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Things to do in Birkenhead, Merseyside

Ferry crossing the River Mersey, Liverpool, Merseyside
Ferry across the Mersey © Shutterstock / kenny1

Birkenhead is a large town on the Wirral Peninsula in Merseyside. Situated on the River Mersey's west bank it is facing the city of Liverpool and connected by the Mersey Ferry.

The town was probably named after the many birch trees (bircen) in the area or after the River Birket. The town was founded where a ferry ran across the River Mersey in 1150 to the Benedictine priory founded by Hamon de Mascy.

Unlike its industrial neighbour, Liverpool, Birkenhead kept its agricultural heritage until the steam ferry arrived in 1820.

Birkenhead market opened in 1835 and during the 1880s Michael Marks opened one of his first Penny Bazaars there. He went on to found the chain store, Marks and Spencer.

Aerial view of the River Mersey with Birkenhead at the bottom and Liverpool at the top.
River Mersey - Birkenhead at the bottom and Liverpool at the top. © Shutterstock / Peter R Foster IDMA

In 1860 Birkenhead had the first street tram in Europe which ran from the Mersey Ferry tunnel to Birkenhead Park. In 1886 the Mersey Railway Tunnel was built and in 1934 the Queensway Road Tunnel was opened. These boosted Birkenhead's suitability as an industrial centre.

The first ironworks was built in 1824 by William Laird and shipbuilding, which Birkenhead became known for, started in 1829. Over the years Cammell Laird Shipyard produced HMS Ark Royal, HMS Achilles, CSS Alabama, RMS Mauritania and many other well-known ships.

The company also built Resurgam a pioneer submarine, which unfortunately sank in Liverpool Bay during trials.

Cammell Laird went into receivership in 2001 and under new ownership became the Cammell Laird Ship Repair and Shipbuilders.

Birkenhead's population rose from 110 people in 1801 to 110,921 by 1901 to 142,501 in 1951.


Present Day Birkenhead

Birkenhead currently has a population of around 83,000 people. It is on the Liverpool Metro Subway system, making it easy to get around.

It has retained its grid-iron street pattern which is centred on Hamilton Square. Birkenhead Town Hall is on the square along with many other notable grand buildings. Hamilton Square has more Grade I listed buildings than any other city outside London.

Historic Birkenhead tram on display at Beamish
Historic tramcars from Birkenhead © Shutterstock / Chris Jenner

The town has a good shopping centre, which was redeveloped in the 1970s and expanded again in the 1990s with the building of the Pyramids Shopping Centre.

Birkenhead's main landmarks are St James Church, Birkenhead Priory, St Mary's Tower and the Bidston Windmill above the town.

Birkenhead Park was the first publicly funded park in the UK, designed by Joseph Paxton. It was said to have been an important influence on the design for New York's Central Park.


Things to Do Around Birkenhead

Visit Birkenhead Park to see the entrance ways, modeled on the Temple of Illysus in Athens. Each entrance has a sandstone lodge which illustrates different types of architecture - Gothic, Italianate and Norman styles. The park also has a Roman boathouse, two lakes and a Swiss Bridge.

Liverpool Skyline as seen from Birkenhead.
Liverpool Skyline from Birkenhead © Shutterstock / Jeff Dalton

Birkenhead Priory dates back to 1150 and is the oldest standing building on Merseyside. The site includes several displays and museums.

The Tate Liverpool offers a cultural day out with a collection of modern art.

The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum is in a listed building near Oxton village. It has the largest display of model ships in the area and over 6000 paintings.

Beatles Fans will enjoy visiting the Beatles Story and the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

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