New Brighton is a seaside resort which was very popular in the mid 19th century. It is located in the town of Wallasey, on the north east tip of the Wirral Peninsula, in Merseyside, England. Administratively it is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Historically within Cheshire it was part of the County Borough of Wallasey. At the 2001 Census the population of New Brighton stood at 14,450 (6,869 males, 7,581 females).
Up to the 19th century the area had a reputation for smuggling and wrecking, and secret underground cellars and tunnels are still rumoured to exist. It also had a strategic position at the entrance to the Mersey Estuary.
The Perch Rock battery was completed in 1829. It mounted 18 guns, mostly 32 pounders, with 3 6" guns installed in 1899. Originally cut off at high tide, coastal reclamation has since made it fully accessible.
In 1830, a Liverpool merchant, James Atherton, purchased much of the land at Rock Point, which enjoyed views out to sea and across the Mersey and had a good beach. His aim was to develop it as a desirable residential and watering place for the gentry, in a similar way to one of the most elegant seaside resorts of that Regency period – hence “New Brighton”. Substantial development began soon afterwards, and housing began to spread up the hillside overlooking the estuary – a former gunpowder magazine being closed down in 1851.
New Brighton Tower & Ballroom, viewed from the River Mersey.During the latter half of the 19th century, New Brighton developed as a very popular seaside resort serving Liverpool and the Lancashire industrial towns, and many of the large houses were converted to inexpensive hotels. A pier was opened in the 1860s, and the promenade from Seacombe to New Brighton was built in the 1890s. This served both as a recreational amenity in its own right, and to link up the developments along the estuary, and was later extended westwards towards Leasowe. The New Brighton Tower, the tallest in the country, was opened in 1900 but closed in 1919, largely due to lack of maintenance during the First World War. Dismantling of the tower was complete by 1921.
After the Second World War, the popularity of New Brighton as a seaside resort declined dramatically. However, the Tower Ballroom continued as a major venue, hosting numerous concerts in the 1950s and 1960s by local Liverpool groups such as the Beatles as well as other international stars. The Tower Ballroom continued in use until it was destroyed by a fire in 1969.
Ferries across the Mersey to New Brighton ceased in 1971, after which the ferry pier and landing stage were dismantled. By 1977, the promenade pier had suffered the same fate.
The area became the subject of Martin Parr’s photographic book The Last Resort, which provoked local outrage.
Fort Perch Rock with Liverpool in the distance
View from the top of Fort Perch Rock, Fort Perch Rock
Fort Perch Rock is a coastal defence battery built between 1825 and 1829. It was built to protect the Port of Liverpool and as a fortified lighthouse to replace the old Perch Rock Light. It was originally built on an area known as Black Rock and was cut off at high tide, but now coastal reclamation has made it fully accessible. It is currently open as a museum.
The Fort covers an area of about 4,000 square yards, with enough space for 100 men. It was built with red sandstone from the Runcorn quarries. The height of the walls ranges from 24 feet (7.3 m) to 32 feet (9.8 m), and the towers are 40 feet (12 m) high. The Fort originally had a drawbridge, and a Tuscan portal which bore the coat of arms and the words ‘Fort Perch Rock’. At one point it was armed with 18 guns, of which 16 were 32-pounders, mounted on platforms. It was nicknamed the ‘Little Gibraltar of the Mersey’.
The foundation stone reads:
This foundation stone of the Rock Perch Battery, projected by and under the direction of John Sikes Kitson, Esquire, Captain in the Royal Engineers, for the defence of the port was laid on 31st March 1826 by Peter Bourne, Esquire, Mayor of Liverpool in the 7th year of the reign of His Majesty George IV. His Grace, the Duke of Wellington , Master General of the Ordnance.
The projected cost of the build was £27,583.0s.8d. Kitson ensured that this budget was not exceeded, finishing the fort for a total cost of £26,965.0s.8d.
In the late 1970s, the fort could be hired as a party venue. During this time Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys played there as members of the short lived Wirral group The Id. Since the 1990s, the fort has played host to various musical events including, in the summer of 2006, a number of rock concerts which were organised by a group of young Wallaseyans. The nights were called “Nautical” and were featured in the Guardian newspaper and named NME club of the week for the 1 September 2006 show, which featured British Sea Power and the Tiny Dancers.
New Brighton Lighthouse next to Perch Rock.New Brighton Lighthouse was originally known as Perch Rock Lighthouse and construction began in 1827. Since 1 October 1973 it has not been in use as a lighthouse, having been superseded by modern navigational technology. These days the lighthouse is maintained by the Kingham family.
The open air Bathing Pool opened in 1934 and was built to competition standards.4 South-facing, its walls were designed to act as a sun-trap and avoid seaborne winds. From 1949 to 1989 it was also home of the “Miss New Brighton” contest.4 It closed in 1990 following storm damage and demolished a short time later.