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Garston Industrial Development

Garston History

An Introduction to the Industrial Development of Garston.

The establishment of a village named Garston as a settlement centuries ago was doubtless due to the existence of a substantial brook, the Garston River flowing into the great River Mersey some five miles upstream of Liverpool. The waters of the brook provided for human needs and for the cattle, and also as a source of power and water for the embryo industries which developed on the final stretch of its course into the Mersey. The village was about a quarter of a mile from the banks of the Mersey on a sharp bend in the Garston River which had its source in the hills of Allerton and Mossley Hill. To the agricultural activities of the area, facilitated by the river, were added, from the 12th century onwards, water mills for corn milling and for fulling, and a tannery. The mouth of the Garston River provided a haven for fishing boats and, much later, the conditions favourable for a salt works. The tannery is said to have been the first manufacturing mill in Lancashire and the present day Garston Tanning Company is very close to this site.

Because of the fishing, and later the salt works, Garston developed a subsidiary group of dwellings for the fishermen and their families down by the Mersey, and some lived on an island which was prevented from being washed away by a large "whale back" outcrop of the local sandstone. "Great Stone" is one possible interpretation of the meaning of the name Garston. The others, and perhaps more likely meanings of the name are, agricultural and pastoral - "Grazing Meadow" or "Hillock of Gorse". But no hints of the later industrial activities of the Garston people were contained in the name, those hints are to be found in an evocative quotation from the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey which records the transfer of a part of the Manor of Garston by Adam de Gerstan to the monks of Stanlawe in 1264. Adam gave "all the water which falls from Adam's Mill of Garston as far as the Mersey, and a plot of land for the building of a tannery or fulling mill upon the said water, whensoever they may see to be most expedient between this said mill and the Mersey, and of every kind of profit of the pool and easements of pool water .. and also a fishery in the Township of Garston, called Lachegard, or mill pool."

1844 Tithe Map showing site of Old Mill and Church

From the 13th century and continuing for many centuries, the scene is of tanning, fulling, corn milling, fresh and salt water fishing, the rearing of cows and sheep, and no doubt quarrying of the local sandstone and felling of timber for building. The indications are that there were several water mills downstream of
Adam's Mill, the foundations of which almost certainly lie buried opposite the Parish Church of St. Michael. This corn mill, with presumably many changes and adaptations, survived into the 19th century, eventually incorporating steam power. The topography of the land was such that the river flowed in a deep gorge facilitating the construction of dams at various points, notably for "Adam's Mill" and further downstream where a second mill dam is indicated on 18th and 19th century maps. The one extant plan of "Adam's Mill" in its later development shows a sluice taking the water from the dam underground to what is known to have been an overshoot wheel inside the mill with a tail race joining a by-pass or the original brook downstream . The whole area was later substantially infilled with the coming of the first dock and railway system, the brook was culverted and eventually lost its water flow due to drainage changes as the whole area became built up. The culvert was briefly exposed during the construction of the Garston by-pass. We may assume that the nature of the area, and its indigenous industries and way of life underwent few changes until the late eighteenth century when the impact of the industrial revolution and the growth of the City of Liverpool changed the face of the area very rapidly in a few decades.

Garston Salt works viewed from the River Mersey

The first indications of changes resulting from the availability of open space at Garston and its favourable position on the Mersey came with the arrival in the 1790s of the
salt works for refining salt from Cheshire. In 1692 the Blackburne Brothers from Warrington had built refineries at Hale and later in Liverpool near the Salthouse Dock. The Liverpool refinery apparently caused smoke and nuisance and so was replaced by a new salt works at Garston . Two tidal docks were built; one called the Salt Dock and the other the Rock Salt Dock. Maps show four circular brine cisterns and also rectangular building . A fleet of flats brought the unrefined salt from Northwich. By the time the works closed in 1865, the site had developed a railway link and an elaborate set of buildings - boiler house, smithy and workers' cottages. Garston salt was celebrated for its superior quality, being exported in schooners to coastal destinations and especially Ireland.

Garston Old Dock in 1897

The really dramatic change came with the building in 1850/51 of the
first enclosed dock by the St. Helens Canal and Railway Company. Garston had not experienced a canal phase in its development, so the coming of the dock and railway at the same time produced a very rapid transformation from rural scene to industrial town scene, in fact, within about three decades. The choice of Garston for the building of the new dock was a by-product of the complex struggles, developments and competition between rival interests upstream. This was conditioned by the increasing problems of navigation experienced in the upper reaches of the Mersey as pressure to increase trade and the need for larger ships emerged. The Garston Channel represented the point on the Mersey at which reasonably reliable access to a dock was assured in an otherwise very difficult river. By an Act of 1846, the St. Helens Canal and Railway Company was therefore able to build, what at the time, was a major dock development at Garston destined to become a rival of Liverpool in the coal exporting trade. Testimony to the wisdom of the choice of site is inherent in the fact that with the recent re-development of the docks, shipping of between 6000 and 7000 tons can be accommodated.

new Garston Dock, later the centre one of three, was fully equipped with modern coal drops, the construction of which was facilitated by a cliff edge of suitable height, the dock having been built out from the cliff. Trade increased so rapidly that by 1867 the North Dock had to be built and eventually in 1909 the much larger Stalbridge Dock.

Stalbridge Dock Garston early 20th C

The through trade of imports and exports rapidly diversified to include most of the materials and products, which hitherto had been handled at Runcorn and Widnes. The level and range of this trade is reflected in the list given in figure 5 and the full extent of the total development is apparent in the 1960 O.S. map. Ownership of the docks successively passed from the St. Helens Canal and Railway Company to London and North Western Railway (NWR) in 1864, to London Midland and Scottish (LMS) in 1921, then British Transport Dock Board in 1963 and more recently British Associated Ports Ltd.

Stalbridge Dock eventually obliterated the site of the old salt works, but well before this, right from the opening of the first of the three docks, the area became a magnet for a range of important industries. Here was a green field site alongside modern dock facilities and with a rapidly improving rail system. It is not too surprising therefore that the green fields of the village variously called moors, heys, dales, meadows, crofts, windows, acres or fields, very rapidly became an industrial estate and an associated housing development. Several areas initially became brick fields to provide much needed building materials, but these were subsequently built upon.

The rest of this article outlines the nature and extent of the industries which came to this riverside site. Little is known about some of these industries, much is known about others, and no doubt much information lies waiting for further research. The dock and railway system constitutes in itself a substantial story with much detail available, but sufficient has been said about this to indicate its significance in the overall development.

Immediately alongside the site of the salt works,
shipbuilding had developed .The shipyard was later owned by Graysons and a graving dock and slipway were in evidence until recent years when in-filling obliterated both, including the caisson used to close the dock. The site was subsequently a distillery owned by J. M. Mills, Distillers and Methylators, which was established in 1932, having moved from Stockport on Mersey. More recently the site has been occupied by Hayes Chemicals, part of UNALCO which is a subsidiary of United Molasses. This firm is now concerned with mixing and re-distributing various alcohol-based products.

In 1864, the
Garston Steel and Iron Company occupied a site to the east of the salt works and is said to have had a regular output of 320 tons a week. The firm had closed down by 1893 and the premises and site were later purchased by the Garston Tanning Company. The sheds, which were adapted to tanning purposes, are currently being demolished.

In 1865 Messrs.
John Bibby Sons and Company, the Liverpool ship-owners, opened a copper rolling mill between the iron works and the graving dock, the mill having been moved from Seacombe because the site there was required by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Originally the mill produced copper and brass sheets for covering the hulls of wooden sailing ships. Later the copper and brass were used in the production of plates for locomotive fire boxes and then plates for condensers in steam ships. The firm subsequently went into the ownership of the Broughton Copper Company and then Imperial Chemical Industries (Metals) Ltd., but was closed down with the transfer of the business to Swansea in 1936.

Another copper works, the
Crown Copper Mills, developed on the opposite side of Window Lane and was opened in 1880 by the two sons of the manager of the Bibby Copper Works . The firm employed about 250 men producing fire-box plates for China, Australia, India, South African and South America, and the copper discs for manufacturing kitchen utensils for Egypt and other eastern countries. In 1933, Imperial Chemicals Industries (I.C.I.) Ltd., bought out the firm and closed it down to prevent competition.

In 1868 the firm of
Joseph Rawlinson and Sons Ltd., started in Garston. In 1900, having developed into a major saw-milling and construction firm, they purchased part of the Iron and Steel Works site from the Garston Tanning Company. As well as exporting buildings to many parts of the world, Rawlinsons built practically all the stations on the North Wales Line between Chester and Llandudno Junction, and the stations from Edge Hill to Speke widening in 1890.

In 1869
Blackwells Metallurgical Works Ltd. was established in Banks Road and Speke Road with a warehouse on Garston Dock. Over many years the firm dealt with an extensive and complex range of metals and alloys, being involved in special products required for munitions during the First World War. Some of the rarer metals used for alloy production were manganese, chromium, tungsten, molybdenum, vanadium, titanium and nickel.

In 1880
Messrs. Francis Morton and Company Ltd. established the Hamilton Iron Works on the river side site continuing upstream from the shipyard. This site had previously been developed with some style by a Colonel Hamilton from Windsor (Berkshire) who built non-collapsible lifeboats of pressed sheet metal using special hydraulic equipment. Some remains of the Colonel's sea wall and dock still extant are testimony to a high quality of stonework reminiscent of Jesse Hartley. Francis Mortons became a very large concern exporting pre-fabricated iron and corrugated buildings all over the world - buildings which included barracks, stations, schools, warehouses, sports pavilions, churches and barns. Mortons also built bridges, piers, tanks, barges, jetties and pontoons. They provided the heavy iron work for Clarence Dock Power Station, Stanley Abattoir, Brunswick Dock Grain Silo, No.1 Hanger at Speke Airport, Everton Football Ground stands and last but by no means least, the Liverpool Overhead Railway (LOR). The last remains of the LOR iron work can still be seen (though recently truncated) bearing the Morton name plate in the new hotel wall of the converted Wapping Warehouses. Girders weighting 88 tons for the Speke Road road-over-rail bridge were the largest ever produced at the time.

Garston Gas Works

Garston Gas works (1892) was unique at the time for producing only carburetted water gas, though coal gas was produced from 1921. The works later had an oil pipeline to the docks. The larger gas holder is one of the largest in the country with a capacity of four million cubic feet. Although no longer producing gas the plant is now the major distributor of North Sea gas for South Liverpool.

In 1893 the transfer of Messrs.
Wilson Brothers Bobbin Company Ltd. began from Todmorden. The firm came because land was available for expansion and the dock facility allowed the firm to operate a fleet of schooners to bring specialised timber from all over the world and to take the bobbins and shuttles required for the cotton industry to many countries. At its peak of production, Wilsons was the largest bobbin and shuttle manufacturing company in the world, turning out a million bobbins a week.

In 1899 the
Garston Tanning Company took over the twelve acre site as previously mentioned and became one of the largest tanneries in the country, processing 10,000 hides a week for a wide range of uses. Standing close to the historic site of a 13th century tannery, the firm was started by the Boston family, and though now using modern machinery, recently (2007) production ceased and the works closed. Sadly, the old drying sheds and soaking pits have been demolished and the firm was owned by Garton Leather, Scottish Tanning Industries..

In 1912
Elders and Fyffes Ltd., the banana importers, moved from Manchester to Garston Docks. As is well known, the banana was first introduced as a new fruit in Liverpool, and by 1936 the docks at Garston and Liverpool were handling more bananas than any other port in the United Kingdom. The terminal at Garston developed special discharging elevators and railway trucks, and was capable at its peak of handling 12,000 bunches of bananas a day, discharging as many as seventy-two shiploads in a year. Elders and Fyffes owned twenty-two ships, eleven of which were lost through enemy action during the Second World War. In 1965 Southampton became the company port and trade through Garston ceased.

Garston has been an important centre for
match manufacture since about 1887 when R. Bell and Company Ltd. built the Mersey Works (on Speke Road), though when this was taken over by Maguire, Paterson and Palmer Ltd. in 1919, a new match making factory was erected. In 1922 Bryant and May took over Maguire, Paterson and Palmer Ltd., which subsequently went into liquidation. The Mersey Works was closed down in 1994 but is being modified to become a commercial village. The administration building is the headquarters of the SGDC.

Speke Airport deserves a mention as part of the transport industry, having until the opening of the new terminal building actually in Speke, been much a part of Garston. The site features the oldest surviving aircraft hangar in the country. This hangar has the unusual feature of having been built by roofing over a farm yard, using the walls of farm buildings which formed three sides of the yard. The site is now the substantially developing Estuary Commerce park, the terminal building is the Marriott Hotel and one of the two surviving hangars houses the David Lloyd Leisure Centre.

The author acknowledges that a considerable amount of the information contained in this article is taken from the book "The Story of Garston and its Church" by the late Rev. J. M. Swift, M.A. (Hons. Cantab.), Vicar of Garston, published in 1937,

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