Our next trip out was on the Merseyrail Network around Liverpool, and we took the Wirral Line to the town of Ellesmere Port, the home of the National Waterways Museum, and some interesting buildings in the town centre…
Status: Cheshire West & Chester Unitary District, Cheshire, Town, England
Travel: Merseyrail (Southport – Ellesmere Port, Via Liverpool Central)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs
Attractions: National Waterways Museum, Shropshire Union Canal, Manchester Ship Canal, River Mersey, Civic Centre, Library, Carnegie Library, Eastham Parish Church, War Memorial, Sculptures etc
The train station in Ellesmere Port is about halfway between the Docks/National Waterways Museum and the Town Centre, so we made our way into the Town Centre first, then we could head down to the Docks afterwards.
Not far from the station, we came across the above church, called Our Lady Star of the Sea. It’s a Roman Catholic Church, founded in a temporary building in 1909. The permanent brick one was then built in 1931 and it remains open to this day. It doesn’t really look that old, and its stood the test of the last 80 years really well, remaining in great condition.
Moving into the main heart of the town centre, is it quite well laid out with regards to the flowers and trees which line the roads. It is that time of year where they start to bloom and they added a great layer of colours.
The town centre of Ellesmere Port has been regenerated somewhat in the last few decades, with one of the main parts of this being the Port Arcades Shopping Centre, a modern looking shopping area that is across the road from the local council offices and the library. It was built in the late 1960’s, and encompasses a wide range of shops including some high street brands such as Greggs Bakers and Mecca Bingo.
The Civic Square stands opposite one of the many entrances into the shopping centre (which is more open plan than a fully covered area) and contains the Civic Hall (shown above) and the Library.
This beautifully laid out building dates back to 1955, and the Ellesmere Port Coat of Arms can be seen in stone above the main doorway. It depicts a Sea Horse on the left, with a large Cat on the right. The main use for the Civic Centre is theatre productions, events and to act as a local venue. It was refurbished in 2002, and stands at the edge of the square which also includes a fountain (just visible partly on the right) although it wasn’t turned on when we visited.
At the other end of the square is the Library, with the towns War Memorial outside. The Library was opened in 1962 by Lord and Lady Leverhulme , and recently held some celebrations to mark it’s Golden Anniversary (50 years). You may think these two buildings along with the square look planned and deliberately constructed this way. That’s because the Library was built to complement the Civic Hall, and is quite similar in design to it. It was also designed to be the other side of the central square for the town centre, which is today the Civic Square.
The War Memorial was added in 2005 when the area was redone, and features the names of Soldiers from both World Wars, as well as plaques for the Falklands War in 1982 and the Iraq War in 2004. It is surrounded by a small memorial garden, and is the centrepiece of the square outside of the two main buildings.
Outside of the square, off the right and out of shot is the pyramid shaped roof of the Council Buildings, providing local services for the town, with main services rolled out across the wider district from the councils base in the nearby city of Chester.
Public art installations have played a large part in the regeneration of the town, and as we wandered through the Shopping Centre on the way back towards the station, we found one of them. It consists of a tall metal pole, with North and South marked part way up. On top is a metal model of a boat, which turns in accordance with the winds speed and direction. This represents the maritime heritage of Ellesmere Port.
The town was founded as a village called Netherpool, at the location where the Ellesmere Canal met the river Mersey, carrying goods from Shropshire, Cheshire and Wales. The Ellesmere Canal was originally intended to run from the river Severn in South Wales/Gloucester/Bristol up to the Mersey, however it was never completed so the finished sections became part of the Chester, Montgomery and Shropshire Union Canals. The Ellesmere end is on the Shropshire Union Canal.
Gradually the village changed its named to the Port of Ellesmere, and then to Ellesmere Port. Large docks were constructed, and these survived to this day along with the large warehouses they inhabited. The Manchester Ship Canal also connects to the Mersey at Ellesmere and then winds its way around Runcorn, allowing trade to pass through the town from Manchester and Salford.
We made our way back to the station, and continued past it in the direction of the water front. This involved walking over the Westminster Bridge, which opened in 1961. It’s a red brick bridge that was opened by the Right Honourable John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd (1904 – 1978, British Politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer).
From the bridge, you get a great view over the Station Hotel, sat just opposite the stations entrance round to the right. It was built sometime before 1890 and opened as the Railway Hotel. In 1909 the extension off to the left of the white section was built.
When the hotel was first built, the Westminster Bridge wasn’t here so views of the hotel would have been much grander from across the road.
It’s a beautiful Victorian building, and one of a variety of hotels usually situated outside main line stations, including the Midland Hotel in Manchester (outside the former Manchester Central station) and the Waverley Hotel in Edinburgh.
Carrying on, we passed the Carnegie Building, the first library to be opened in the town with funding from Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919, Scottish Industrialist from Dunfermline) who made funding available for libraries all over the UK.
The Ellesmere Port library opened in 1909 as a free library, and has remained largely unchanged since it was built, with the exception of the road directly in front of it having been turned into a car park, and a spire added to the roof which is part of the old ventilation system. It is often cited by locals as their favourite building in the town, and I can see why. It is a charming little building which has perfectly retained the character it was given by the skilled buildings all those years ago.
I mentioned before about the art installations around the town. We passed more of them on our way to the docks, each with varying meanings and designs.
The first of these is called “Migration” and is made up of flying birds in different coloured glass. This is part of the transportation and maritime theme of the town, showing change and representing goods passing through the town.
Next is “The Port Sails” designed to look like sails from a boat, carrying on the maritime theme to do with the canals and the docks not far from here.
The final artwork is “The Pioneers” and it represents the canal builders who turned the town from a small village into a thriving port. At the back is the steering arm for a canal boat rudder, further enhancing the image.
Most of the artworks were located before a large roundabout, located underneath a bridge carrying the M53 Motorway. To go with the sculptures, just before the bridge is the Parish Church of Eastham, called Christchurch.
The parish is named after the village of Eastham, which is around 5 miles away. The parish was large enough to cover Ellesmere, and there was a growing congregation. The first church was built here in 1846, but a larger one was soon needed, so designs were drawn up for a new one. It opened in 1871, and survives to this day. The church has a lovely new feel to it, even though it is over 130 years old. The nave was extended in the 1920s although the transition is seamless.
The original War Memorial is also located just outside the building, with names of soldiers who died in the World Wars at the base and on the wall behind it.
We eventually made it down to the Docks, and entered the National Waterways Museum, and the above scene greeted us.
It’s a truly beautiful place, with various sets of locks marking the entrances to the basin of the Shropshire Union Canal, which runs from here to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, 66 miles away in the city of Wolverhampton. There is a lower basin further along, which another set of locks allow access too. It is from here that the basin empties out into first the Manchester Ship Canal, and then the river Mersey, which flows out between Birkenhead/Wallasey and Liverpool into the Irish Sea.
There were a number of old Canal Boats on show, some of which the public are allowed to explore by going on board. The Museum here is one of three branches of the National Waterways Museum, with the others being in Gloucester and Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire. The largest collection of Canal Boats in the world are housed here, and there are many awaiting restoration in other areas of the docks.
The Ellesmere Museum was founded n 1973, after the hauling of goods along the canal systems was ended in 1963. It became part of the National Waterways Museum which was formed in 2004, and has been faithfully restored ever since.
The port here was designed by Thomas Telford (1757 – 1843, Scottish Civil Engineer).
New sections were added gradually, with the Island Warehouse being added in 1871. It originally stored grain, and next to it is the Pump House (with it’s tall accumulator tower) that used steam engines to control the hydraulic cranes used in the docks. Next there is the Toll House, being added in 1805, where the toll collector would take a toll from anyone bringing their boat down the canal into the docks.
There are various canal boats moored in the lower basin, and many of these are privately owned. What a stunning location to leave your boat, and even sleep on board it. There are other types of boats spread all around the museum so see what else you can spot.
Inside the Island Warehouse are a large number of exhibitions about the history of the canals and the town, as well as a large scale wooden model of a canal boat which is open at one side so you can walk inside. Other exhibits include the methods used to push the canal boats through tunnels, shown above. There were many tunnels along the canal network, in an effort to keep the waterways as flat as possible.
Moving around the site, off to the right of the original panoramic shot I showed your earlier of the docks, you will find the Power Hall, which contains many of the old Steam Engines used in the canal boats and other machinery, still in working order and maintained by volunteers. Next to this is the Blacksmiths Forge, which contained 6 furnaces and these are available to view along with many of the old tools the Blacksmiths used.
Aside from these there are the old Porters Row Cottages where the Dock Workers would have stayed, open to the public to see what they would have been like a hundred years ago. You could also relax in the cafe, in the same building as the museum entrance and shop.
This is a panoramic shot looking out across the lower basin with a large selection of canal boats, and you can see the difference in height between the two levels.
Under the main warehouse are a number of canal boats submerged in the water for preservation which are awaiting restoration. We were stunned with the amount of information at the museum and how well laid out it is. There is plenty to see here and its the perfect end to a great trip to Ellesmere Port.
Ellesmere Port is one of the four terminus’s of the branch lines of the Wirral Line on the Merseyrail Network radiating out from Liverpool City Centre, with connections for Southport and Chester easily available. There are also trains running from Ellesmere on the national lines to the nearby village of Helsby. The M53 (Wallasey Tunnel – Chester) also runs through the town. The nearest airport is Liverpool John Lennon, directly opposite the town over the Mersey. The control tower is visible from the Waterways Museum.
Ellesmere is a great town, and it has a long maritime history that is a joy to experience.