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Bootle - A brief history

Bootle Coat Of Arms with the motto,
Respice, Aspice, Prospice'
Look backwards, look around, look forward.
©John Bradley

Bootle as it was described in 1901:

This township has a frontage to the Mersey of nearly a mile and a half in length and extends landward about two miles. The area is 1,207 acres. The land rises from the river eastward, until near Walton an elevation of 150 ft. is reached. The population in 1901 was 58,556. There is scarcely a square yard of ground left that is not covered with crowded streets, railways, timber-yards, canal wharfs, and, last but not least, extensive docks and quays. A forest of masts and funnels takes the place of green trees, and solid stone walls reflect themselves in the River Mersey instead of grassy slopes. Huge warehouses rise up on every side. The hum of machinery mingles with the cries of flocks of seagulls and the rush of passing and repassing vessels of all descriptions. The North Wall lighthouse and the battery are conspicuous objects along the river wall.

Town Hall
Bootle was previously known as; Botle, 1212, 1237; Botull, 1306; Bothull, 1332; Bothell, 1348. The town was traversed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway from Liverpool to Southport and from the docks to Aintree, with two stations, Bootle and Marsh Lane; by the London and North Western Company's line from the docks to Edge hill, with stations at Balliol Road and Alexandra Dock; and by the Midland Company's line to the docks. The Liverpool Overhead Railway, which opened in 1893, ran along the dock road, with its terminus at Seaforth. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal also pass through the Bootle.

Bootle Village 1911
In 1768 the village of Bootle was situated almost in the centre of the combined township, where Litherland Road now meets Merton Road. On the south side was a large open space; to the north was the famous spring, later marked by a pumping station. There was also a windmill as well as a watermill, to the north-east of St. Mary's Church. From the village various roads spread out. One, now Merton Road, led to the shore just to the north of one of the Bootle landmarks, where there where curiously-shaped signal posts for the guidance of ships entering the Mersey. Clayfield Lane, now Breeze Hill, led to Walton church and village. Field Lane, now Hawthorne Road, led to Kirkdale. Trinity Road and Derby Road seem more or less to represent the road to the lord's manor-house at Bank Hall; to the side of this road towards the river was Bootle Marsh. Gravehouse Lane led from near the spring, first east and then north, to join the present Linacre Lane at the Orrell boundary.

Linacre village was situated on the present Linacre Road, between the point at which this road is joined by Linacre Lane and the Litherland boundary. The shore side of the township was called Linacre Marsh and Marsh Lane led down to it. The northern boundary was Rimrose Brook; the southern was another brook rising in Bootle and flowing to the river parallel to the mill stream.

Bootle was once a 'pleasant marine village, which in the summer season was a place for locals and those from outside the area to come and bathe. 'The ride along the beach, in the summer, would have been remarkably pleasant and therefore very popular. However, the growth of Liverpool trade turned the seaside summer resort into a busy town. The sandy shore was reclaimed for the largest of the Mersey Docks, namely the Brocklebank and Langton, which opened in 1881. Alexandra dock, with three branches also opened in 1881 along with Hornby. To the north of Hornby Dock was a large open space, in the northwest corner of which was the Seaforth Battery. On the river wall there was a lighthouse. In Breeze Hill. There was a large dye works, corn mills, and jute works, however, the occupations of the inhabitants of Bootle were principally connected with docks and railways, the timber-yards and grain stores.

The town hall and public offices, built in 1882, were situated in Balliol Road. Baths and a public library were also provided. There were also two hospitals.

Balliol Road Baths

St Marys circa 1910
The area provided well for the spiritual needs of its community with a large number of churches catering for residents of all denominations. The earliest church in Bootle was St. Mary's, consecrated in 1827. Christ Church was built in 1866, and St. John's Church, Balliol Road, about the same time. St. Leonard's, Linacre, was built in 1889; and St. Matthew's, also in Linacre, in 1887. The Wesleyan Methodists had several places of worship. The church in Balliol Road was built in 1864, that in Linacre Road in 1900, and Marsh Lane in 1903; they also had Wesley Hall, in Sheridan Place. For Welsh-speaking members there were churches in Trinity Road, built in 1877, and in Knowsley Road. The Primitive Methodists had a church in Queen's Road. The Baptist church in Stanley Road was built in 1846. The Welsh church in Brasenose Road was built in 1871, the work having begun in 1863. A church in Rhyl Street dated from 1884. Emmanuel Congregational church, Balliol Road, opened in 1876. For Welsh-speaking Congregationalists there were two churches; one represented a movement by members of the Kirkdale church in 1878–83, and the other was the result of dissension in the congregation in 1884–5. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodists had two places of worship. Trinity Presbyterian church, built in 1887, is a migration from Derby Road, Kirkdale, where a start was made in 1855. Another church in Linacre was erected in 1896, work having begun in 1883. There was a Mission in Ash Street and a Church of Christ, near Bootle waterworks, and some other meeting-places.

Ash Street Mission
For Roman Catholics there were two churches. The foundation of the mission at St. James's, Marsh Lane, was made in 1845, when a room on the canal bank was hired for worship. In the following year a school chapel was built in Marsh Lane and enlarged in 1868. In 1884 the whole of the buildings and site were purchased by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, but a new church, on an adjacent site, was opened early in 1886. St. Winefride's, Derby Road, was opened in 1895.

Bootle bomb damage 1941

The docks made Bootle a target for Nazi German Luftwaffe bombers during the Liverpool Blitz of the Second World War, with approximately 90% of the houses in the town damaged. Bootle had the sad distinction of being the most heavily-bombed borough in the UK. However, Bootle played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic. The famous u-boat hunter the Royal Navy's Captain Frederic John 'Johnny' Walker, sank more U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic than any other British or Allied commander and was instrumental in the Allied victory of the Battle of the Atlantic.
Johnnie Walker's grandson, Patrick Walker, continues the Walker association with the Royal Navy. He was also a submariner and has achieved the rank of captain of the First Submarine Squadron. He is also President of the Captain Walker's Old Boys Association dedicated to Captain Walker and the men who served with him. The Association disbanded in 2004 as many of the members were now too old to attend. The Standard is now on display in Bootle Town Hall along with many memorabilia of Walkers ships. Starlings bell is rung to commence each Council Meeting. In 1998 a statue by Liverpool sculptor Tom Murphy of Captain Johnnie Walker in a typical pose was unveiled at the Pier Head in Liverpool by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. The campaign for the statue had been launched by the Captain Walker's Old Boys Association. Members of the Association met in Liverpool during the 60th Anniversary of the victory of the Battle of the Atlantic in 2003 to commemorate their comrades.

Bootle Strand
After the War large council housing estates were built inland from the town centre, including the area of Netherton, which was built on new town principles. The centre of the town was redeveloped and the 'Bootle New Strand' shopping centre was opened in the late 1960s. At the same time, new offices were built in the town centre. The town however lost its access to the beach when neighbouring Seaforth Sands was redeveloped in the early 1970s, but the Seaforth Container Port brought new jobs into the area. The local authority, and other 'social' landlords, saw to it that new housing was built and older stock renovated. Bootle, unlike neighbouring Liverpool did not go down the route of massive housing clearance, and many local communities remained intact.

The badge that was given to Bootle schoolchildren
to celebrate the centenary of the borough in 1968
The borough celebrated its centenary in 1968 and civic pride was much in evidence. The decline of the docks in the 1960s and 1970s caused high unemployment and a declining population as people moved out of the area to seek work. The establishment of large office blocks housing government departments and the National Girobank provided employment for some, but vacancies were filled largely people from outside the Bootle/Liverpool area. In the early 1970s local government reorganisation saw Bootle lose its borough status, to be absorbed into the new local authority of Sefton.


National Archives
British History
Liverpool Records Office
Liverpool Central Library

By Robert F Edwards

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