewhere.

When we were up here in the summer you could see for miles both ways. For today Sarah puts her binoculars away.

And we walk….

Over the top of Thurstaston Hill…

Sandstone pavements and marshy pools.

Dropping down onto Thurstaston Common.

Where Sarah finds…

A perfect climbing tree.

We walk on, through the trees of Thurstaston Common.

To the edge of Royden Park, where Sarah is delighted as ever by a dry stone wall.

We step through a nearby gap, into the park.

Public land, unmanicured, almost wild.

Except for this.

Someone’s managed to enclose the middle of the park for a ‘fairy tale wedding hotel’.

This is ‘Hill Bark’. It used to be called ‘Bidston Court’ and it used to be about 4 miles away, near Bidston Hill. But the nob who owned it didn’t like looking out on the encroaching Birkenhead suburbs. So in 1930 he had it moved, brick by brick, to where it now interrupts our day.

But not for long. Round the far side of this aberration we find a real delight.

Looks like it’s been a stable block at some point. Now it’s the Royden Park Visitor Centre.

Containing the delightful ‘Barking Mad’ café.

Open Wednesday to Friday and offering such delights as ‘Fried egg on a crumpet, £1’. We stop for a late breakfast of cheese toasties.

And Sarah tells me about where we are.

“The clearance of Wirral’s woodland during the middle ages provided the conditions for heathland to develop on areas such as Thurstaston Common. Grazing and heathland management on the common land helped maintain the health and prevent the re-invasion of woodland until the middle of the nineteenth century.

In 1879 Birkenhead Clegg of Thurstaston Manor, together with the other two major landowners of the parish, TH Ismay of Dawpool Hall and the Rev. Thurland, petitioned for an order to enclose the common. On 29th December that year Birkenhead Council objected to the proposal and requested that’ the highest and most attractive part of the common should remain unenclosed as a place of recreation’.

The situation was finally resolved in 1883 when 45 acres known as Thurstaston Common Recreation Ground and including Thurstaston Hill, were granted to Birkenhead Council. The remainder of the Common was divided between the three original petitioners in compensation for their loss of all rights of common. This land changed hands a number of times until in 1916 27.5 acres were presented to the National Trust by its owner Sir Alfred Paton. Furtherr large donations were made to the trust between 1916 and 1925. Since then the Common has been used for informal recreation.”

(All this from a Wirral Council leaflet available in the Visitor Centre)

So I assume one of the bits not donated back to be common land is the bit where that wedding hotel is squatting. Never trust a nob.

Anyway, delighting in the now established fact that most of the place belongs to us all, we carried on having a look round.

Roodee Mere.

A miniature railway, open on Sundays.

There’s also a walled garden (‘open every day’ – but mysteriously closed today), an occasional craft centre, organised walks and self-guided trails. A lovely place. We’ll be back.

But for today we continued walking.

Through the Common woodlands.

Where, being a new walk, directions need checking…

Including occasional basics like ‘Which way are we going?’

And when we left the common land the walk entered into its second half. Which you’re not going to see much of. Because we didn’t much like it. Bits of road between fields, then public footpaths sometimes obstructed or downright moved by the owners of the enclosed lands we were crossing. Farmers thinking we shouldn’t be there interfering with their crops and livestock (we weren’t). Householders acting like we’re snooping round the backs of their precious semis (we were having our lunch).

Including our chocolate and candy supply from Rhode Island – thank you Kathi!

And the gulls were happy with this farmer.

And come half three the light is fading.

And as we negotiate the final diverted footpaths the rain is falling steadily.

But we end the walk wet and on the whole happy. And drive home in the rain.

And as you might know if you’ve been reading about these walks for a while (And thank you, we know lots of people do) – we give new walks marks out of 10. This one got an overall score of 7. Reflecting our disappointment with the ‘enclosed’ second half.

Splitting the walk into two, however, revealed an immediate ’10’ from both of us for the first half. So this walk will be back. But in a different shape next time. I can also feel an organised rant coming on about the iniquities of the nobles (‘the nobs’) stealing the land off the peoples of these islands by centuries of enclosures. But that’s for another day.

And no, I’m not putting in a link to that ‘fairy tale wedding hotel’.

11 thoughts on “2012: Friday Walks, Thurstaston Common

  1. The Accidental Amazon

    How did they come to be called ‘nobs’? I’m sorry they spoiled what might have been a 10/10 walk, but what a very impressive compass you have. And it’s very lovely that a little bit of Rhode Island could go with you. Sarah, we have LOTS of old dry stone walls here. I will have to get out & take some more pix of them. This is one of them, not far from where I live: http://kksphotos.com/images/Pettaquamscutt-Wall.gif

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Kathi in Britain it’s about the history of class war. The ‘nobs’ are the nobility (as the robber barons styled themselves). They enclosed common land increasingly to drive us off our commonly owned farming lands to work in their ‘manufactories’ in their ‘industrial revolution’. And many of us still hate them for it. Major ranting historical post coming up, covering the last thousand years of working class history – ‘This land is your land, and other myths.’ xx

      Reply
  2. cheethamlibMandy

    What an amazing sight to suddenly come upon that tranported neo Elizabethan mansion in that glorious parkland.The photograph was so unexpected! The silliness of rich mansion owners appears to be boundless. Certainly the first part of that walk should receive 10 marks. Lovely photographs…

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Mandy, good to hear from you. Yes it really is a ridiculous thing. And at the front it’s all electric gates and security cameras to keep the non-paying likes of us out. Whereas round the back we found a few holes in the hedge we could have easily walked through. But didn’t of course. It would have spoiled our walk!

      Reply
  3. Stephen Roberts

    Thank you for these wonderful Friday Walks and their associated beautiful photographs. They are particularly meaningful to me because I am an exiled Merseysider, currently living in Carnforth and working in Kendal. You showed some of our students around Toxteth with my beloved colleague, the great Mike Park. I know Thurstaston and Royden Park very well. I enjoyed your comments about the common land and agree with your sentiments, but think perhaps that you might have over-simplified history. Enclosure was not a sudden, one-off event, imposed by the nobs, but a complex process which occurred gradually over hundreds of years. There was never a time when the poor people had unfettered access to the commons: use was always controlled by the manor courts. Enclosure was often negotiated between humble farmers in order to allow more efficient land use. I think this was the case in the Thurstaston area, especially in the Station Road area which you show in one of your photographs. Did you see the much older ridge and furrow patterns in the fields at the top of the cliffs? There are more of those in Arrowe Park. I’ll show them to you sometime if you like. There’s lots to see in the landscape of Wirral which reveals so much about the lives of our ancestors. Have you read the works of Gerrard Winstanley or heard of the Diggers? They are the sort of visionaries of
    the like of which we need more.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for this Stephen. Glad you’re enjoying the walks.

      I loved showing your students around Liverpool 8 and this continuing connection with your school.

      And yes, in retrospect my Thurstaston Common post is a bit of a rant. Which is why I researched and returned to the subject of the Enclosures here. Intending it to be balanced and knowledgable, it nevertheless turned out to be another rant. As, on the whole, I still see the centuries of enclosure as a gradual and comprehensive land grab. And stick by my original position that what happened at Thurstaston was a land grab by the local nobility. Which, even though it mostly failed, is still in evidence today with the fenced off sheep grazing area in the middle of the common, plus that ludicrous hotel.

      It would be a delight though, to walk the area with you. And who knows, maybe we could work on something educational together about Enclosure. A debate?

      Reply
      1. Stephen Roberts

        Very good reply Ronnie. Forgive me for blowing my own trumpet, but if you want to read a little bit more about the landscape of Wirral, have a little look at my “History of Wirral” in which I talk about enclosures and field systems (other books are available). It has a bibliography in which you could find specialist books on the subject. Yes the Hillbark building is bizarre isn’t it? When I was young it was an old people’s home. My grandad was employed in its transferral from Bidston. He was a bricky, who apparently specialised in doing the very complex chimneys. At least it gave him work during the difficult inter-war years. Yes, I am all for doing some educational work. Mike and I were only saying this on Friday. We have the idea of producing some resources based essentially on what you and I do – learning from the environment. We are coming to Liverpool in March with some year 9s. We went last year and did a fair amount of walking, trying to perceive the hallowed footsteps of our ancestors. I will have to walk with you around the Hoylake and Meols area, where most of my ancestors lived and also Arrowe Park. The latter will stir up much debate as it would not be there if it was not for the slave trade.

      2. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        Thanks Stephen, I’ll definitely go and find your book.

        Amazed and thrilled to hear that your Grandad was the expert bricky who moved the chimneys of Bidston Court/Hillbark to their new location. Have you seen the book ‘Merchant Palaces’ by Joseph Sharples? It contains beautiful photos of the building from 1894 in its original location. And the gates from the original building are just along the road from here, in Calderstones Park.

        Be good to talk with you about educational resources and walking.

        In fact you may be interested in this walk on Hampsfell, not far from where you are, for over Christmas. It’s even got it’s own little book you can make and take as your guide.

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