A bright short day in December, following my feet from home to the river along roads I don’t usually follow. Coming by surprise to somewhere that was the hidden birthplace of many, and I’d thought was long gone.

You know the way it is, even us habitual wanderers have our well worn pathways we inhabit without thinking. Here to the river? Down the hill, across the park, round the lake, through Otterspool. I can run it in 25 minutes. There.

Well today I did it differently. Along Allerton Road first, familiar enough.

Then turning right into Rose Lane, Mossley Hill.
Then turning right into Rose Lane, Mossley Hill.
Coming soon to Harper's Dairy.
Coming soon to Harper’s Dairy.
Not a dairy any more, but you can almost hear the cows.
Not a dairy any more, but you can almost hear the cows.

Long time blog readers may recall Duncan Scott’s splendid talk about Liverpool’s Cow Houses at ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’ earlier this year. Well here is one. A dairy on an urban street. At their height there were 900 of these in Liverpool. We’re not that far away from our semi-rural past. But what’s this in the window?

Yes that's right 'DairyMEN!'
Yes that’s right ‘Dairymen’.
'The Rose of Mossley' - a splendid looking pub I've never been in, strangely.
‘The Rose of Mossley’ – a splendid looking pub I’ve never been in, strangely.
Yes, pies are their business.
Yes, pies and not mathematics are their business.

Looks like a good candidate for the Independent Liverpool list one of these days, surely?

Now we are entering the land of interesting looking old walls.
Now we are entering the land of interesting looking old walls.

The nineteenth century land of Liverpool merchant’s houses. Some still there, some turned into other things. We’ll follow this land from here to the river now.

Pausing to admire Mossley Hill Church and its no doubt splendid stained glass. Never been in, sorry.
Pausing to admire Mossley Hill Church and its no doubt splendid stained glass. Never been in, sorry.

Arriving next at Sudley House, home of the Holt family of merchants until the last of the line, Emma, died in 1944.

Mossley Hill 10
Passing on the house and its art treasures to us, the people of Liverpool.
Passing on the house and its art treasures to us, the people of Liverpool.

I’m not going into the house today as I’m fully thermalled up and would be boiled alive inside. But it’s well worth a look. Good Pre-Raphaellites, a couple of Turners and a café. (How’s that for a bit of cultural reviewing.)

I go round to the front.
I go round to the front.
For a sit on the verandah, like I always do.
For a sit on the verandah, like I always do.

Habitual wanderers need quality sitting places dotted around the city. For reading, having lunch or simply contemplating life and nature.

And this one's particularly splendid, as you can see the river and you're under cover too.
And this one’s particularly splendid, as you can see down to the river and you’re under cover too.
In the garden there's this sundial Hillsborough Memorial.
In the garden there’s this sundial Hillsborough Memorial.

I think every one of us in Liverpool knows someone who lost someone at Hillsborough. Never forgotten.

In the Sudley garden, autumn flowering Schizostylis Coccinea.
In the Sudley garden, autumn flowering Schizostylis Coccinea.

(Sarah’s just told me that. I was calling it a ‘pretty red flower’ – pathetic really.)

Next to Sudley House is this gorgeous red brick coach-house.
Next to Sudley House is this gorgeous red brick coach-house.

When she was little, me and my daughter Clare were always in two minds about whether we wanted to come and live in Sudley or here.

The Holt family were keen supporters of Liverpool University as it was getting going late in the 19th century. As were other local wealthy types, sometimes leaving their land to the new University.

Behind this old wall are the University's 'Carnatic Halls.'
Behind this old wall are the University’s ‘Carnatic Halls.’

On the site of a house owned previously by a wealthy ‘privateer’ (i.e. a pirate) who’d captured a French East Indian ship called The Carnatic in the 18th century. The ship happened to contain a fortune in jewels.

Further down the hill the old money gets even more bizarre.

Just by this manly old battered sign.
Just by this manky old battered sign.
Behind this wall.
Behind this wall.
Just beyond these gates.
Just beyond these gates.
Was a zoo.
Was a zoo.
Mickey is the one on the left.
Starring Micky, the one on the left.

Yes, it’s a suburban housing estate now, and it used to be a merchant’s home. But in between times it was indeed a zoo. Until 1938  this was Liverpool’s last zoo, Liverpool Zoological Park. See its lions at that link. And the sad end of its renegade chimp Mickey here. All wrong, all crazy, all true. Times were very different then.

And talking of times were different, we’re about to see somewhere round the corner that takes me by surprise.

Often I'll continue to the right of this curious corner house. Today I turn left into Woodlands Road.
Often I’ll continue to the right of this curious corner house. Today I turn left into Woodlands Road.
And at the end of a tall, forbidding wall...
And at the end of a tall, forbidding wall that used to mark the end of the zoo…
Glimpse something I'd forgotten about. something I'm surprised to see is still here.
I glimpse something I’d forgotten about. Something I’m surprised to see is still over there.

Let me tell you a story, a true story, from half my lifetime ago.

It’s the mid 1980s and I’m delivering my beloved baby daughter to her nursery. It’s called Kelton and is just down the hill from a convent, called Kelton House. This morning I’ve noticed someone watching me as I drive past Kelton House. Someone who doesn’t look much like a nun. I ask one of the women who work in the nursery, an Irish woman as it happens ‘What is that place up there? I thought it was a convent.’ ‘Well it is’ she says ‘But it’s also a mother and baby home. It’s where the girls come to have their babies, off the Irish boats as often as not.’

So hurtful for them. Us bringing our much wanted and much celebrated babies to the nursery each morning, while they watch us from their hidden away lives.

I wasn’t sorry, then, when the nursery had to move to another place a few months later because the nuns, who owned the land, had decided to sell it off for housing.

Here's the housing that got built.
Here’s the housing that got built.

But what I’m astonished to find is that the old house is still there.

Up the hill, beyond its lodge.
Up the hill, beyond its lodge from when it was a Victorian merchant’s house.
Kelton House.
Kelton House.

A Grade II listed building I soon find. Waiting, maybe, to be turned into apartments one day.

But I'm so astonished to find it still here I go away and dig a little deeper into what happened here.
But I’m so astonished to find it still here I go away and dig a little deeper into what might have happened here.

And don’t find very much.

Someone has been inside and photographed it. An abandoned convent.

It definitely was a home for unmarried mothers. Someone’s birth mother and sisters:

“Stayed for a few years in Kelton, and the children were placed via the Catholic Adoption Society now known as Nugents.”

Then someone on a genealogy site finds this from the 1911 census:

“Just found my Gran and Mum on the 1911 census at Kelton Convent, House for Penitents and children, Woodlands Road, Aigburth. Gran was stated as being an inmate and working as a laundry assistant (attached to home). Gran was 22 and Mum was 3 years old.

And matching these findings with my own memories I feel so uneasy. Yes, times were different and we can barely imagine how it was for families and daughters back then. But these words I’ve found – ‘House for Penitents’ and ‘working as a laundry assistant’ remind me of so much that has emerged in Ireland in recent years. Of what happened to daughters who were sent away to have their babies. So did we perhaps have our own version of a Magdalene Laundry here in Liverpool?

Or is my imagination over playing this and was everyone treated kindly?

Certainly this place seems full of stories and I walk on amazed to have found it, still here after all those years.

Time to take a break.

See also Part 2, down through Aigburth to the river.

Next time, and in answer to a comment below.

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

Join the Conversation


  1. Ah you were in my neck of the woods. I love the walls too, with their strange stone doors set in them. I had forgotten about Kelton house . It reminded me that not too long ago there were14 institutions housing children (that I can count) in South Liverpool. Hidden in plain sight.

    Your blog has reached Melbourne. Andrew visits it to remind him of home!

    1. Yes Liz, you who live where once was the zoo! And very glad to hear Andrew’s reading from Melbourne.

      ‘Hidden in plain sight’ is a chilling phrase, as was coming upon Kelton, still there.

      1. I knew Lenny Rutter who lived in Rosemont Rd.Used to play in the old zoo.
        Went to Sudley RdSchool. Played football for APH.

  2. Great blog. Always look at Kelton House when I walk by and would love to bunk over the fence and have a proper look. Amazed its lasted and not been destroyed by kids but it is tucked away a bit. I remember Kelton as fields when I was a child (Born 1973) the original iron railings remain on part of North Sudley and I remember my gaga (Grandad) taking me up there to feed the horses on the field through the railings. A girl from my junior school also lived in the coach house in Sudley for a bit.

      1. I’m the lucky one! Because I have visited the zoo. Rode an hefalent too!
        Also became a choir boy at Mossley Hill church. soon resigned as at that time it was “high church” and I objected to incense being sprayed on me, and having prayers in Latin. It was bombed a couple of years later but fairly quickly repaired.

  3. I lived in Rosemont Road and I am fascinated by the zoo that once was here from May 1932 until October 1938.

    I am currently in the middle of doing my own research about the zoo and all the animals especially Mickey ‘the worlds cleverest chimpanzee’.


  4. I also lived in Rosemont Rd and remember my dad telling me about the zoo.He often found old coins while digging in the garden. I could clearly see Kelton from my bedroom window. I am now fascinated by the old building and what happened there in the past.

  5. Have just come upon your site and find it so interesting. I left Liverpool long ago and this makes me feel nostalgic!
    Was born in Mossley Hill, at a Private Nursing home there ,and they sold the caul which covered my head and shoulders at birth, to a sailor for about £100. My mother never received a penny!

    Went to school in Liverpool 1 and then Childwall. Played in Childwall Woods and tennis last period Fridays,at Calder stone’s Park. No teacher ever explained the significance of the Calderstones to us!

    Happy memories! Thanks for your walks and am learning so much about the places of my childhood and youth.

  6. Came across this by accident. Thank you for fantastic memories. My parents came to Kylemore Avenue when I was three and I grew up under the shadow of Mossley Hill Church. I never knew about Kelton, what a dark history. My teacher from Sudley Junior School, Mr Kenyon, lived close by and I remember it well. I also remember the house with the rounded end, and some nutter throwing one of his crutches at me as I cycled down Woodlands Road. I don’t know what upset him and the crutch missed me. When I went to Sudley Primary school there were sheep in the fields where Kelton Grove is now.

    Thanks for jogging so many memories, I also read your blog around Cressington Park, along from the cricket club. There used to be a great record shop nearby, I bought most of my LP collection there.


  7. This was sent to me, and was great to see all the memories, my husband comes from Aigburth, he went to Sudley School, (he is almost 80) my children went to Sudley, aged 49 and 44, now my grandson goes to Sudley School, 3 generations of our family.
    My husbands great aunt always told my children about mick the monkey at the zoo, people would give him cigarettes to smoke, and he did smoke,when he escaped from the zoo he was shot dead.
    wish we had more facts about the zoo.

  8. The old zoo brings memories rushing back. I lived in Ashfield road and went to Sudley school, 1940-45. Every weekend and school holidays, we were in the bombed zoo. Gedge, Johnny, Ted, Al, Dave, Ronnie and others, some now passed away. Lit fires, made blind Scouse, played in cages, made dens, all the old animal houses were still there. parents never saw us from morning until night. A wonderful place.

    I also remember going in the tipping lorry with my Uncle Eric, tipping for Otterspool prom. Then there was the cast iron shore, another exciting place. Later, played football for APH, possibly one of the best Amateur sides at that time. Does anyone else have these memories?

    1. Ken Corran, a name from my long lost youth. if memory serves you were a member of the boys club in Rose Lane, playing in the football and cricket teams along with Jimmy Moses, Sid McGeachin and Ross Knowles

  9. Last summer we called the police as there was dreadful smoke coming over from Kelton. We thought kids had broken in and lit a fire in the grounds. We’d been sitting in the front garden while gardening, I had to come in as the smoke was so toxic it made me feel horrible ill. So I don’t know how much longer Kelton will survive!

    Recently purchased an Illustrated Guide to Liverpool Zoo on eBay, really must get round to scanning it! From the map inside it looks as if our garden was roughly by the Quarantine area. The lady we bought the house from told us that when her father (who bought house new) was making the garden he and her brothers were constantly digging up monkey skulls!

    1. If you ever do scan it I’d love to see that Maggie and so would a lot of other people, I’d guess. This particular walk has now been viewed by several thousand people.

  10. I was born in Bootle, but moved early in the war to Gladeville Road, just by the junction of Elmwood and Woodlands Roads , after our house was bombed. I also went to Sudley Road School. Instead of walking home up Woodlands Road I would often divert through the old zoo. It was very overgrown, but the concrete bases of the cages were still there. We used to love to walk around the narrow rims, and jump across the gap between them. We also used to dare each other to climb up and walk along the top of the wall of the ‘Nuns’ house.’ I never knew that mothers and babies lived there. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing or hearing anyone inside it. How sad, if they were forced to live and work in there.
    There was also a big building just around the corner, at the bottom of Gladeville Road (where the back of the student accommodation is) which was also, I believe, a convent. My brother used to scare the life out of me by saying that the ghost of a White Lady was after me!
    Twice a day a herd of cows would meander up and down that lane, and go to the little dairy, opposite Aigburth Peoples’ Hall, to be milked. I used to love the Rose Queen garden fetes which were held at the Hall.

  11. I hated being sent to collect me mum’s washing from the Kelton laundry. With a kid’ s imagination it looked like Dracula’ s castle or maybe Colditz to my young eyes! You would knock on a huge door which was duly opened by a fearsome looking nun in full habit. Peering in as she went to fetch the wash, revealed a scene I thought was what hell must look like. A horrible smell of cleaning and lots of steam. Lines of women in pinafores and covered heads slaving away. A vacant expression of hopelessness on every face. I sensed evil even at my tender age
    The evil that was the Magdalene story.

      1. Hi Ronnie I live in spinnackers off riversdale rd I’m passionate abt the past history architecture I know the maritime college stood on this site but going back before then I have a feeling of a ground house standing here I discovered the base of sandstone slab with the holes cut out for the grand railings that would have surrounded a house or something grand do you have any info or old maps of the lower fields that would spread down to the river from the cricket club I would love to know!

  12. I spent my formative years from 1941-1959 living in Rose Lane and I’ve followed with interest your blog on the neighborhood, in reference to Kelton House, the link about the Cat who crept in and took pictures no longer appears to work so I wonder if you have ever seen the pictures yourself, if not I can provide you a set that I obtained after reading the article. Not sure if any copyright applies, therefore I’d prefer just yourself to see them for starters.

  13. Brings back many happy memories of my childhood growing up in south Liverpool. I lived just off South Mossley Hill Road near Garston Park and went to St Austin’s primary in late 60’s / early 70’s. I think the little dairy opposite Aigburth People’s Hall mentioned by Brenda May have been owned by my uncle’s brother in law (Tom Hogg).

    Spent many happy hours with friends on our bikes riding all around Garston, Aigburth, Mossley Hill and especially Otterspool prom.

    Does anyone remember the farm in what is now Florida Court, just of South Mossley?

  14. Hello, such interesting reading as I am searching my family tree which includes a great many ancestors who were born and lived in Liverpool! One ancestors worked at The Lawn. He lived in Lawn Cottage in 1916. Does that cottage still stand? My daughter is about to move to Liverpool so I am coming up to explore!!

  15. From thousands of kms away in Australia, I spent 6yrs in Aigburth around the age 6 to almost 13. I attended St Austins Primary and then St John Almonds in Garston. I did however have a unique upbringing in what was known As Springcroft Children’s Home on Aigburth Hall Ave. We had many choices of parks in any direction for our compulsory weekend walks, Sefton Pk, Calderstones, The Prom or Garston Wreck swing park. I received the saddest news that Springcroft was demolished in the 1980s?? It was a beautiful place to live built I think in 1857. Thankfully I have a beautiful photo of it taken in 1978 when I visited. I have tried to search results of its history on the net to no avail. Only thing I could find in official records, it was used as care for single mothers and their babies before it became a home. We had 20 children in residence, and whilst it was quite strict we have some wonderful memories. I can close my eyes and imagine each and every room, remember it’s beautiful garden, and no joke we had a Gardner called Tom Sawyer! It had a very scary basement where the laundry would be delivered and we would be sent down through the door under the stairs in the back with the single light bulbswingin reflecting the lime washed steps and walls, a job we always accomplished very quickly as it was so scary to a child. And many more memories Jan Brisbane Qld

    1. I grew up not far from The Springcroft you mention (Mossley Hill Rd) I remember it being a centre for meals on wheels (Food delivery for people who needed it) It was sadly knocked down and replaced by housing I think it was on the early 1990’s. Would love to see the picture of it. I remember it as a lovely large grand White House ?

      If you are on Twitter send the pic to @angiesliverpool who posts some great pics of old Liverpool. I have never seen one of that building before.

      You can see what is there now on this link and what it was like back in the early 1900’s

  16. Really interesting blog,I lived in Ashlar road from 1970-1985.I couldn’t remember what was there before the Kelton grove/ Hillview housing estated so glad I found this.Can anyone remember the Orchard at the bottom of Elmer road which is where Rowan court was built.I think there was a coal yard on woodlands road which was on the same land as the orchard

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