Birkenhead | United Kingdom
Birkenhead /ˌbɜːrkənˈhɛd/ is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. Historically in Cheshire, it is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool. The Birkenhead Urban Area defined as the contiguous built-up area along the eastern side of the Wirral had a total population of 325,264 in the 2011 Census. In the 2011 census, the Parliamentary constituency of Birkenhead had a population of 88,818. The Birkenhead and Tranmere electoral ward, covering a much smaller area, had a population of 15,879.
The recorded history of Birkenhead began with the establishment of Birkenhead Priory and the Mersey Ferry in the 12th century. During the 19th century Birkenhead expanded greatly, becoming a town as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, with Birkenhead Park and Hamilton Square being examples of the era. Around the same time, Birkenhead gained the first street tramway in Britain. Later, the Mersey Railway connected Birkenhead and Liverpool, with the world's first tunnel beneath a tidal estuary. Birkenhead is perhaps best known for the shipbuilding of Cammell Laird, and for the town's seaport.
In the second half of the 20th century, the town suffered a significant period of decline, with containerisation causing a reduction in port activity. During the first half of the 21st century, the Wirral Waters development is planned to regenerate much of the dockland.
The Grange Road West drill hall was completed in 1900.
In September 1932 thousands of unemployed people protested in a series of demonstrations organised by the local branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. After three days of rioting, police were brought in from elsewhere to help quell the rioters.
In addition to the ferries and the railway, the Queensway road tunnel opened in 1934 and gave rapid access to Liverpool. This opened up the Wirral Peninsula for development, and prompted further growth of Birkenhead as an industrial centre. Bolstered by migration from rural Cheshire, southern Ireland and Wales, the town's population had grown from 110 in 1801 to 110,912 one hundred years later and stood at 142,501 by 1951.
Birkenhead Park is acknowledged to be the first publicly funded park in Britain. The park was the forerunner of the Parks Movement and its influence was far reaching both in Britain and abroad – most notably on Frederick Law Olmsted's design for Central Park. Designed by Joseph Paxton (later Sir Joseph Paxton) in 1843 and officially opened in 1847, with great festivity. The park's Grand Entrance, modelled on the Temple of Illysus in Athens, and its 'Roman Boathouse' are notable features. There are sandstone lodges at the three entrances, each with a different style of architecture, Gothic, Norman and Italianate. There are also two lakes and an ornate 'Swiss Bridge'.
William Laird, a Scot, and his son John, were influential in the design of the town. Parts were laid out in a grid-iron pattern like Edinburgh New Town with similar architecture. The chief architect was James Gillespie Graham from Edinburgh. This grid pattern was centred around Hamilton Square which was started in 1826 and, apart from Trafalgar Square in London, contains the most Grade I listed buildings in one place in England. including Birkenhead Town Hall. A short distance from Hamilton Square are two other notable landmarks: the Queensway Tunnel Main Entrance and the Woodside Ferry Terminal. The film Chariots of Fire had scenes shot at Woodside. These scenes were as a representation of Dover in the 1920s.
Other notable landmarks include Bidston Windmill on a ridge behind the town, Flaybrick Watertower and Birkenhead Priory & St. Mary's Tower.
Previously situated at Borough Road, Birkenhead's college has campuses at Europa Boulevard and Twelve Quays. The college was originally Birkenhead Technical College, and has been known as Wirral Metropolitan College since the 1980s. The college had a theatre on Borough Road named after one of its most famous former students, Glenda Jackson, the Oscar-winning actress and Member of Parliament, herself a Birkonian, born in 1936. The Borough Road campus and the Glenda Jackson Theatre were demolished in late 2005, to make way for flats, although Wirral Metropolitan College flourishes on other sites across Wirral. The theatre secretly housed an emergency command centre for the region in its basement, accessible via the college. Politicians and officials would have retreated to this secure bunker in the event of nuclear war to co-ordinate the recovery effort. By the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, the bunker had been decommissioned and the surrounding complex of rooms was used by the college as a rehearsal space and recording studio.
Other colleges include the Birkenhead Sixth Form College, located in the Claughton area of Birkenhead, formerly the site of Corpus Christi Catholic High School.
Birkenhead is mentioned in the song "What She Said" on the album Meat Is Murder by the Smiths: What she read/All heady books/She'd sit and prophesise/(It took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead/To really really open her eyes).
The town is also referred to in the song "Everything Is Sorrow" on the Boo Radleys' C'mon Kids album: I worked in Birkenhead for you/It brings me tears even now.
A fairly detailed description of the town is given in Paul O'Grady's memoirs, At My Mother's Knee ... and Other Low Joints: The Autobiography.
Birkenhead is indirectly referenced by "the Birken'ead drill" in Rudyard Kipling's poem "Soldier an' Sailor Too": To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about, / Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout; / But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew, / An' they done it, the Jollies – 'Er Majesty's Jollies – soldier an' sailor too!, as it refers to heroism by Royal Marines during the sinking of HMS Birkenhead, itself named after the town in which it was built. Other authors have done this as well.
The 1998 book, Awaydays, and the following 2009 film of the same name are set in Birkenhead.