Kirkby Origins and History


The name Kirk-by means Church and Settlement. Its origin may have taken place prior to the Norse who are believed to have arrived via Ireland around 900 A.D.. It is further believed that a simple Chapel existed here about 870 A.D., this tradition being inscribed (WFN13) on a stone at the base of the Cross (WFN12) which was erected within the present Kirkby parish church grounds in 1875. Though there is no evidence to support this claim, a chapel is known to have existed on this site after the Norman Conquest.

An early surviving artefact of the period is a red sandstone Norman font (KB216) which is now located inside the present parish Church of St. Chad. This indicates that the practice of baptism has taken place from at least that early period onwards to the present day.

In the Domesday Survey of 1086, Kirkby was mentioned as Cherchebi, one of the six manors held by Uctred; the others being Roby, Knowsley, Crosby, Maghull, and Aughton. In the 11th Century, the area now known as South Lancashire was identified as the land between the Ribble and the Mersey. This land was divided into six Hundreds or Wapentakes, Kirkby being part of the Derbei Wapentake, or West Derby Hundred. It is believed that this Hundred, originally contained around thirty settlements with a total population of around 2,000 people; Kirkby's population therefore may have been as few as 70.

Over the centuries, the ownership of land around the Kirkby settlement passed through the hands of many families and it was not until the Molyneux family purchased the manor lands in their entirety in the 16th Century (partly in the 1560 s and partly in 1596), that a semblance of continuity existed.

The Molyneux family like many others in the area were staunch Catholics who retained their religious beliefs despite the pressures of the English Reformation. Their patronage of Kirkby was lost though in 1747 as a result of the head of the Molyneux family taking up holy orders in the Catholic Church.

Conversion to the Church of England came with the marriage of Charles William Molyneux in 1768 and a few years later in 1771, he was created Earl of Sefton. The Manor of Kirkby continued to be held by successive Earls of Sefton until 1947 when the land was sold to the Liverpool Corporation.

By 1766, the ancient Kirkby Chapel was in a decayed state and the then minister Reverend Thomas Wilkinson raised funds to replace the building which was duly constructed in plain red brick. Various additions and enlargements took place to the Chapel (KB7) over the next fifty years to encompass a much needed School Room and a Vestry. But over time this became too small for the needs of the community and it too was replaced with larger purpose built buildings. A Church School (KB213) was erected in 1806 on land given by Lord Sefton. This was further enlarged (KB31) in 1851 and extended in 1907, continuing to be used for education in the township until 1967.

The present parish church of St. Chad (KB55) was begun in 1869 and consecrated in 1871 by the Lord Bishop of Chester; located adjacent to (KB266) the old Chapel. It was designed by Paley and Austin in red stone and has many Gothic and Norman features which give the appearance of an older structure. The old Chapel was taken down in 1872, its stone used to build a wall around the new Church. Both chapel and church were dedicated to St. Chad, who in the 7th Century was the Bishop of Lichfield.

For centuries a Mill had existed in Kirkby and the flooding of land by use of dams had caused many legal disputes dating back to the 14th Century. The Corn Mill (KB39) was in use until the early 20th Century when it was destroyed by fire. During the summer-time, the large Mill Dam Lake (KB59) was used for boating and recreation purposes.

Until the mid-19th Century communication to and from the rural townships of Kirkby and Simonswood was poor. A new form of transport arrived with the introduction of the Liverpool, Bolton and Bury Railway (KB107) in 1848 which brought new travel opportunities to the people of the area. Kirkby's population thereafter decreased until the Second World War. Further development took the form of the Waterworks, (KB54) also built in 1848 by St. Helens Corporation; a Pumphouse (KB186) to which was added in the 1880's. In general Kirkby's rural lifestyle (KB14) remained little changed until well into the 20th Century when sectors of land were required for other purposes.

The building of the East Lancashire Road in 1935 made Kirkby more accessible and though plans for an industrial estate here were considered (after the success of the developments at Speke and Aintree), the coming of war postponed industrial changes for some years.

The threat of war lead to a Government decision to build a munitions factory in the area and work began on the site in late 1939. A vast tract of land was needed and due to the urgency involved, short notice was given to the occupiers (KB198) of the twelve farms affected by the construction. The Royal Ordnance Factory (KB98) completed in early 1941, became a major employer, with a workforce increasing to around 20,000 people by its peak in 1942, many travelling in from Liverpool, Birkenhead, St. Helens, Southport, Wigan and Warrington by tram (KB80).

In post-war years, the Liverpool City Council leased then bought the site for industrial development. From a slow initial response, the industrialists gradually took up the challenge and moved into the existing buildings, others built new factories and Kirkby Industrial Estate was born. It steadily expanded through the 1950's and 1960's to become one of the largest in the country. At its peak in 1971, the estate employed over 26,000 people.

Hand-in-hand with the progress of the Industrial Estate came huge housing developments which were in turn to relieve the problems in Liverpool of overcrowding and unsanitary dwellings. Consequently Kirkby, with the new developments in the areas of Southdene, Westvale and Northwood, lost its old image of a rural farming community and became a Newtown(KB242). The modest post-war population of around 3,000 people, increased considerably as a result and a whole new infrastructure was implemented to support the influx of such large numbers for, by 1961, the population of Kirkby exceeded 50,000.

By the late 1950's, it was realised that to avoid overcrowding within the newly constructed areas, further housing was needed and the result was the construction of the Tower Hill Estate, (KB147) the first phase of which was completed in 1967.

Greater control over the area's future came with the creation of Kirkby Urban District Council in 1958 and the following year it produced a five-year plan. New buildings and recreational areas appeared rapidly: Kirkby Market (KB92/104) opened in 1960, followed in 1961 by Westvale Community Centre, Webster's Park, a College of Further Education and a Police Headquarters. In 1964, the Library (KB94/528) opened its doors as did Kirkby Athletics and Sports Stadium (KB92/20) ,which was opened by Harold Wilson M.P. (KB92/166) The then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was again on hand to open the Civic Buildings (KB334) in April 1969.

Local government re-organisation in 1974 brought Kirkby into the newly created Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley. Queen Elizabeth II (KB262) visited Kirkby in 1978.

(figures in brackets are reference numbers of photos in the main site)




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