Birkenhead Priory was founded about 1150 for the Benedictines and is the oldest standing building on Merseyside. Parts of the site are listed buildings of Grade I and II and the priory is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
In 1317 the monks from Birkenhead Priory were granted ferry rights by Edward II. This allowed them to build a house in what is now Water Street to store their corn. The house was also used by travellers for shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.
The priory’s chapter house is consecrated as an Anglican church, with a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway. There is also a museum detailing the history of the site.
St Mary’s Tower was originally part of Birkenhead’s first parish church, opened in 1821 in the grounds of the priory.
Redevelopment of the area from 1925 resulted in a large number of residential housing within the parish being cleared to make way for the construction of the first Mersey Tunnel. An expansion of the Number 5 dry dock at the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard in the 1960’s resulted in the church losing a significant portion of its graveyard. Subsequent redevelopment of the approach roads to the Mersey Tunnel effectively cut off the church from most of what remained of its parish, further dwindling the congregation.
St. Mary’s Church closed in 1974 and was partly demolished a year later, for reasons of safety. Only the former church tower and parts of the outer walls were retained in situ. The tower has since been refurbished and is dedicated to those who died on HMS Thetis.
The churchyard contains the burial vault of the Laird family, which includes John Laird (1805-1874), Birkenhead’s first Member of Parliament and co-founder of the adjacent Cammell Laird shipbuilding company.
The name Birkenhead is possibly from the Old English bircen meaning birch tree, of which many once grew on the headland which jutted into the river near the Priory itself.
© photogenique (dave peddie): using this image for any purpose and in any way, without prior permission, may lead to legal action.