In 1801, my wife being out of health, I was advised to take her from town. As Everton was recommended by Dr. Parks, I looked about in that neighbourhood, and after some difficulty obtained accommodation in a neat farm-house which stood on the rise of the hill. I say it was with difficulty that I could meet with the rooms I required, or any rooms at all, for there were so few houses at Everton, and the occupants of them so independent, that they seemed loth to receive lodgers on any terms.
It must appear strange to find Everton spoken of as being “out of town,” but it was literally so then. It was, comparatively speaking, as much so as West Derby, or any of the neighbouring villages round Liverpool, are at present.
The farm-house in which we resided has long since been swept away, with its barns, its piggery, and its shippon. Never more will its cornricks gladden the eye—never more will busy agricultural life be carried on in its precincts. Streets and courts full of houses cumber the ground.
No more will the lark be heard over the cornfield—the brook seen running its silvery course—or the apple in the orchard reddening on the bending bough. The lark is represented by a canary in a gilded cage hanging out of a first-floor window—the corn-field by the baker’s shop, with flour at eight pounds for a shilling—the brook is a sewer, and the apple is only seen at the greengrocer’s shop at the corner, in company with American cheese, eggs, finnon-haddies, and lucifer matches.
Ditch and hedge—the one with waving sedges and “Forget-me-nots” the other with the May blossom loading the evening air with its balmy breath—were as prevalent, at the time I speak about, in Everton, as you will now find in any country district. It was a pleasant place in summer and autumn time.
The neighbourhood of the Beacon was our favourite resort. Many a pleasant day we have spent at the top of it. The hill was covered with heather and gorse bushes. In winter it was as wild, bleak, and cold a place as any you could meet with. In the summer it was the delight of holiday-makers. A day’s “out” to the Beacon, at Everton, was a very favourite excursion. The hill-side on Sundays used to be thronged with merry people, old and young. The view obtained from Everton Beacon-hill was a view indeed.
And what a prospect! What a noble panoramic scene! I never saw its like. I do not think, in its way, such an one existed anywhere to be compared with it. At your feet the heather commenced the landscape, then came golden corn-fields and green pasture-lands, far and wide, until they reached the yellow undulating sand-hills that fringed the margin of the broad estuary, the sparkling waters of which, in the glow and fulness of the rich sunshine, gave life and animation to the scene, the interest of which was deeply enhanced, when on a day of high-tide, numbers of vessels might be seen spreading their snowy canvas in the wind as they set out on their distant and perilous voyages.
In the middle ground of the picture was the peninsula of Wirral, while the river Dee might be seen shimmering like a silver thread under the blue hills of Wales, which occupied the back ground of the landscape. Westward was the ocean—next, the Formby shore attracted the eye.
The sand-hills about Birkdale and Meols were visible. At certain seasons, and in peculiar states of the atmosphere, the hummocks of the Isle of Man were to be seen, while further north Black Combe, in Cumberland, was discernible.
Bleasdale Scar, and the hills in Westmoreland, dimly made out the extreme distance. Ashurst Beacon, Billinge, and at their back Rivington-pike, were visible. Carrying the eye along the Billinge range, there were Garswood-park, Knowsley and Prescot; the smoke from the little town of St. Helen’s might have been seen behind them. Far away to the eastward were the Derbyshire-hills.
Then we saw those of Shropshire, until the eye rested on the Chester ranges, Beeston and Halton Castles being plainly before us. The old city of Chester was discernible with a good glass. The eye moved then along the Welsh hills until it rested on the Ormeshead and travelled out upon the North sea. Below us, to our left, was the town of Liverpool, the young giant just springing into vigorous life and preparing to put forth its might, majesty and strength, in Trade, Commerce, and Enterprise. The man of 1801 can scarcely believe his eyes in 1862. The distant view is still there, from the top of Everton church tower, but how wonderfully is all the foreground changed.
The Beacon stood on the site of the eastern corner of Everton church. It was a square tower of two stories, and approached from the present Church-street by a little lane. Church-street was then a sandy winding road, having on one side the open heathery-hill, and on the other a low turf wall which enclosed the fields called “the Mosses,” which were indeed little better than marshes. The Beacon was constructed of the red sandstone taken from the vicinity. I am no antiquarian, so that I can give but a poor opinion of its original date of erection. It was said by some to have been of great age—long previous to the time of Queen Elizabeth. Some even ascribed it to the time of the Earl of Chester; but a learned friend of mine once told me, when talking on this subject, that that could not have been the case, as Beacons were not erected in tower shapes until after the time of Edward the Third.
Beacons, previously to that period, were merely lighted fires in cressets, grates, baskets of large size, or of faggots piled up. Everton Beacon certainly looked very old and dilapidated, and had stood the shock and buffet of some centuries. Its size was about six yards square; its height twenty-five feet. The basement floor was on a level with the ground, and was a square room in which there was, in one corner, a fireplace, much knocked about and broken. There was also a flight of narrow stone steps which led to the upper chamber. It was utterly bare of any fittings whatever; but in the walls were indications of there having been fixtures at some time.
There being no door to it the cattle which grazed on the hill had access to it at all times of storm or wind or heat, or as their bovine inclinations should prompt them to seek shelter, so that the floor, which was unflagged, was always in a very dirty state. On ascending the stairs access was obtained to the upper apartment which was lighted by a broad window facing the westward. This room had been used as a sleeping apartment by the guard or custodian of the Beacon, the window serving as a look-out.
I believe the combustibles used in lighting up the signals were stored in it, the lower room being occupied as the common living chamber. From the upper room a flight of stone steps led upon the roof or outer platform. In the south-west corner was a large stone tank in which the signal fires were lighted. It seemed to have been subjected to the action of intense heat. At one corner was a sort of pent-house which served as a shelter for the watchman in inclement weather.
On the east wall a gooseberry bush flourished surprisingly. How it came there no one knew—it had long been remembered in that position by every one who knew anything about the Tower.
A few years previous to the date I speak about, the Beacon was occupied by a cobbler who carried on his trade in it, and eked out a living by grazing a cow and some goats on the common land in the vicinity. He looked after them while he made, mended, or cobbled. It was a very current tradition in Everton that during the early part of the reign of Charles the First, people came up to Everton Beacon to be married, during the proscription of the clergy. When Thurot’s expedition was expected in 1760, it was said that Everton Hill was alive with people from the town waiting the freebooters’ approach.
A party of soldiers was then encamped on the hill, and I have been told the men had orders, on Thurot’s appearance, to make signals if by day, and to light up the Beacon if at night, to communicate the intelligence of the French fleet being off the coast to the other Beacons at Ashurst and Billinge, Rivington-pike and elsewhere, and so spread the news into the north; while signals would also be taken up at Halton, Beeston, the Wreken, and thence to the southward. The most perfect arrangements for the transmission of this intelligence are said to have been made; and I knew an old man at Everton who told me that he had on that occasion carted several loads of pitch-barrels and turpentine and stored them in the upper chamber of the Beacon to be ready in case of emergency. He said that during the French war, at the close of the reign of George the Second, the Beacon was filled with combustibles, and that there was a guard always kept therein.
I am not sure if it is very generally known that it was to a Liverpool captain the discovery of the sailing of the Armada must be ascribed, and through him was made public in England. This captain’s name was Humphrey Brook. He was outward bound from Liverpool to the Canaries when he saw the Spanish fleet in the distance, sailing north. Suspecting its errand he put his helm up and hastened back to Plymouth, where he spread the intelligence and caused it to be transmitted to London. He received substantial marks of favour from the Government for his foresight, prudence, and activity.
In 1804 a telegraph station was established at Everton. It stood where the schools are now built. It was discontinued in 1815. It consisted of an upright post whence arms extended at various angles—there was also a tall flag-staff for signals.
While we were at Everton, a Mr. Hinde erected a house at the corner of Priory-lane, which he intended should represent the Beacon; but it was not a bit like it originally, nor at the present time (for I believe the house is still standing). Mr. Hinde had not long erected his Tower before he found that it was giving way. To prevent it falling he ran up a wing to the westward. He then found that it was necessary to erect a southern wing to keep that side up also. Hence the present appearance of the house which has always been a subject of wonder and remark by strangers at its eccentric and unusual aspect.
I recollect St. Domingo Pit being much more extensive than it has been of late years. At one period it was fully one-third larger than it is now. Those large stones that stand by its brink are the “Mere Stones.” There were several more stones about which marked Everton’s ancient boundaries. There was one, I recollect, in the West Derby-road, near the Zoological Gardens. I often wonder if this relic of the past has been preserved. A branch of the Pool ran up the westward and formed an ornamental water in the grounds that skirted the Pool, a rustic bridge being thrown over it. The cottage at one corner of the Pool is the ancient pinfold, and the rent of it was paid to the lord of the manor.
The view from this part of Everton was very fine before houses began to spring up in its vicinity. I do not know a finer prospect anywhere about Liverpool. When we were staying at Everton there were very few houses. I dare say there were not fifty houses in the whole district, and the inhabitants did not muster more than 400 souls; and it was not until 1818 or 1820 that much increase took place in its population.
27th February 2020 by