The Powder Magazines of New Brighton
During the 18th century Liverpool was becoming an ever increasingly busy port. By this time the city of Liverpool had made
it compulsory that all vessels coming into the port must unload all of the gun powder they had on board. The gun powder
was unloaded at the docks and taken via horse and cart through the streets to a powder store on Brownlow Hill. As the
population of Liverpool grew, so to did the amount of traffic in the Mersey and naturally an increase of gunpowder was
being stored and transported.
The citizens of Liverpool (mainly the more wealthy) had grave concerns for there safety and after a small power struggle the
city decided to close down the gun powder storage site at Brownlow Hill. In 1751 the city purchased a piece of land in what
is today known as New Brighton. The land in that area was described as a rocky, sandy, baron waste, which few people
visited, thus making it perfect for the purpose of storing gunpowder. At that time most of the surrounding area of that part
of Wallasey was sparce and covered in a lightly sanded surface with several dunes which moved from time to time. In great
haste a large enclosure was set up and 8 large but insecure sheds, covered in slate roof were built in a small yard; under
the charge of private individuals without any military guard. The compound was surrounded by a thick wall with earth
pushed around it to lower the impact should the powder ignite. In addition to this a smaller fence then encircled the
compound with various signs intended to stop intruders or the more curious of folk in their tracks.
The sheds stored an estimated 700 - 800 tons of gunpowder and was described by Richard Brooke esq as:
"Such great quantities, and with such trivial and inadequate precautions against explosion as to excite a well grounded
alarm". He goes on to say:
"700 to 800 tones of this most dangerous combustible were commonly deposited until within a few months past, in the
immediate vicinity of dwellings, and of not a trifling population, close to a part of the Mersey which is constantly frequented
by, and often overcrowded with, sailing vessels and steamers freighted with not merely merchandise with incalculable
value, but with human life, and within a mile of the docks, houses, and buildings of the second port of the British Empire.
Another generation will scarcely credit the folly and apathy of the local authorities and inhabitants of Liverpool, who year
after years remain supine and passive with this terrific nuisance so close to them, when at any moment the effects of
lightning, the sparks from a neighbouring cottage chimney, the intoxication of a workman, the violation of the rules against
smoking tobacco or a small boys rocket, might cause an explosion so terrific and destructive beyond all example, that it
might take away the lives of thousands of human beings, and cause a degree of misery to individuals and an extent of
destruction to property unparalleled in history".
Eventually as the population of the area grew, so too did the concerns of the residents of having such an explosive
compound on their door step. After much debate and arguing a local resident and member of the gentry called Sir George
Gray set up a committee and lobbied parliament. In 1851 an act of parliament concluded that the gunpowder would now be
stored on floating hulks just off the coast of Eastham. The magazine at New Brighton was decommissioned and the powder
was moved down river to Eastham.
Richard Brooke continues his slander at the new scheme of moving operations to Eastham by documenting :
"Instead of removing the nuisance far away from Liverpool, provisions were made by that act for changing the place of
deposit for that gun powder from its dangerous situation at Liscard, to floating magazines on the waters of the Mersey, but
still within the port of Liverpool, and very near to the town and shipping. The wisdom, if there be any, of the promoters of
this scheme, seems past finding out. It is true that the danger of property and life at Liscard and at the North end of
Liverpool may be decreased, but it may be very much greater else where, including a peril to the shipping and to the lives of
mariners and passengers on the Mersey which will be dramatically increased. Under the old system, bad as it was, the
gunpowder brought coast wise was taken to Liscard magazines and deposited. An when afterward shipped for
exportation, it was removed without passing the town. However now under the new system, a double risk must be
incurred. The gunpowder must be conveyed up the Mersey through crowds of ships and sailing craft of all denominations,
past the town to the floating magazines. Then afterwards upon exportation it must be taken back on the same course past
the town and through all of the shipping".
Now a century and a half later houses of Aylesbury Road occupy the site and nothing remains of the magazines storage
compound except for a small reminder of the era. The old round house still sits proudly in its old position once having been
residence to the former watchmen of the magazines.
The Maps below show the Magazines in 1851 (left hand picture) and the present day map (right hand side) in 2008:
The Magazines Inn
Built in 1759 this deceptively old hotel still lands and operates as an inn. The local would most likely know the inn by its old name which was "The
Black Horse", having been changed to be in keeping with the local area. There is a lot of history associated with the old inn and much of it shows just
how hard times were back then. The building contains a large cellar, now in use for storage but originally it was used by a local press gang.
A press-ganging is the act of conscripting people to serve in the armed forces (in this case the navy) by force and without notice. It was used by the
Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and especially during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Royal Navy impressed many British merchant sailors, as
well as some sailors from other nations. New Brighton's large maritime history means that many people were subject to impressment, the most eligible
were men of seafaring habits generally between the ages of 18 and 45 years, though on occasions non-seamen were impressed as well.
The magazines area was involved heavily in maritime activities meaning that many sailors and merchants would indulge themselves at the locals inns
and venues. One such activity in the early 18th century was cock fighting which is said to have taken place in a building behind the Black Horse. The
cock fighting took place in a small pit with several rows of seating. Although not a massively popular sport cock fighting always went hand in hand with
gambling. Another misconception is that cock fighting was illegal, indeed this is not true. Cockfighting was at one time considered to be an accepted
sport until it was banned outright in England and Wales and in the British Overseas Territories with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. I do not have any
information on the name of this building, only that it was also some form of inn. It is said to have been decorated inside from wrecks of ships washed
ashore in the surrounding area and from vessels which had been decommissioned. I have not been able to gain any further information on this subject.
The Pilot Boat
Another one of the old inns associated with the Magazines area is the old Pilot Boat just yards from the Magazines Inn. This building is actually slightly
older having been built in 1747 and according to the date stone having been refurbished in 1876. Over the years the building has been refurbished
heavily and bares little resemblance to the original structure. The name is taken from a small pilot lifeboat that was kept in front of it. There is a more
eerie history to the building which dates back to the 18th century. The building was originally used as a mortuary, to store the body's of those who
were drowned or killed at sea. The bodies would undergo postmortems by the local physician and then be transferred on away form the area.