The Barracks, 1934 (courtesy Liverpool Record Office).

1881 Map

The history of West Derby is a bit outside of my comfort zone. The parish of West Derby was, I believe, once the largest in England, stretching almost as far as Preston. Its history goes back to Viking times (its name deriving from deor (deer) and by (village) – village with deer. The West was added later to distinguish it from Derby in Derbyshire). Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it had a wooden castle and royal hunting forest. An important administrative centre, its Courthouse still stands as the only freestanding post-medieval courthouse in Britain (it is the single-storey building on the left opposite the omnibus).
The photograph is interesting because it shows the village as it was making the transition from rural backwater to a commuter suburb for Liverpool merchants. Lord Sefton had set the tone by building the Church of St Mary as a grand entrance to Croxteth Park estate (just out of the photo behind the three boys). On the corner is a public house licensed to Phoebe Spencer, with a butchers run by Thomas Spencer. The pub’s name is difficult to decipher although the second word is Arms. Next door is a greengrocers, with the Tramway office and stables next to the Courthouse. The building just beyond, separated by an alley, is the Hare and Hounds Hotel.
The alley led to a small army barracks which was considered too small and eventually turned over to house a mix of local labourers and their families before being demolished soon after the photograph was taken in 1934. (The Barracks are marked on the 1881 as the two facing blocks just above the join in the map).The army moved to Deysbrook Barracks.
The village in 1887 had an interesting mix of saddlers, cowmen, gardeners and other small tradesmen and stockbrokers, cotton merchants, solicitors and surgeons. By 1910, the mix had changed again. The pub had become Walter Kerslake’s cycle manufacturers. Interestingly, the merchants, surgeons and ‘gentlemen’ (as men of independent means were called) are conspicuous by their absence – although nearby Hayman’s Green still maintained its ‘character’. Within twenty years, the urban sprawl had almost overwhelmed West Derby, although it still retains a village character at its centre. So much can change in a short time in the urban cycle.

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