Rock Ferry is situated on the banks of the Mersey, a position which contributed greatly to its rapid development in the second half of the nineteenth century. The casual visitor to modern Rock Ferry will find little to suggest that the area has a history of any length or interest. Until recently the picture was one of post war depression and the gently decaying splendours of the Esplanade and Rock Park, which in spite of many changes retains its character of a secluded landscape park.
Rock Ferry's history however, encloses a far greater span of time than the undoubtedly impressive early Victorian architecture of Rock Park. The discovery of flint and bronze artefacts in the surrounding area, suggests human settlement, even if only on a temporary basis, during prehistoric times.
In the medieval period we are on firmer historical ground. During the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307) the manor of Higher or Little Bebington, of which Rock Ferry formed a part, was held by Robert de Bebington from the Warlestons "by the render of a red rose on St. John's Day".
The War of the Roses in the fifteenth century appear to have bee particularly disastrous for male members of the Bebington family, since during that period a number of deaths left Jane, daughter of John de Bebington as sole heiress. Her marriage placed the estate in the ownership of the Minshull family where it remained until the seventeenth century.
Derby House in Rock Ferry, an occasional seat of the Minshulls was secluded in its own grounds in the Manor Park, which as far as can be determined, extended from the River Mersey to what is now Old Chester Road. This park, which formed part of the manor lands of Higher Bebington appears to have covered most of modern Rock Ferry,
1817 was a memorable year in the history of Wirral as a whole since it saw the introduction of the first steamers as ferry boats, transforming the crossing of the Mersey from a journey which had been hazardous and time consuming, into a safe and relatively pleasant experience.
Around 1830 steam was introduced on the Rock Ferry ferries, an esplanade built and in 1836 the Rock Ferry Company formed. In the same year the Royal Rock Hotel was extended and renovated and the bath house, with its pavilions and Doric colonnades built.
In 1837 the plans for Rock Park estate were drawn up by Johnathon Bennison, building work started and by 1850 most of the houses have been completed. Rock Park is in every way a remarkable example of early Victorian suburban planning, its beginning aptly enough coincided with the acession of Victoria in 1837.
The most famous resident of Rock Park was Nathanial Hawthorne, the American author who lived there between 1853 and 1857, while serving as his country's Consul in Liverpool. Hawthorne, with his interest in the past, would have appreciated the fact that the aesthetic origins of Rock Park can be found in the naturalistic and informal landscape parks created by Capability Brown and William Kent in the eighteenth century.
This manifestation of the romantic movement - the landscape park - was translated into urban settings with buildings subservient to the landscape and was to become an important element in English town planning. Rock Park was of particular interest, situated as it was on the banks of a river while at the same time it remained an enclosed private estate.
A later development was the building of Egerton Park in the second half of the ninteenth century, which provided spacious pleasant housing for Rock Ferry's growing population. Another important event in the earlier history of Rock Ferry was the establishment of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club almost 150 years ago, with Queen Victoria as its first patron. Even though the days of its greatest glory may have passed the club remains a thriving organisation.
Rock Park provided comfortable homes for well-to-do merchants, ship owners and professional families, while the town itself provided homes and a living for small tradesmen, craftsmen and fishermen.
In spite of the many changes which have taken place since the end of the Second World War, the perceptive visitor can still find Rock Ferry the "reasonable breathing space" described by Hawthorne.
Ref. Ward, M., ed. in 'The Changing Years,' Rock Ferry Local History Group, (Wirral Metropolitan College, Birkenhead 1991)
Header Photo by Ryan Warburton on Unsplash