The Local Board
subordinate to the JPs in their Quarter Sessions and Petty Sessions, meeting at Easter and
sometimes in September to enable rate-payers to compile lists from which JPs would choose
overseers of the Poor.  Other officers chosen would be Collector of Rates, Inspector of Nuisances,
Surveyor of Highways and Inspector of Lighting.  From 1859 to 1863 a group meeting in Oxton
seemed to function as an informal local board.44  From 1863 to 1877 Oxton had its own recognized
Local Board of Health, which at first met at grocer and tea merchant Jacob Jacobson’s house, no. 1
Rose Mount. From August 1864 meetings were held in a Claughton Firs property belonging to Thomas
Atkinson, licensee of the Shrewsbury Arms. Both these venues were described in the minutes as the
Public Offices.  A purpose-built office was erected in 1874 in Village Road, opposite Alton Road,
Atkinson’s property having an offensive sewage smell.   The Board’s functions ceased with Oxton’s
incorporation into Birkenhead in 1877, despite the opposition of residents and the Board.  The move,
however, had the Earl’s support on account of Oxtonians’ free use of sewage, roads, streets and
street lighting.  

The 'Suburb'
Jon Claudius Loudon in 1806 described the gentleman’s preference for siting his villa “about 90 miles
from town and a mile from the nearest road”.  The suburb is the result of bringing this ideal up to date
and practicability – near rus in urbe.  Present day Oxton is a middle-class ideal, in contrast with the
hamlet described by Ormerod.   But in Birkenhead Oxton is not a true suburb, being older rather than
younger than the great mass of the modern city of Birkenhead which surrounds it.  It is a village which
somehow has resisted the progress of urban sprawling.   The growth of Liverpool commerce, coupled
with the better ferry services, allowed the wealthy businessmen to commute from the Wirral, and as
Oxton, at that time, gave such a good view of the river, ship-owners and merchants alike could see,
often from their bedroom windows, the arrival or departure of the ships and cargoes.   This was a
time when the middle-classes were becoming “self-conscious”, wanting to move their residential
quarters away from their places of business.  Suburban life offered a retreat, privacy and seclusion,
whilst yet making a show of outward appearances that was sure to be noticed by the neighbours.    
The cult of suburban living was fostered also by the desire to escape the repulsiveness of some
aspects of city centre living.  The appalling conditions of Liverpool, whose inner city mortality rates
were among the highest in the country, discouraged middle-class residents.   The newcomers brought
not only their
wealth and prestige, but also their families, so creating new service needs on a large scale.  House-
building requires a variety of tradesmen and market-gardening came into demand.  

The ambiance of a leafy, spacious suburb has survived due to the determination of Oxton residents to
have control for as long as possible of their own public affairs, and secondly, the environmental
control exercised by leaseholders and their deliberate policy of restricting industrial developments.   
The second main influence affecting Oxton’s development was a combination of the major land-owner
and the advent of building societies.  The nineteenth century saw a trend in the distribution and
ownership of land towards a multiplication of owners, especially by means of the building lease.  
Retaining the freehold interest in the land but to increase its rental was a preferred course of action,
rather than to sell it outright.  Between 1841 and 1877 the population of Oxton grew from 546 to
3,500.  Its middle-class suburban characteristics have persisted to the present, the wealthy, here as
elsewhere, having used their resources to create an environment especially suited to their needs, c.f
Cressington Park, Grassendale Park in Liverpool and Rock Park in Rock Ferry.  New, mainly
professional groups swamped the original villagers.  In 1851 the largest group of immigrants came
from the Wirral and the next largest were those who were born in Liverpool.  Many of these were
perhaps seeking an escape from the grim conditions of a Victorian city.  Many Irish sought work on
Merseyside following the Great Potato Famine of 1845-47, but more came from Wales (building for
themselves the Congregational Church), from Scotland and all over England.  With the advent of the
Cheap Trains Act in1883, the working classes followed their “masters” over the water to live. The
manual workers tended to settle in Birkenhead, while the white-collar workers moved into the smaller
houses in Oxton, such as in the Fairview Road area.   

Sulley, writing in 1889, says “It is now a favourite place of residence, the houses being mostly of good
class, though less pretentious than those of its wealthy neighbour, Claughton.”  

When the new Earl of Shrewsbury took possession in 1862, the ratepayer's were informed that four
roads in the township were being dedicated for the use of the public, viz., Mount Pleasant, Poplar
Road, Victoria Road and Rose Mount.  The distinctive features of Oxton are found in its position on
high ground, the haphazard, non-uniform arrangement of houses, uncontrolled tree growth, high
random rubble walls with continuity of colour and texture and the several unmetalled lanes.   The
newcomers appreciation is reflected in the choice of some street names:  Rich View, Fairview, Rose
Mount and Mount Pleasant.   Earlier houses were mostly in rendered stone or painted, whilst in the
last decade or so of the century, most of Oxton’s red brick houses were built.  These tended to be
much smaller, which is fortunate for us today, as while many of the larger houses have been
demolished or turned into flats, these have survived to become pleasant family homes.    The
Victorians experienced a reaction to Georgian architecture, finding it dully monotonous and uniform,
lacking imagination and inventiveness.  They liked ‘imposing’ buildings with ‘pretentious’ symbolism
and exuberance.   The oldest extant building is Oxton Old Hall which was built circa l660.    It was
formerly known as Oxton Hall Cottage.4  The oldest detailed map of Oxton appears to be the Tithe
Map of 1847, which shows eighty buildings in the present Conservation Area.  Surprisingly, only
twenty-two of these have been totally lost, presumably replaces by more fashionable villas, as they
fell into disrepair.  

Transport and Communications
Beazley writes that at the end of the 17th century coaches ran from Chester to Liverpool via Eastham
and to Parkgate, but no coach ran to Birkenhead.   However, Varley claims that six-horse coaches ran
regularly between Chester and Birkenhead on the eastern side of the Peninsula via the Old Chester
Road which was turnpiked in 1787.  

The first steam ferry ran from Tranmere in 1817, prior to which time, anyone crossing the river by
Woodside, Tranmere or Rock Ferries often had to wade ashore, or be carried on the back of the
boatman. In 1820 Birkenhead Ferry started a steamboat service, which continued until 1870,
operating from Abbey Street.  Steamboats were introduced to the Woodside Ferry in 1822.  Monks’
Ferry operated from 1838 to 1878.  The passage from Woodside was, however, still uncomfortable,
especially in winter, and rather hazardous, until floating landing stages on both sides  of the river
(Liverpool 1847, Birkenhead 1862) could accommodate the rise and fall of the Mersey tides.  The first
saloon passenger steamer crossed the river in 1864, and must have seemed a luxury to early

A vehicular  –  motorised or horse-drawn – ferry service operated from 1879 to 1941.  The first vessel  
in this service was called the “Oxton” and the ferry boats were commonly referred to as the “luggage
boats”.   Neilson recalls  “every morning streams of gigs, ralli cars and broughams might be seen on
the roads leading to Woodside, hurrying to catch the early ferry boats.”   

Rail travel became available in 1840 with the opening of the line from Chester to Birkenhead Town
Station at Grange Lane, being equidistant from Woodside and Birkenhead Ferries and in 1854 the
Great Western Railway started to operate a through route from Birkenhead to London.  The extension
of the line to Woodside was not constructed until 1878.  

In 1868 the Mersey Railway tunnel was completed for under-river, smoky and sooty steam train
services between Hamilton Square and James Street, electrification following in 1903.   

Omnibus services – later the street railway – provided regular and frequent connections to the ferry,
reducing the dependency on the private carriage, thus cutting the cost of coach hire, mews and male
servants, their accommodation and other associated expenses.  Several horse-drawn omnibus
operators served Oxton.  In 1843 Booth ran a service five times daily.  In 185l Gough provided a five
times daily service and as also did Stacey.  Bretherton ran a 12 times daily service from the Queen’s
Arms and from 1861 to 1864 Evans ran 24 times a day from the Talbot Hotel to coincide with half-
hourly ferry sailings.  For the first time in Europe, horse-drawn trams were introduced in 1860, this
pioneer route running from Woodside via Hamilton Street, Conway Street, Park Road and Cannon Hill,
to their terminus in Palm Grove. There were no marked stops, services were half-hourly until 2 p.m.
and quarter-hourly after.  The fare was 2d and although this seems inexpensive to us it wasn't. Both
bus and tram fares were kept deliberately high to suit the affluent middle-class residents.  An
American, William Starbuck, Europe’s first tramcar manufacturer, set up his factory in Cleveland Street,
he himself living variously in Devonshire, Kingsland and Balls Roads.

An electric tram service operated between 1901 and 1937.  Oxton was served by the circle route,
passing along Shrewsbury Road in each direction and crossing at Kingsmead Road. On one evening
run, a tram carried a mail box on its front to enable residents’ servants to post the day’s letters.    
Motor buses came into service in 1919.  
Work on the first Mersey road tunnel, Queensway , commenced in 1925 and the tunnel finally opened
in 1934 allowing access to Liverpool and with it an increase in trade, population and employment.  

The area reached its peak as a fashionable dwelling place at the end of the nineteenth century and
its decline started shortly after World War One.  Between the two wars many of the large elegant
houses were made into exclusive flats and suites of rooms as their former owners sold up and moved

World War Two air raids, on seven nights in 1940 and six in the following year, caused the recorded
destruction, or later demolition, of 81 buildings and severe damage to a further 492 in Oxton (parish
and ward).  Very many more sustained damage to windows and roofs.    A summary of war damage in
the Conservation Area has been published is available in the WW2 section of this website.  

It was only after World War Two, however, that the area really started to go down-hill.  Many of the
large, beautiful houses were allowed to decay by their new owners and eventually had to be
demolished, with less desirable development taking their place, such as “mini” housing estates and

Large gardens can become anachronistic when families grow up and leave home and when help is
expensive and hard to get.  

The demand for suburban accommodation brings dangers: the development of traffic-generating flats
quite out of sympathy with the local spirit (there is always the temptation for owners of large
properties to sell the grounds in which their old houses stand to developers), the tasteless
development of semi-detached and terraced houses in a crypto-modern style and the demands on
accessibility and visibility by the motor car.  Robinson cites an example where the demolition of four
houses resulted in their replacement by nearly ninety houses or flats.    This situation prompted the
foundation in 1979 of the Oxton Society to combat further decline and to preserve the remaining good
features. The Oxton Conservation Area was created in the same year.    To date there are 85 Grade 2
listed buildings in Oxton, 36 within the Conservation Area and 29 just out.
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