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The Old Village of West Kirby
By Tony Franks-Buckley
For many centuries West Kirby was a secluded rural agricultural community, it was not until the arrival of the Railway that the landscape truly changed. It was the Victorian influence of the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation that West Kirby’s landscape was shaped in to how we know it today. At the 2001 Census, the population of West Kirby was 7,680, and as part of the West Kirby & Thurstaston Ward, its population in 2001 was 12,869. West Kirby was a township and parish within the Hundred of Wirral. It became part of Hoylake West Kirby Civil Parish and Hoylake Urban district in 1894. The population was 148 in 1801, 435 in 1851 and 4,542 in 1901.
The old village of West Kirby was originally located around St. Bridget's Church, which played a large role in the expansion of West Kirby. In modern times; the town is centred on West Kirby Railway Station, which is around half a mile away. At the time of the Doomsday Survey (1086), most, if not all of West Kirby was originally owned by a Robert De Rodelent. A survey shows 5 tenements and a Frenchman with a Sergeant and two ploughs. The settlement was in an ideal living position; it had good farm land, an abundance of fresh water, wildlife, woods, scrubs and marshes as well as hills that looked across the surrounding lands and rivers. It also had complete access to the River Dee.
Several centuries passed by with little change and then the 19th century arrived. West Kirby villager’s witnessed the arrival of a well known local watering hole, the famous Ring O’Bells. The current building is dated as being built in the early 19th century, yet there are records that show that there was a previous building, with the same name and stood near the same position for an estimated 200 years previous. There were several dwellings located within the village such as: farm houses, cottages, the rectory, a school and most notably “The Nook” which still stands today opposite the Ring O’Bells. You will notice that the converted cottages still contain thatched roofing, romancing visitors of the village’s agricultural past.
The old village was a close knit unit at the time of the 1841 census and each inhabitant played their own role in the community. The job roles varied from John Jackson the publican of the Ring O’Bells, Thomas Findley, one of several farmers and agricultural labourers living in the village. William Adams a stonemason also lived in a cottage. The local clergyman was occupying the rectory. Women and children made up the roles of servants and other agricultural duties. Most interestingly Augustus Bradbridge a 30 year old surgeon was also living in the village. The village grew to 451 members within the next ten years as urbanisation began to take place. Like most places on the Wirral, West Kirby has turned from a small habitat in to a thriving populated area. Whilst doing so it still retains much of its natural beauty.
Breaking the De Grouchy Code
By Tony Franks-Buckley
The name De Gruchy is believed to be Viking in origin, perhaps derived from the old Norse personal name Geiro. The De Gruchy's were settlers in Normandy, who later eloped to the Channel isle of Jersey. Now begins the unique stone architecture connection between West Kirby and Jersey, the birthplace of Philip De Gruchy. How did a stonemason from Jersey end up building stone walls in a place hundreds of miles away and was also immortalised with the only street in West Kirby being named after him.
This connection is found in the surrounding walls of Abbey Manor and the mystery of the upside down heart that is etched into the wall. Local legend has it that, De Gruchy had his heart broken by a local female and this was the reason for the stone heart. There is another theory that the symbol is etched in honour of the death of Philip De Gruchy. The same symbols have been found on the Channel Island of Jersey where De Gruchy originated. The stone walls are thought to be of Ecclesiastical architecture, which translates to "Appropriate to a church or in a church" The De Gruchy walls surround the Abbey Manor also known as Grove Hill House, but is also local to places such as: Priory Road, Monks Way and Abbey Road which fits in to the Ecclesiastical architecture logic.
In 1819 a man named John Robin from Jersey, purchased the Lordship of Frankby in Cheshire. John Robin sworn in De Gruchy a fellow native of Jersey, to undertake the work of building a perimeter wall built entirely out of local red sandstone. This is similar to what occurred on the island of Jersey. There are a wealth of dated Ecclesiastical architecture stones around, or connected with, Jersey Churches and Churchyards. Each time St Lawrence extended the burial ground, the Churchwardens responsible had their initials carved in stone and mounted on the walls. John Robin who had amassed a large portion of land wanted and got the same design for his land in West Kirby. With the construction of the Abbey Manor already in place, the De Gruchy walls soon followed and by the end of the 1830s, John Robin's vision had been reached and De Gruchy's architecture completed.
But what happened to De Gruchy following the completion of the walls, he seems to just disappear from local history? He is listed in the local directories in 1860 as being a shop owner, yet he is not listed in the census of 1841 or 1851.