Lost Rivers of Liverpool
allertonOak - merseyThemes
Last updated 15th October 2010
Home Page: merseyThemes       Home Page: allertonOak      
Uncovering the lost rivers of Liverpool provides a fascinating insight into the landscape of the past. These rivers were historically important as sources of water and power, as district boundaries and, even many years ago, for recreation. Liverpool itself was established at the mouth of one such river where it entered the River Mersey. Sources are not always in agreement about the courses of the rivers. In those cases I have followed the Yates and Perry map of 1768. I have followed the rivers from the centre of Liverpool to the south and then to the north. Modern reference points I have used are sometimes approximate.
The Pool (Canning Half Tide Dock)
Canning Half Tide Dock is located by the mouth of the former tidal inlet known as The Pool on the north banks of which Liverpool was founded and from which it partly gets its name via the Anglo-Saxon, the remainder meaning thick and muddy (presumably not intended to refer to the locals). The main waterfont then extended along the line of Strand Street to the eastern corner of Canning Dock, where the Pool began to go inland. The mouth of the Pool here reached across to Wapping Basin, about 450 yards (m) away. This view, before the Liverpool One construction, would be looking to the east along the north bank of the Pool before it curved round behind the City Law Courts on the left. There was a broad inlet up to near where the new John Lewis store is now (still 100 yards across here), where the first commercial enclosed wet dock in the world was completed in 1715. This was excavated a few years ago and a glimpse of it may be had through a porthole in the ground near the store.
The Pool (Paradise Street)
Upstream from the Pool, the river roughly followed the route of Paradise Street, Whitechapel, Old Haymarket and Byrom Street, at the start of which a bridge was constructed in the mid-17th century (the river was still 50 yards across here). To the west was the mediaeval town with its castle, while the higher ground to the east was the wilderness of the Great Heath, and, to the south-east, of the mediaeval royal hunting estate of Toxteth Park. Upstream, the river followed Byrom street and then branched. One branch went in the direction of Scotland Road and the other, marked on a map of 1650 as Middle Mill Dale, took a U-turn round the John Moores University buildings (probably the site of chief water-mill of mediaeval Liverpool) and south along St. Anne Street to London Road, where it branched again. One branch, the Moss Lake Brook, came down from the Moss Lake and one took another U-turn up to near the Liverpool Collegiate Instution on Shaw Street. It then followed a course east up to its source on Low Hill, near the north end of the present day street of that name. All of the cultivated lands originally lay to the north of the Pool and of Middle Mill Dale.
The Moss Lake (Abercromby Square)
One of the most conspicuous features of the early landscape of Liverpool must have been the Moss Lake, a large expanse of bog and water roughly covering an area bounded approximately by a line from near the top end of Lodge Lane, along Smithdown Lane to the top of Brownlow Hill, down to Mount Pleasant and along it to Oxford Street, and then following a line south to Upper Parliament Street and back up to Lodge Lane. It was sufficiently large to provide a considerable impediment to travellers and was the reason for the bend to the north coming in to town of Smithdown Road/Lane at Lodge Lane and the bend to the north coming out of town of Mount Pleasant at Oxford Street. It was the source of two streams, the Moss Lake Brook to the north leading from near the top of Myrtle Street down to join the stream feeding the Pool at a point near London Road and one to the south (the 'South Moss Lake Brook'). The Moss Lake was carefully maintained by means of flood gates to serve as a means of cleansing the Pool, providing water-mill power and supplying tanners and dyers with the clean water they needed. In the early 19th century, the area was drained and the construction of the Georgian Quarter around Abercromby Square began.
The 'South Moss Lake Brook' (the Welsh Presbyterian Church, Toxteth)
This unnamed stream left the Moss Lake at its southern edge near the Women's Hospital on Upper Parliament Street. It flowed down past the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road to near the junction of Park Road and Upper Warwick Street. Here it joined up with another stream that had its source near the northern end of Lodge Lane and the highest point of Toxteth and flowed down to and along Upper Warwick Street. Just before Park Road was Mather's Dam, which created a small pond. There were another dam and pond, together with two windmills, on the other side of Park Road and then the stream headed in a more northerly direction to emerge into the Mersey near the bottom end of Stanhope Street. Just before it reached the Mersey, there was a further dam with a water-mill and a much larger pond.
The Dingle (the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth)
Just along Park Road (an ancient road) from the chapel there was once the source of a stream that ran down through the grounds of the Turner Home in a little dell known as The Dingle to emerge into the Mersey at Knott's Hole about 250 yards (m) east of the Britannia Inn, more or less where Riverside Drive is now, as the waterfront was further in in those days. Thomas Kaye in 1841 wrote of: "[...] a sweet romantic dell, well known by the name of the Dingle, a favourite pleasure resort of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood [...]. The upper part of the tower of St. Michael's, Toxteth Park, appears peeping through the rich foliage of the trees [...]". The stream split into two little rocky coves separated by the rock known as David's Throne and nearby was a cave known as Adam's Buttery. A drawing of about 1800 well captures this beauty spot. It depicts the idyllic tree-lined rocky coves looking west over the Mersey past Dingle Point towards the rural hills of Wirral. In Kaye's time, the stream was already drying up because of building higher up, and some rather pretty verses penned by William Roscoe entitled The Nymph of the Dingle bemourn this fact. The surrounding area is still known as (The) Dingle.
Dickinson's Dingle (Prince's Park)
Dickinson's Dingle was the name of a valley and the associated brook that once flowed through it until it was dammed in 1842 to form the lake in Princes Park. It is not to be confused with The Dingle just to the north (see above). The source of the stream was just to the north of the lake near the junction of Lodge Lane and Ullet Road (both ancient roads). The course of the valley is still clear where it leaves the lake (on the left of this picture) and is obvious in the marked dips near the end of Ullet Road and in Aigburth Road near the Liverpool Theatre School. It then passed to the west of St. Michael's church to enter the Mersey about half a mile (1 km) east of the Britannia Inn, near Riverside Drive, where the waterfront was then located. A drawing of 1820 shows a truly idyllic scene, worthy of John Constable's attention, downstream from St.Michael's in an area then known as Cain's Fields, with the newly-built church tower reflected in the peaceful, tree-lined waters.
The Lower Brook (Wavertree Botanic Gardens)
The Lower Brook once originated at the Botanic Gardens on Edge Lane (an ancient road) and flowed in a southerly direction across Smithdown Road (originally Smithdown Lane, an ancient road) and Toxteth Park Cemetery to enter the northern end of Sefton Park.
The Lower Brook (Sefton Park)
The Lower Brook nowadays makes its first appearance on the northern edge of Sefton Park at this obviously artificial grotto, where there used to be cascades. The romantically inclined Victorians had a thing about recreating wild places on their doorsteps. It makes its way peacefully down to its confluence with the Upper Brook in the park.
The Upper Brook (Wavertree Playground)
The Upper Brook originally had its source in Sandown Lane near the northern end of Wavertree Playground, passing accross the park to near the junction of Greenbank Road North and Smithdown Road and on into Greenbank Park.
The Upper Brook (Greenbank Park)
In Greenbank Park, the Upper Brook was dammed to form the lake.
The Upper Brook (Sefton Park)
The Upper Brook appears again in this lovely little valley on the eastern side of Sefton Park.
The Upper Brook (Sefton Park)
The Upper Brook threads peacefully through Sefton Park until it meets up with the Lower Brook at the northern end of the lake.
The Osklesbroke or River Jordan (Sefton Park)
The confluence of the Lower and Upper Brooks used to form the Osklesbroke, later known as the River Jordan by the local Puritan community. The lake in Sefton Park was formed ca.1870 by damming the river a little further down. From there, the river used to flow through Aigburth Vale into Otterspool Park.
The Osklesbrook or River Jordan (Otterspool Park)
The peaceful wooded valley of the Osklesbrook, whose waters once flowed here in cascades, is now dry because of the upstream damming to construct the lake in Sefton Park. In the early 17th century, a Puritan community set up home near here and it is they who are responsible for the name River Jordan and other biblical names in the area such as Jericho Farm. The Osklesbrook marked the southern boundary of King John's hunting domain, Toxteth Park.
The Otterspool (Otterspool Park)
Otterspool takes its name from an old tidal inlet, into which the Osklesbrook ran, that was probably already in use as a fishery in Roman times and is now a large grassy hollow among trees close to the riverside.
The 'Garston Brook'
This fairly long unnamed stream used to rise near Dovedale School and flow south towards Mossley Hill Station, across Booker Avenue near South Mossley Hill Road, along the line of Duncombe Road and then veer right to emerge in the area now occupied by the northernmost of the Garston Docks.
Beacon Gutter
A short stream used to rise near where Boundary Street crosses the canal in Sandhills and flow down a little runnel called Beacon Gutter to join the Mersey at a place near the southern branch of Huskisson Dock, where the shoreline then corresponded approximately to the present Regent Road. Although this was a minor waterway, the name Boundary Street suggests its onetime function. The original village of Sandhills lay just to the north, close to Sandhills station, and Sandhills Lane was an original road.
The 'Bank Hall Brook'
A longer unnamed stream once started at Kirkdale Vale and flowed down near the junction of Stanley Road and Melrose Road and just to the south of the old Bank Hall. The latter was the ancestral home of the Moore family and was demolished 1778. It stood near the intersection of Bankhall Street and Bankhall Lane, the latter the original road to the villages of Sandhills and Bootle, though its present route to the north is soon lost. There were two dams here, so it was a working stream. It joined the Mersey a little further down at Canada Dock.
The Mill Stream and Bootle Spring (Bootle)
Bootle grew from Saxon times around the important Bootle Spring, in the southern square of an area bounded on three sides by Litherland Road, Merton Road and Hawthorne Road, all of which were ancient roads though not necessarily with those names. This cottage, opposite Christ Church, dates from ca. 1770 and is said to have been a shooting lodge. It is one of the few reminders of the more distant past in this area. The spring itself was, appropriately enough, near the junction of Well Lane and Waterworks Street; nearby there is also a Mill Lane. Waterworks here once supplied Liverpool with fresh water. The little river known as the Mill Stream that flowed out of the spring was dammed twice near to its outlet at Alexandra Dock, the lower one powering a watermill. There was a windmill here as well and the area was known as Bootle Mills.
The 'Linacre Brook'
Just to the north of the Mill Stream, an unnamed brook had its source somewhat to the east of Derby Park and flowed towards where Bootle New Strand Station now stands to emerge into the Mersey near the north end of Alexandra Dock, an area once known as Linacre Marsh.
Tue Brook (Tue Brook House)
Tue Brook once had its source about half way along Green Lane in the district now known as Tuebrook. The Jacobean Tue Brook House, dated 1615, is near here and is the oldest dated house and one of the oldest inhabited properties in Liverpool. Tue Brook made its way north towards the lake in Larkhill Estate Gardens, Clubmoor, and then toward the recreation ground on Townsend Lane. It then followed a route that is still relatively undeveloped along the west side of Kelly Drive and the northern edge of Walton Hall Park to the lake there, and then north to the recreation ground near Rice Lane Station and across to the railway bridge on Long Lane. Here in Fazakerley it makes its first present day appearance, flowing east (and currently renamed Fazakerley Brook) to join the River Alt at the very edge of the conurbation.
Rimrose Brook
Rimrose Brook is nowadays only an intermittent presence. It's original source was in the open ground north of Warbreck Park in Aintree from where it took a straight line north-west towards Bootle Golf Course, where it makes its current first appearance by Dunnings Bridge Road. It continues this line towards Netherton and then turns westerly at the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to reach its northernmost point just south of Edge Farm. From here it winds south-west through Rimrose Valley Country Park (originally a genuine valley but levelled by landfill over a long period), where it gradually gives up the ghost. Originally it continued to just west of Seaforth and Litherland Station before flowing into the Mersey where the southern end of the Seaforth Container Port now stands. It used to form the boundary between Crosby and Linacre Marshes and there was a bridge between the two.