Ormerod, writing in 1819, describes Oxton township as:

“A mean and small, composed of wretched straggling huts, amongst roads only not impassable…a scene of
solitude, broken in only by the voice of the cowherd, or the cry of the plover.  Bleak and barren moors
stretch round it in every direction, and exhibit an unmixed scene of poverty and desolation.”  

William Williams Mortimer quotes an “Itinerary” of the county, published in 1821 in which Oxton
is described:

“as though situated on a bold eminence, commanding extensive views of the river Mersey, Liverpool and
the highlands of Lancashire, the immediate locality is dreary and desolate, presenting a scene of extreme
misery and destitution".

Mortimer goes on to write:

“The population in Oxton was in 1801 returned at 137, occupying 28 cottages, generally of the most
inferior description, the inhabitants of which had acquired an unenviable celebrity in their own

Thomas Helsby, in his 1882 revised and enlarged edition of Ormerod’s history, informs us

“All this is now changed.  Within a comparatively short period Oxton has been transformed almost into a
town, principally consisting of moderate-sized villas.  Building operations, however, being incomplete, the
broken-up pastures scarcely add more attractive features to the scenery of the date of the above-written

Like Helsby, Mortimer in 1847 continues:

“It is now very different. The greater part of the township, then a barren waste, has since been enclosed,
and it is studded with detached residences, to which every week witnesses the addition of others. This has
been caused by the Earl of Shrewsbury, to whom the greater part of the township belongs, having in the
last few years granted building leases for a fixed term; and numerous parties from Liverpool have availed
themselves of the facility thus afforded of obtaining land at a small ground rental, whereby they have been
able to apply their capital to the erection of homes according to their own inclination or circumstances.”   

Mortimer continues:

“The flourishing state of this township, which has already been referred to, still continues; and although
the land has been greatly divided among small holders on building leases, the principal portion yet remains,
subject to restrictions on the style and character of the houses, whereby a pleasing appearance will be
preserved, and a guarantee afforded for the future well condition of the township.  Few places, indeed
possess greater advantages of situation than Oxton; its elevated position, its ready access to the ferries
on the Mersey, through the well maintained roads of Birkenhead; its proximity to the charming park of that
township, and the total absence of all manufactures, will ever command a preference with those who wish
for a near country retreat.  Large sums of money have recently been expended in the making and
improving of the public roads; one of them – a street called the Shrewsbury Road – is hardly exceeded by
any in this part of the kingdom, being about two thousand yards in length, and twenty yards in width,
bounded on both sides by land belonging to William Potter, Esq.”

In 1844 the Liverpool Standard published a Handbook and Plan of Birkenhead, which includes a
paragraph devoted to the praise of Oxton:  

"Oxton-hill which comparatively a few years ago almost wholly a barren heath is now, to a great extent,
covered with fine houses and villas, with good gardens, fields, woods, and pleasure-grounds – a village, in
fact, of itself.  The air in this elevated locality is extremely salubrious, and the prospect from almost any
point, uninterrupted and delightful, embracing a vast extent of land, town and marine scenery.  The first
adventurers in building were thought to be somewhat fool-hardy in choosing a site so apparently exposed
and unpromising; but the result has shown here, as in other parts of the neighbourhood, that they were
wise in their generation.  By force of cultivation thriving plantations, orchards and gardens are rising all
around; the whole though high has assumed a pleasing and warm appearance, and we have not heard of
any greater damage to buildings in gales of wind, than that to which we are occasionally subject in the
lower parts of our own town, which are built little elevated above the level of the tide."   

Oxton, with its common, bright with heather and gorse, and pleasant mount rising from the marshes
of Birkenhead. … is now a favourite place of residence, the houses being mostly of good class, though
less pretentious than those of its wealthy neighbour, Claughton.  

By the boundary with Noctorum, a mere covering several acres is marked.  The mere was drained for
agricultural land in the nineteenth century and developed for building in the l960s.    Oxton had a bit
of a moor, now the Wirral Ladies golf course.    The most noticeable difference in land-use between
1795 and 1846 would seem to be the reclamation of the barren heathland especially around
Thurstons and the area formerly known as Heath Heys.  

Even at this time, in the 1850s and 1860s, Oxton was still very rural.  Beazley tells us:

“From the corner of Palm Hill it was pure country all the way to church.  From the bottom of Lorne Road
over Oxton Hill to Landican, there was, about 1860, a 'shooting'. From the corner of Palm Grove and
Charlesville to the top of Devonshire Place were smiling fields.”  

H.S. Brocklebank (1870-1946), head bell-ringer at St. Saviour's, recalled:

“In my youth Oxton was all gorse and bracken.  There was a sandy lane where Gerald Road now stands.  
Blackberry bushes grew on each side.  The village well was near.  At the west entrance to the church, the
road (Bidston Road) was barely wide enough for two carts to pass…Wellington Road could boast only two
houses then and it was dirtier than the fields”.  Harry Neilson (born 1861) describes a summer’s evening
walk around Oxton, when the crack of the [croquet] mallet was the most frequent sound to be heard".

Building Leases
The sandy soil of the Oxton ridge was not profitable for cultivation, but could, when conveniently
situated, be used as building sites, providing good drainage.    The policy of leasing building plots at a
modest annual rental, rather than selling them outright, contributed to the area’s rapid development,
allowing the newcomers to be more extravagant in the construction of their houses.  

Between 1803 and 1854 many leases were granted under three successive earls (15th.-17th.), some
for a lifetime, others for sixty or ninety-nine years, under the assumed powers of various Acts  
relating to the management of this part of  the Shrewsbury estate, and large sums were expended in
the erection of villas.

The 18th.Earl, on succeeding to the estates, disputed the validity of these leases. When the question
was fully gone into it was found that by an Act of 1823 the earls were empowered to lease lands.  In
1803, an Act was passes to enable them to sell, but the leasing powers were not renewed.  In 1843,
a further Act was passed for the leasing of any portion of the Shrewsbury estate.  The result was that
leases contracted between 1803 and 1843 were invalid, and very heavy sums had to be paid by the
unfortunate lessees to obtain confirmation of their titles.      

In 1863, when the last major population expansion took place, the Earl sold off the bulk of the
remaining land.     But all of this was small beer compared with the sale in 1963 of the Shrewsbury
estates to a property company, reputedly forced on the (21st.) Earl by the cost of his divorce from his
first Countess, causing a sensation in Oxton and leading to the formation of an Oxton Leaseholders

The decennial census below shows the growth during the 19th Century:

   1801       1811       1821       1831       1841          1851            1861            1871         1881            1891             1901
       137         128         169         234          546         2,007           2,670           2,610        3,312           4,429            4,579
B Head       110         105         200        2569      8223       24,285        35,929         42,997      51,610        58,287        110,915
Oxton’s transformation into a “populous village and township
covered with elegant villa residences occupied by merchants and
tradesmen of Liverpool” and with a resident population in 1851 of
more than 2,000, was due in part to greatly improved
communications across the Mersey.  It was also due in part to
changes in land use, to the enclosure of heathlands and the
beneficial exploitation of the building-stone resources of the
Township, and to changes in leasing policy which were indicated
at the instance of the landowner, the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The
1795 plan shows little sign of building outside those clustered at
the village nucleus apart from crofts and cottages on Oxton
Common (near Thurstons).     Comparison between the 1795
Estate Plan, the 1847 Tithe Map and the OS six-inch map (first
edition, Cheshire sheet XIII, 1850/51) shows most of the
development and in-filling to be on the Heath Hays area, in the
area around Shrewsbury Park, along Bidston Road and between
there and Claughton.   Oxton, with its nuclear village was
gradually being extended down the hill towards Birkenhead.  
An even better indication of
growth of the Oxton township
is the increase in the density
of population per square mile:
Population per
square mile
Click here to continue...                                                                                                                                  Page  1  2  3