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The Magazine Village in New Brighton

Back before New Brighton existed, the area was known as Ye Black Rock. This area was what we now know as New Brighton Resort situated along the main Promenade. However further up heading in the Seacombe direction, the area was part of Liscard. The Liscard and New Brighton borders have changed dramatically in the last 150 years and the rise and importance of New Brighton has seen the deflation of the area of Liscard. The Magazine Village has now changed from the area of Liscard to New Brighton. Two of the oldest pubs of Wallasey are located within this small village and it still remains one of Wirral's hidden Gems.

 

 

Before the eighteenth century, the are of the Magazine Village was isolated from the other areas of Wallasey. For many years the only access to the village was by way of the shoreline. In one direction there was Mother Redcaps Tavern a Smugglers haven and in the other direction was Ye Black Rock, where wreckers pounced on ships sailing into the Mersey. Due to the isolation beyween these points, the area became an attraction to the Wallasey wreckers and smugglers.

History of the Gunpowder Magazines

Liverpool from the Wallasey shore

Join us on our Historic Tours around the famous Magazine Village in Wallasey, running throughout the year offering day and night tours covering the Historic Ghost Stoies, Myths and Legends of the Area.

 

If you wish for a Private booking please email us at Queries@hiddenwirral.org

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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

described as a rocky, sandy, baron waste, which few people visited, thus making it perfect for the the

city purchased a piece of land in what is today known as New Brighton.  The land in that area was

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 adegree 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".

 

And so in 1852 three powder ships known as "The Liverpool, The Mersey and The Swallow" were set up

just off the coast of Eastham for the purpose of gunpowder storage.  The hulks were 200 foot long,

wooden hulled vessels, each painted yellow to attraction the attention of near by vessels.  The hulks

were decorated with red ribbons and bands and they were ordered to fly a red flag during the day

showing there purpose and highlighting their danger.  At night the hulks were ordered to have 3 lamps

burning throughout the night, two were on the central mast, one of which was red and the lower one

was white.  The stern of the ship had a small white lamp .  On each side of the floating magazines were

5 ports each with hinged door flaps which would be hauled up by hand to reveal a leather padded

passage way.  The passage way was used to roll the kegs of gunpowder down, hence the reason for

the leather buffer.  Opposite the ports were small doors each giving access to 6 foot of space which was

used for the unloading of barrels..  The workmen would place the powder kegs onto the rail and roll

them down to the other man to catch and place in holding.  The holding room for the gunpowder was

around 100 foot long by 14 foot wide and was capable of holding 300 tons, although for safety reasons

no more than 100 tons was allowed.  Each of the gun powder kegs held between 5 to 100lbs  of

gunpowder.  IN the interests of safety a lightning conductor was placed at the top of the masts to stop

stray lightning strikes igniting the vessel.  Each of the vessels were fitted with large bells and the crews

were given whistles which would be rung out and blow furiously during heavy fog to avoid collisions.  To

quell fires two large wooden tubs were kept on board filled with water, each had a set of buckets with

rope handles to throw over any areas affected.  Each of the magazines also had their own force pump,

which was operated by means of a wooden handle by the crewman.  The pump would pump water from

the river and onto the fire.  One last safety feature was a large valve on the deck, when turned it would

open up the side of the vessel flooding wit with water from the river.  However tests showed that this

generally took around half an hour, which seemed a relatively long time given the explosiveness of the

cargo.    

 

The boats used for transporting the kegs of gunpowder to the magazines were called "Hoys".  They

were generally around 60 feet in length and operated completely under sail.  The vessels were also

wooden and painted black.  As with the magazines they also displayed red bands around the vessel and

had a red diamond painted on the side.  IN total there were 4 Hoys.  

 

The loading point for the powder was Garston Dock walls, which was around 3 miles from the floating

magazines at Eastham.  The powder was loaded onto the Hoys which then took between 2 to 3 hours

to reach the floating magazines.  The cargo had to be discharged as rapidly as possible onto the

magazines in order to catch mooring on the shore.  If they did not succeed they would have to go back

at night at the cost of 1/- to moor them on the evening tide.  They were allowed to be moored on the

foresaw opposite the magazine.  When loading ships from overseas, the vessels were only allowed to

be charged by the hour at two points.  The first was known as the Powder ground in Crosby, were all

fires had to be doused on cargo ships, and the other was New Ferry which could be  used during poor

and rough weather conditions.  The magazines were easily accessible by rowing boat and large number

of them official in order to maintain a safe storage system.

 

As well as the storage conditions, the workers were also inspected frequently.  The clothing and safety

equipment of the workers was audited and all workers were made aware that it was their own

responsibility for the equipment to be well maintained and tidy.  The equipment of the workman

consisted of large tough leather boots and a light smock with no buttons.  The hours of the workman

were long and laborious.  They would check min at the office just off shore and were split between two

shifts.  The first was 07:00 to 17:00, and the second 17:00 to 07:00. The day shift was carried out by

one man, whilst the night shift was done by two men, one would rest whilst the other worked.  

 

The boats continued there use from 1852 but were finally decommissioned shortly before the outbreak

of WW1 in 1914.

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The entrance to the gunpowder magazine is located opposite Fort Street and runs from Magazine Lane along Magazine Brow. By the time this entrance was built in 1858, the Gunpowder Store was already being floated up River away from the increasing population of Wallasey.

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