£350,000 boost for Merseyside’s oldest building

Birkenhead Priory is the oldest standing building in Merseyside, dating back to 1150, and its monks launched the first Mersey Ferry in 1318 – now it will see an investment of £350,000. Tony McDonough reports

Birkenhead Priory
One of the Cammell Laird cranes seen from Birkenhead Priory. Picture by Tony McDonough


One of Merseyside’s most historic sites – Birkenhead Priory – has secured a £350,000 funding boost.

Located close to the River Mersey and next to Cammell Laird shipyard, Birkenhead Priory is the oldest still-standing building in Merseyside. It was founded around 1150 by Hamon de Masci, 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey for the Benedictine order of monks.

In 1318, the monks were granted ferry rights by Edward II and began the first-ever ferry across the Mersey, initially to transport corn from a warehouse in Waters Street in Liverpool. The small area in front of the river is still known as Monks Ferry.

Now Wirral Council plans to spend more than £350,000 of its Town Deal funding on the site. This will see the transformation of one of the most eye-catching parts of the existing Priory into a much-improved – and more accessible – visitor attraction.

A revamp of the ‘Undercroft’, which dates back to the 14th century and features an imposing – and intact – vaulted stone ceiling, will make for a much-enhanced visitor experience.

Improvements supported by the Town Deal grant will also include the reinterpretation of displays to exhibit even more artefacts that tell visitors about the former monastery’s fascinating history, some using state-of-the-art museum equipment and technologies.

Visitors will be able to get a better view of the historic floor, with a new system to protect it from harm installed. Proposals have also been made to improve access to the refectory space on the floor above with the installation of a platform lift.


Birkenhead Priory
Visitor centre at Birkenhead Priory. Picture by Tony McDonough
Birkenhead Priory
Remains of St Mary’s Church, next to Birkenhead Priory. Picture by Tony McDonough


Other improvements are repairs to the historic Chapter House chapel and the installation of a new landmark lighting system on the tower of St Mary’s Church, the only remains of the church, which occupied the site between 1819 and 1977.

Cllr Helen Cameron, chair of the Tourism, Communities, Culture & Leisure committee for Wirral Council, said: “There are exciting plans to invest in, transform and improve the connection and accessibility of Birkenhead’s considerable heritage and historical assets.

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“Birkenhead Priory is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which is the oldest form of heritage protection, so there are very few buildings of such national importance in the area. It is the oldest building in Merseyside still standing.

“This investment will not only help to protect and preserve this amazing site for many years to come, it will also encourage more and more people to come and visit and find out about its remarkable past.”

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