Transformation of a dreary and desolate waste
Oxton and Burton are the only two villages on Wirral whose names
have remained unchanged for at least eight centuries. The earliest
mention of ownership of land at Oxton was in a charter of the twelfth
century, when Hugh Domville granted land in the area to nearby Birkenhead
Priory. And it is generally thought that monks kept numerous oxon
there, hence the villages name.
By the sixteenth century Oxton had passed, often by marriage, through
various parts of the Domville family, such as the Hulses and the
Troutbrecks, but was " recovered" by knight John Talbot and dame
Margaret "in favour of George, Earl of Shrewsbury and Francis Talbot,
son and heir apparent". Public houses and roads still exsist in
Oxton named Shrewsbury and Talbot, although the origional Talbot
Road is now Barnard Road. The Talbot family, had by the early seventeenth
century, collected twenty seven manors, all in Cheshire.
At an "Inquisition Post Mortem" of 1620, enquiring after the death
of John Talbot, (grandson of George mentioned earlier), the value
of each was given. The poorest manor was that of Thornton Grange,
at two shillings while the richest was Little Budworth, at £17.
Oxton was rated as eleventh richest, and worth £5. There appears
to be little documentation regarding the fate of Oxton in the eighteenth
century but it is mentioned by both Wirral and Cheshire historians
in the following century.
Ormerod, in 1819 wrote " The village of Oxton is mean and small,
composed of wretched straggling huts, amongst impassable roads.
The township occupies an eminence which commands a full view of
the buildings and shipping of Liverpool .... but no degree of civilization
or improvement has reached this part of the opposite shore, which
is a scene of solitude broken in upon only with the voice of the
cowherd or the cry of the plover, Bleak and barren moors stretch
around it in ever direction and exhibit an unmixed scene of poverty
Mortimer, in "The Hundreds of Wirral" quotes an 1812 itineray of
Cheshire I which described Oxton as " dreary and desolate, presenting
a scene of extreme misery and and destitution.” The population table
for Oxton in 1810 shows that out of twenty seven houses, twenty
two families were in agriculture and the remaining five were in
“trade". This would imply that the agricultural families farmed
their own land, that is to say, had their own small holdings.
However, by 1847, Mortimer could write "The greater part of the
township, then a barren waste, has since been enclosed, and it is
studded with detached residences to which every week witness the
addition of others" He went onto say that this was caused by the
Earl of Shrewsbury granting building leases for a fixed term. As
a result, Liverpool merchants took advantage of the "scheme" obtaining
land at a small annual rental and pouring their capital into erecting
homes of their choice.
The village rapidly expanded and elegant villas, and houses of every
description and style of architecture.sprung up. This lead to Mortimer
saying "The commanding situation of Oxton can hardly be exceeded,
and its proximity to the Birkenhead ferries will ensure a continuance
of that prosperity, which appears to attach to every part of the
township.” Also, " Few places posses greater advantage of situation
than Oxton.... and will ever command a preference with those who
wish for a near country retreat.”
Although to-day, many regard Oxton as being a suburb or Birkenhead,
it has kept its own distinctive character. When the merchants built
their properties in the area many were built of similar local materials.
A few have even been singled out by the Department of the Environment
as of sufficient architectural or historical merit to be "Listed"
These buildings are essential examples of our architectural heritage,
and planning control over them covers any extension or alteration
which is likely to affect their character.
There is little doubt, that because of its location Oxton would,
inevitably, have developed of its own accord. However, it owes a
great debt to the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Liverpool merchants.
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