Woodside Hotel & Ferry
The exact date that a ferry started crossing the river from Woodside is not known however reliable
accounts shows that as early as 1726 Woodside House and Ferry, were leased by Anne Cleavland for
a term of eleven years; at the annual rent of £39. The charge at the time for crossing the river was
two pence per head each way. Woodside Ferry station is said to have been removed three times in its
past having supposedly been originally at or near to Monks Ferry Hotel. The quay subsequently made
at Woodside was formerly a very different concern.
It is described in 1773 as being "A simple heap of large stones extending from the high water mark to
within twenty five feet to of low, and there terminated by an immense pebble or boulder placed on a
firm sandy shore".
It stood about 150 yards north of the present Woodside station pier. Records show that from a road
ran south from the top of the quay to the boat house which was situated within the garden of the
Woodside hotel. During this time passage fro Birkenhead to Liverpool was not in great demand as
most people took a crossing from the old ferry at Poulton or the ancient ferry at Carlett, Eastham. In
1823 the land owners Mr Price placed several steam boats on the ferry route having already made
considerable alteration to the quayside and buildings in the area.
During the early 1800s the Price family who owned Birkenhead and Claughton had agreed to sell a
large portion of the sea front for the construction of a landing place and hotel. At that time the place
looked very different than it does today. There was a sandy beach that sloped down from the front of
the Woodside Hotel to the water's edge. In 1821 the new landing point was completed and within a
year steam ferries ran from Birkenhead to Liverpool transporting passengers and live stock. Previous
to this the only method of crossing the river was by sail boat or by oar which during certain weather
conditions could take hours to complete. A small slipway was built on the beach from the water which
allowed the vessels to dock and berth.
In the spring of 1838, the Monks Ferry company commenced between Liverpool and their new station
which met with great opposition from the Woodside Ferry company, who had to reduce their charge for
crossing the river to two pence; which had since been the settled rate at the three ferries in
Birkenhead. The Monks Ferry Company, with a view to bringing the subject to a legal termination had
run for a month in the previous Autumn for which an actions was brought against them by the
Woodside Ferry Company as the lessees under Mrs Price and after trial for three days at Chester Court
a verdict was returned on the 10th August that the plaintiffs had an ancient right of ferry which the
defendants had infringed. Shortly after in 1840 Monks Ferry company sold off all of their stock,
including the docks, pier and establishments to the Chester and Birkenhead railway company.
Birkenhead was developing rapidly and industry and urban development soon changed the area
around the ferry slipway. By the 1840s, Birkenhead had already developed into a busy and bustling
new town and there were all sorts of developments happening. The railway to Chester had just
opened, the town was growing at an enormous pace, the park was being laid out and the docks were
under construction. There were also competing ferry services and disputes over the rights granted to
the monks, and there was a need to improve the facilities at Woodside.
In the early 1840s, the facilities were upgraded to meet the needs of a young, busy, developing new
town. The old slipway was replaced with a new stone pier. This ran from just below the Woodside
Hotel, which was built in the 1830s, to the edge of the current riverside wall, and must have been a
much more prominent feature on the beach, which had long since lost its rural charm. The pier had a
low stone wall, so that people could walk along it and there was a small lighthouse at the end. On
either side, there were slipways, so that boats could berth on whichever side was more sheltered.
The growth of the town was such that the pier soon became inadequate and was being swallowed up
by developments around it. During the late 1850s and early 1860s, the land between the Woodside
Hotel and the end of the pier was reclaimed and the current walled water's edge was established. The
new river front was in line with the end of the old pier. The small lighthouse was left where it was as
the area all around it was reclaimed. The light today stands on land at the water's edge which is very
slightly proud of the rest of the river wall. Whilst this is conjecture, it is my guess that this small
section of river wall is the end of the old pier. I read somewhere that at extreme low tides the bottom
of the old slipways can occasionally be seen, but I cannot verify this.
The river-front development meant that a completely new ferry facility was required. It opened in 1861
and was totally different from the previous slipways. It had a booking hall on the water's edge which
was linked to a floating landing stage via covered walkways that were hinged or pivoted so that they
could rise and fall with the landing stage. At various times there was also a similar walkway for cattle
at the north end of the landing stage, and a roadway to allow vehicles access to the stage and to the
vehicle ferry services. The old lighthouse had become redundant and was tucked away, almost out of
sight, next to the top of the passenger walkways. There was no public access to it, at least in the
times that I can remember, and the best chance of seeing it at close quarters was to use the small
path on the outside of the northern tube of the passenger walkway when it was open. It could also
be seen from approaching ferries, especially from the upper deck.
These facilities remained for about 120 years and were replaced in the 1980s. Just a few years earlier,
the landing stage and walkways were used in filming "Chariots of Fire" to represent Dover, when the
athletes were boarding the ferry to France. By the 1980s, the facilities had fallen into disrepair and
were in need of replacement. At that time, there was even talk of closing down the Woodside Ferry
service altogether. Fortunately that didn't happen and the facilities were replaced with a completely
new ferry terminal. In 1985 the middle section between the booking hall with the ticket or payment
kiosks and the walkways at the water's edge was demolished first, so that building of the new
terminal could begin. During this period there were various temporary routes to lead the passengers
through the works to and from the old passenger walkways. The new building began to take shape
during the year. Much of the old landing stage was removed, so that only the southern section
remained. Then, in September, the ferry service was suspended for a short period whilst the old
landing stage and walkways could be removed completely. The new landing stage was brought in,
moored in place and the new passenger walkway was secured in place. Once secured, the ferry
service reopened and work to complete the facilities on land, on the walkway and on the landing stage
continued. In 1986 the new ferry terminal was officially opened on 13th March. Work continued on the
restoration of the shell of the old booking hall. After completion, it housed a cafe, a gift shop and a
tourist information centre as well as continuing to serve as the gateway to the ferry at Woodside.
Outside, the area around the buildings was opened up, giving much improved public access to the river
and the work on restoring the appearance of the old light was nearing completion.
The woodside hotel had been a landmark on the Wirral waterfront for many years but was sadly
gutted by a fire in August 2008. The fire, which was said to have been started in suspicious
circumstances damaged the building so much so that the hotel had to be demolished. What many
people find suspicious is that this site is a key element in a proposed multi-million pound regeneration
of the Wirral waterfront area. Those who do not find it suspicious also agree that it is yet another one
of a catalogue of errors by Wirral council in relation to saving buildings with historical value on the
peninsula. The last building that caused controversy was Liscard hall which had remained derelict and
untouched by the council for decades. The old hall was also set align and burned down once again at
the hands of some arsonists who have never been caught.
Coincidence ? You decide...
Some of the information on this page was taken from Brian Tuohey's website.
For further information, or to visit his website please click here.