History & Heritage

Early records

The Saughall part of the name is recorded as being derived from salh and halh, meaning a place where willow trees grew. It is also supposed that the name Saughall Massie means "Willow-tree nook of land".

The name Massie has been connected to the Wirral since the time of the Norman Conquest in the 1100’s when much of the lands at the north end of the Wirral were given to Hamo de Mascy, whose family came from a settlement of Mascey near Avranches in Normandy. He would have been granted the lands following the Norman invasion/conquest.

Prior to this, findings at the time of the by-pass construction in 2006, revealed timbers from an extremely early form of bridge or river crossing. The timbers discovered have been dated and one piece of oak is thought to date from 2880-2580 BC while two smaller supporting timbers, made from European ash, were found to be from 800-520 BC. Thus archaeologists working on the site at the time said that the findings could indicate the presence of a “substantial, established community”, 5000 years ago, in ancient Wirral.

The land around Saughall Massie is flat and lies between a ridge to the east upon which Upton sits and the hills to the west which run from West Kirby down to Heswall.

Saughall Massie is one of the four ancient townships in the parish of Bidston, along with Moreton and Claughton, none of which is mentioned in the Doomsday Survey. It is probable that the village was part of the land owned by Hamo de Mascy within the manor of Eastham which is described in the Doomsday Book.

The manor and parish of Bidston was part of the barony of Dunham Massey, in north east Cheshire. The third baron, Hamon de Massie is credited with the establishment of Birkenhead Priory in about 1150. The land stayed in the Mascy’s ownership until the sixth baron sold it. Interestingly the sale was disputed by the family and the land was eventually bought by the Duke of Lancaster who then exchanged it with Roger le Strange, Lord of Knocking, for land in Lincolnshire.

Saughall Massie eventually passed to the Earls of Derby, the Stanley family, where it stayed until 1653.

Two houses of medieval origins are known to have existed in the village.

The White House - Dating from 1323 and rebuilt in 1590, this was partly demolished and rebuilt in the mid 20th century. It is believed that Lucy de Saughall, daughter of the Earl of Chester, acquired a tenement here in 1323. This is believed to have been the basis for what is now The White House. On 18th Century maps the house is shown with only 1.5 acres but it also included building with stabling for three horses and accommodation for a modestly sized wheeled vehicle. So who lived here is not clear. It could have been an estate representative or people with some wealth. The house was formerly known as "The Hall" and within the kitchen (until 1952) was a huge cheese press, about 2.5 feet long x 2 feet wide and 2 feet high and was raised by block and tackle. This could have been used by the whole community. It is also thought that the original building would have been entirely of timber and that the stone base was laid when sufficient people lived in the area to warrant the quarrying of stone, from either Bidston or Storeton.

Mud Hall - located on Barnacre Lane, was known to exist in 1665 but was demolished in the mid 19th Century. The location is shown on the Tithe Map for 1842.

There has never been a church, institutional or industrial building in Saughall Massie so presumably it has always been an agricultural community.

A timber peg mill, dating from 16th century, stood about a mile to the north – in Acton Lane - but was demolished in 1875. Click here for further information.

According to David Randall, in “The Search for Old Wirral”, revised edition 2003, “it is alleged that the monks of Birkenhead held lands here until the 16th century”.

17th & 18th Century development

There are four houses surviving from this period. The Elms and Ivy Cottage (seen in the picture) are late 17th century houses of vernacular design. However, Ivy Cottage has a partial cruck frame construction, indicating that part of the building dates from much earlier times.

The archaeological survey done before the recent renovation of Ivy Cottage gives an overview of the extensive history of the building click here for more information.

The farmhouses of Diamond Farm and Poplar Farm are early 18th century and show a strong influence of Queen Anne and Georgian architectural styles, even in this quite remote location. All these buildings are Grade II listed as being of significant historical interest. Diamond Farm still operates as a working farm rearing cattle and offering contracting services. Poplar Farm is no longer agriculturally based.

Prospect Farm is the latest of several buildings on this site, and the date stone is not a reflection of the current building’s age. As a sandstone building, it is typical of the area and may well have been thatched at some point, similar to Ivy Cottage. The buildings have always been used for agricultural purposes and the Broster family have occupied the farm for several generations. The current owners, John and Iris Broster, along with their son Philip, continue to work the land and provide agricultural services to their customers. In 2013 the Brosters converted one of the barns into a new house which is also called Prospect Farm. The old farmhouse has been sold and re-named Prospect Cottage by the new owners.

In the Saughall Massie Conservation Area Appraisal (October 2008), Prospect Farm, along with the other listed buildings, is considered “critical to the character of the area”. According to village information, the village land and buildings used to be referred to by the owner's/resident's name: thus Wilkinson's Farm (later, Poplar Farm), Broster' Farm (now Prospect Farm), Mutch's Farm became White House Farm etc. Villagers who had lived here since the early years of the 20th century said that the naming process began with the delivery of cattle/chicken food by Blue Cross Mills of Birkenhead. Until then only local people came to the village and the resident's name was enough identification but with delivery men (not always the same man) coming in, a recognisable name system was introduced by the Blue Cross sales representative. He used descriptions that the delivery driver would understand - a cottage with an ash tree outside would be written on the delivery note as "Ash Tree Cottage", Poplar Farm obviously had poplar trees in the front and so on.

19th Century developments

The township was 860 acres and in 1801, the population was 98. However, in 1842 it was counted as 152 and by 1901 had risen to 186. A tithe map for 1842 can be found on Cheshire Records Office which shows the fields and buildings along with the owners/occupiers at the time.

Throughout the 19th century the village remained a small settlement based on agriculture. A number of agricultural buildings, the house at 136 Garden Hey Road (Beaconsfield Cottage) and a pub were constructed in the second half of the 19th century.

The Saughall Massie Bridge was also constructed in 1829 by the partnership of William Lawton and Thomas Brassey. Saughall Massie Watering Hole was constructed at the same time.

20th & 21st Century developments

During the wars the village remained agricultural but soon after the Second World War Brookfield Farm (adjacent to the Bridge) and several other farm buildings were demolished whilst the ancient White House was largely refurbished.

Three new properties were built at the time: ‘The Flayes’ and ‘The Gardens’ in Garden Hey Road, and ‘Manana’ on West Kirby Road.

Later in the 20th Century, further houses were built on land which had been nurseries, orchards and farm yards (namely Applegarth and Poplar Farm Close).

In 2005/6, a village by-pass was constructed which improved traffic flow in the area and a one-way system introduced over the Saughall Massie Bridge.

The Turnpike Road

Saughall Massie Lane originally ran from near the crossroads in Upton Village down to Saughall Massie Village. The road then ran on to link with the Turnpike road from Bidston through towards Hoylake which had been built in 1841.

Saughall Massie Lane was upgraded and called a Turnpike because it was a privately owned road on which a toll was charged. The toll house was located on the land opposite a row of houses called Greenbank in Upton. The road originally followed the convent wall round the corner from Upton village and then through the fields and across the Saughall Massie Bridge. Turnpike roads were affected by the coming of the railways and the Local Government Act of 1888 gave responsibility for roads to the Local Authorities.

The road was re-aligned in the 1960s and then cut in two by the Upton by-pass which was constructed to link in with the new M53 motorway.

Thunderbolt P47

On 9th January 1944, Lieutenant Jay Frederick Simpson was test flying a Republic Thunderbolt P-47 over Moreton. On trying to perform an emergency landing, the aircraft flipped over and burst into flames in a field in Saughall Massie.

Having taken off from US Burtonwood Airbase in Lancashire, Lieutenant Simpson had flown over Hoylake, reporting that the plane was on fire. A commemorative plaque was placed on the new by-pass bridge in 2005 by the Warplane Wreck Investigation Group (WWIG), based at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton, Wirral. WWIG recovered the engine from the plane in September 1973 and it is on display at the Fort Perch Rock Museum.

Thomas Brassey

The Thomas Brassey life story is a fascinating account of how, in only 35 years, a man was able to become the greatest railway builder in the world and generate more self made wealth that any other individual in the 19th century. Born a gentleman farmer's son in Buerton near Chester he served an apprenticeship with William Lawton of Birkenhead and managed the Storeton quarries. George Stephenson, who was building the Liverpool and Manchester railway requiring quality load bearing stone for the Sankey Viaduct, visited Thomas at the quarries. He suggested he would be just the right sort of person to get involved with this new form of transport called 'Railways'.

Thomas did just this and his story is remarkable – he is often considered one of this country's greatest unsung heroes of the 19th century. He built ⅓ of the railways in the UK and ¾ of those in France. In all he built 1 in 20 miles of the world's railways, complete with all the necessary stations, bridges, viaducts, signalling, rolling stock etc. He even went into the financing aspect and partnered many of the top engineers of the time. His great UK works was in Beaufort Road, Birkenhead (called Canada Works) and at the height of his fame he employed up to 100,000 men around the world. It has been suggested that he had more influence on the world than Alexander the Great, due to the impact on towns and villages of the railways that he built. One historian commented that when Thomas opened his first bank account in Chester, the bank manager would not have realised that this young Mr. Brassey would, within 20 years, be responsible for more gold passing through the bank than most of the smaller European Countries had in their Exchequers!

For the full story of Thomas Brassey's remarkable life click here

If any organisation or society would like a talk on the history of Thomas Brassey and his exploits please contact the Heritage Officer, Peter Bolt, through the Contact us page.

The Saughall Massie Bridge

It was early on the morning of 21st August 1829 that William Lawton and his young partner, Thomas Brassey, set off in their gig from Birkenhead to Chester to see Henry Potts Esquire, Clerk of the Peace, of the said County of Chester and Samuel Fowls, the County Surveyor and Deputy Bridge Master for Cheshire. Mr. Lawton and Mr. Brassey were Land Agents and Surveyors but they also managed the Storeton Quarries in Higher Bebington. With the experience Mr. Brassey had gained during his apprenticeship, working for a time with Thomas Telford, the partnership had decided to branch out into civil engineering contracting and the construction of the small bridge at Saughall Massie seemed just the right project to get started.

Having already studied the Contract and Specifications they met up with Potts and Fowls and agreed a price of two hundred pounds which included the erection of a new bridge and also a 'watering road' adjacent to the bridge which would allow horses to take on water from the Arrowe Brook. The contract was placed. Our thanks go to Mike Chrimes for providing this information from his research work in the Cheshire Archives.

Evidence of this can be viewed in the Cheshire archives, Chester in the 'Articles of Agreement' and the 'Specifications'. The Bridge was to Samuel Fowls' design, being quite detailed in its requirements, with stone required to be obtained from the old bridge and new stone from the Bidston Hill Quarry. A new approach road was also built including sandstone walls on either side. Some of the original walls still remain and can be seen at the lower level, having a thin mortar line between the stones.

Thomas Brassey was only 24 years old at this time and after Lawton died shortly afterwards Thomas became the sole manager of the company. The Industrial Revolution was well advanced and he decided to build a lime and brick works in Birkenhead becoming a Civil Engineering Contractor – this was as well as managing the Quarry site at Storeton. Thomas Brassey went on to become the World's greatest Railway Contractor, building a third of the railways in the UK, three quarters of the railways in France and is credited for building 1 in 20 miles of the total World network at the time. More detailed information can be viewed on our Useful Links page - Thomas Brassey.

The Saughall Massie Village Conservation Area Society was instrumental in successfully applying to English Heritage in 2006 to have the bridge listed. It is now protected for future generations, having been granted a grade 2 listing, 'Thomas Brassey's first bridge'. He later went on to construct some of the greatest bridges in the world including the 2½ mile Victoria Bridge over the St. Lawrence River in Canada and the great bridge across the Jumna River in India. A bronze plaque has been erected on the bridge and there is an interpretation panel sited alongside giving visitors information about Thomas Brassey, his life and his first bridge.

Why The Bridge Was Built

Up to the 1830's roads in the North Wirral were either poor or non existent. The turnpike roads had not reached this area and this made the north of the peninsular very isolated and lawless. One form of lawbreaking was that shipwrecking continued in West Wirral long after it had been stamped out in Devon and Cornwall. The wreckers were able to continue their dreadful trade unabated as some of the villages in North West Wirral, in particular Bidston and Saughall Massie, were surrounded by marshland.

Until the early part of the 19th Century the Bidston Moss extended all the way to Meols. The footpaths through the treacherous marshes were only known by those who lived in the area. Shipwrecking was rife. Ships on their way to the Mersey used the North and Rock channels, taking their "line of sight" using the Leasowe and Bidston Hill Lighthouses. On stormy nights the wreckers would black out the lighthouse signals and using false lights, lure the unsuspecting ships onto the dangerous sandbanks where they would break up. Many poor sailors and passengers died, the ships and bodies were then looted. In 1839, ten years after the Bridge was built, there was a hurricane. The wreckers were still working from their sanctuary in the Bidston Moss and they blacked out the lighthouses at Hoylake and Leasowe, causing a number of vessels to founder on the sandbanks of the North West Wirral shore. It is reported that the wreckers, like vultures, descended on the poor unfortunates and those that were still alive were soon clubbed to death and robbed. In some cases fingers were cut off to get rings and one unfortunate passenger lying helpless on the beach had her ear bitten off to get to her earrings.

These dreadful crimes infuriated the Liverpool Ship owners and Merchants and pressure was brought to bear on the local authority to take a positive action. The building of the bridge was the first stage of getting better access into the marsh areas. Draining them and putting in the beginnings of a road system allowed the Constables to go in and apprehend the wreckers.

The Saughall Massie Windmill

Saughall Massie had its own windmill which was thought to have been built around 1580. The first documented reference to it appears on plea rolls for the County of Chester in 1598 when "John & Henry Bennett are shown to have purchased the windmill and 30 acres of land in Saugham Massie from William Earl of Derby." The plea rolls show that they lodged a complaint against the Earl regarding the windmill so clearly they were not pleased with the purchase. The Mill is shown on the Kingston Survey of 1665 showing it linked to a triangular village green. Most villages on the Wirral had a mill in near proximity, predominantly for grinding grain. Some of the earliest were built in the 12th century and in general followed a similar pattern of construction. These were known as 'Peg' or 'Post' mills which consisted of a stout wooden frame mounted on a stone or brick upstand which was referred to as a Peg or Post. (a typical windmill of this type is shown in the picture)

The last mill on the site may have been a rebuilt structure and in Brownbill's "A History of the Old Parish of Bidston, Cheshire" comments that Esther Martin was the occupier in 1719 with the rent being £6 per annum.

The direction of the sails could be moved to face the prevailing wind with the wooden structure rotating on the base to the desired position. Later windmills were constructed as 'Tower' mills and were built to the full height, having a revolving cap on the very top. Typical of this type is the one at Bidston Hill or the one by the 'Devon Doorway' in Heswall, now a private residence.

The exact location of the Saughall Massie mill has been the subject of some debate but it is very probable that it was sited about 100 metres down Acton Lane, towards Moreton, on the left hand side. From the 1842 Tithe map, the owner was Robert Vyner (whose family owned it from at least 1719), a major land owner and the Miller was Robert Hale. The plot name on the tithe map is referred to as 'Saughall Mill'. The Mill was demolished in 1871 and the land now has houses on it. To see the location on the Cheshire Archives map follow the link, then click on Tithe maps online. Put in the nearest postcode CH46 6EB. Then click on the Plot Details above the right hand map, a floating cross should appear on the old map on the left and drag Plot 197 under the cross. The Plot Details will then show who owned the mill at that time and the name of the miller Click here.

Peg Mill

Original Mill location: Grid Ref: SJ254 885

Click here to return

Timber Find Could Date Back To The Iron Age

EXPERTS believe timbers discovered near Saughall Massie bypass are almost 5,000 years old, reported in the Wirral News in 2006. The waterlogged artefacts - thought to be the remains of a river crossing or bridge - were hailed as the borough's most important archaeological finds when they were unearthed last year.

The fossilised remains were sent to York Archaeological Trust Conservation Laboratories for assessment and on to Miami for Carbon-14 testing. One large piece of oak found on the river bed was dated from 2880-2580BC while two smaller supporting timbers made from European ash were found to be from 800-520BC.

Independent archaeologist Jenny Whalley, who was asked to evaluate the site by Wirral Council last year, said the findings could indicate the presence of a "substantial, established community" in ancient Wirral.

She said: "The timbers are far older than we expected - they are unique and will put Wirral on the map. The dates for the larger oak piece make it almost 5,000 years old from present but we can't be more specific because oak has such a long lifespan. It's Neolithic, which is when people came together in communities and started to cut the woodland, farm using cereal crops and domesticate animals.

"The supporting timbers are early Iron Age, which shows a continuous use of whatever this thing was. "If it was a crossing or bridge it could show that there was a community in Saughall Massie who had the motivation, foresight and purpose to do this."

It is hoped other samples taken from the site will provide clues about the environment around it. Jenny, who has been working with experienced pre-historic archaeologist Ron Cowell, said: "The environmental samples - things like pollen, nuts and seeds - will give us an idea of what it was like down there. It's likely there would have been wetland conditions. They could have been using it as a crossing but there are other possibilities. It could also have been a ritualistic thing and they may have been depositing things at the edge of what was a swamp or lake. We found bones but they haven't been dated yet. The positioning is also interesting - if you turn South West you've got a gap between Caldy and Thurstaton Hill and you can see the valley towards the mountains of North Wales."

The timbers will now be stored in the Wirral Museum and it is hoped they will go on public display in 2007 to mark Wirral's "Year of Heritage".

Peter Crawford, chairman of Bidston Preservation Trust, is taking a close interest in the "sensational" find. He said: "This shows that North Wirral had a major crossing point there - the only question now is why? "It's a very important find for the area."

Saughall Massie Watering Hole and Road

In 1665 the Arrowe Brook was shown to be quite wide at a point south of the present day bridge. This is also illustrated on the 1842 tithe maps and one sees that a pool had been formed approximately 30 x 25 metres. It was used as a watering hole for cattle and horses.

On the 1st August 1829 a contract was made between the County of Chester and the partnership of William Lawton and Thomas Brassey to build a ‘Watering Road’ for horses down to the Brook. The specification stated that the slope should not be less than 1 in 15. The specification went on to state that wooden posts and rails should be installed and these should be constructed from old ships timbers. 6” ‘mug’ pipes were also specified to allow drainage from the hard standing road to the water.

This was built at the same time as the Saughall Massie Bridge.

The location of the watering hole is Ordnance Survey Grid Ref: SJ254 885 and can be seen on the Cheshire tithe maps 1836 / 51

For more information use the link which follows. Once onto the Cheshire Archives page, click on the circle marked Tithe Maps Online, put in the nearest postcode which is CH46 5NP, then click on Plot details on the top of the right hand side map. A cross should appear on the old map so drag plot 226 into the centre and click. The Plot details will then tell you who was the current owner and occupier or user at that time Click Here.