Wallasey is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, in Merseyside, England, on the mouth of the River Mersey, at the northeastern corner of the Wirral Peninsula. According to the 2001 Census, the town had a total resident population of 58,710.
The name of Wallasey originates from the Germanic word Walha, meaning stranger or foreigner, which is also the origin of the name Wales. The suffix “-ey” denotes an island or area of dry land. Originally the higher ground now occupied by Wallasey was separated from the rest of Wirral by the creek known as Wallasey Pool (which later became the docks), the marshy areas of Bidston Moss and Leasowe, and sand dunes along the coast.
There is an old poem, relating to the four original villages of Wallasey, which reads: Wallasey for Wreckers, Seacombe for Thieves, Liscard for Honest Men, Poulton for Trees.
Historically part of Cheshire, the area was sparsely populated before the 19th century. Horse races organised for the Earls of Derby on the sands at Leasowe in the 16th and 17th centuries are regarded as forerunners of the modern Derby.
Old maps show that the main centre and parish church (St Hilary’s) were located at what is now called Wallasey Village, and there were smaller hamlets at Liscard, Poulton and Seacombe, from where there were occasional ferries across the Mersey. There was also a mill (at Mill Lane), and from the mid-18th century a gunpowder store or magazine at Rock Point, located well away from the built-up areas.
Early 19th century development
By the early 19th century, the shoreline between Seacombe and Rock Point started to become an attractive area to which affluent Liverpool merchants and sea captains could retire. Development at Egremont began around this time, and gained pace with the introduction of steam ferries across the river. The area also had a defensive role overlooking the growing Port of Liverpool. In 1829, Fort Perch Rock was built, and in 1858 Liscard Battery.
In 1830, the merchant James Atherton purchased much of the land at Rock Point, which enjoyed views out to sea and across the Mersey and had a good beach. His aim was to develop it as a desirable residential and watering place for the gentry, in a similar way to one of the most elegant seaside resorts of that Regency period – hence "New Brighton". Substantial development began soon afterwards, and housing began to spread up the hillside overlooking the estuary - the gunpowder magazine being closed down in 1851.
In 1835 Liscard Hall was built by another merchant, Sir John Tobin. Its grounds later became Central Park. His family also developed a “model farm” nearby.
With the expansion of trade on the Mersey, new docks were constructed between 1842 and 1847 in the Wallasey Pool, and by 1877 the dock system between Wallasey and neighbouring Birkenhead was largely complete. The area around the docks became a centre for engineering industries, many associated with shipbuilding, and other activities including sugar refining and the manufacture of cement and fertilisers. Bidston Dock, the last in the area, was opened in 1933, but was filled in during 2003.
Later growth and the 20th century
During the latter half of the 19th century New Brighton developed as a very popular seaside resort serving Liverpool and the Lancashire industrial towns, and many of the large houses were converted to inexpensive hotels. A pier was opened in the 1860s, and the promenade from Seacombe to New Brighton was built in the 1890s. This served both as a recreational amenity in its own right, and to link up the developments along the estuary, and was later extended westwards towards Leasowe. The New Brighton Tower, the tallest in the country, was opened in 1900 but closed in 1919 and dismantled shortly afterwards. However, its ballroom continued as a major venue, hosting numerous concerts in the 1950s and 1960s by local Liverpool bands as well as other international stars.
After 1886, with the opening of the Mersey Railway allowing access via a tunnel to Liverpool, the pace of housing development increased, particularly in the Liscard and Wallasey Village areas. The area now called Wallasey comprises several distinct districts which gradually merged to form a single built-up area during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Further growth continued well into the 20th century and eventually spread into the Leasowe area and beyond to Moreton.
The UK's first guide dog training school, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, was founded in the town in 1931. The Wallasey Golf Club is where club member, Dr Frank Stableford, developed the Stableford system of points scoring. This was first used in competition in 1932.
Because of its docks and proximity to Liverpool, parts of the area suffered aerial bombing in 1940-41. After the Second World War, the popularity of New Brighton as a seaside resort declined dramatically, as did the use of the docks, and Wallasey gradually became more obviously a residential suburb for Liverpool, Birkenhead and the other towns in the area.
The Beatles played some of their first shows outside Liverpool at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Liscard in 1960, and over the next few years also played several times at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton. On 12 October 1962, they played there as the support act for Little Richard. Wallasey was also the home base of another leading Merseybeat group, the Undertakers featuring Jackie Lomax.
The world's first passenger hovercraft service operated in 1961-62 between Leasowe and Rhyl in North Wales. Local MP Ernest Marples was responsible as Minister of Transport (1959–64) for introducing parking meters, yellow lines and seat belt controls to the UK.
The "Solar Campus" on Leasowe Road was the first building in the world to be heated entirely by solar energy. It was formerly St George’s Secondary School, and was built in 1961 to the designs of Emslie Morgan. The solar panels on this establishment have since been removed due to high costs and has been renamed.
The County Borough of Wallasey was incorporated into the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral on 1 April 1974. The town is contained in the parliamentary constituency of Wallasey, which has been held since the 1992 general election by Angela Eagle of the Labour Party.