The Birkenhead Cattle Trade

Many people do not know about Birkenhead once thriving cattle trade.  Developing countries like North
and South America had large areas of land ideal for rearing sheep and cattle.  They had more animals
than they could use, and so sent huge quantities to the growing industrial towns of Britain on fast
steamships many of which came to Birkenhead where they were sold to farmers or slaughterhouses.  
In 1878 sickness destroys Britain's sheep and cattle trade as a disease had been imported with
foreign animals.  At that time it became illegal to import animals unless they were slaughtered or
quarantined in licensed quays.  Lairages, slaughterhouses, chill rooms and meat-stores are built at
Morpeth and Wallasey Docks.

In 1886 the Birkenhead abattoir which was extensive in size was opened, followed shortly by the
Birkenhead Lairage buildings three years after.  'Lairage' was a type of modern day Animal Welfare
Officer who would monitor the unloading of cattle into the Lairage to ensure none of the cattle were
injured or showed signs of sickness.  The inspections began to work and the trade took off once again.
 By 1897 the imported animal trade is booming and it is estimated that 40-50% of Britain's trade in
American sheep and cattle, passes through Birkenhead.  

Every building below the transit sheds alongside Morpeth branch dock was involved in the Irish Sea
livestock trade for which Birkenhead became the leading UK port, having been helped by a decision to
concentrate all of the Mersey's Irish livestock traffic in Birkenhead for ease of control reasons following
a foot & mouth outbreak in Ireland in 1913.  The green line in the picture below highlights the old
wooden livestock walkway which allowed transfer of animals between the dedicated 'Wallasey'
livestock stage (actually sited where Twelve Quays is now rather than in Wallasey) and Woodside.  It
had to be elevated to enable sufficient clearance over the Morpeth river entrance which would have
made it an overhead walkway.  The photo also shows the livestock-dedicated north end of the
Woodside stage and its high-sided linkspan which prevented animals from seeing the river whilst
coming ashore and becoming distressed as a consequence.
Remains of Birkenhead Abattoir
There are plenty of local people who will tell you that in the 1960's you always know when a Irish boat
had docked , as you could smell it from a good distance away.  Also the tannery on New Chester Rd ,
was part of the site which again added a terrible stench to the area.  Much of the area and buildings
associated with the cattle trade was demolished in the 1970's and in the 1990's to make way for the
Woodside Small Business Park.  

The abattoir building, now used by Birkenhead Timber; caught fire on the 7th December 2007.  There is
not much left of the once thriving cattle industry buildings in the area and those that still stand are
falling into dilapidation.  The old fountain at the front of the Abattoir still exists although now badly
damaged having been exposed to the elements for over a century.  The inscription on the fountain
reads as follows "These Abattoirs were opened by W.Laird Esq J.P Mayor of Birkenhead".
Photographs of associated buildings:
Remains of Birkenhead Abattoir
The Foundation Stone of the Abattoir
Remains of Birkenhead Abattoir
Remains of Birkenhead Abattoir
The Fountain at Birkenhead Abattoir
Remains of Birkenhead Abattoir
The Birkenhead Slaughter House - Crown Copyright NMR.