Mersey miracles

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Photo of a man looking at a model of a castle within a glass case

Me studying the model of Liverpool Castle

Ruined castles have unique atmospheres with oodles of the “if these walls could speak” factor. I have always been attracted to these stone piles which have miraculously survived for centuries, relics of a vanished way of warfare. Liverpool once had a castle which dominated the town but it was swept away nearly 300 years ago.

Liverpool owes its existence to the River Mersey which was created about 8,000 years ago as global warming melted massive ice fields. This blanket of ice as high as St John’s Beacon covered the whole of Merseyside during the Ice Age. About 18,000 years ago the area was covered by an enormous glacier. Over many centuries the movement of ice and water changed the course of an earlier river valley. This also exposed the sandstone ridge upon which Liverpool was later built.

The warming process gradually created the River Mersey as sea levels rose. A small tidal creek on the north bank of the estuary also appeared. Eventually this became known as the Livered, or Muddy, Pool from which Liverpool took its name. This is the most likely explanation for the name of Liverpool, although its origins are lost in the mists of time and there is no documentary proof about the name.

A display in the Magical History Tour exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum focuses on the river. A map shows the coastline of the British Isles about 10,000 years ago. Exhibits include part of a prehistoric oak tree from the Weaver Valley in Cheshire, dating from around 2500 BC. In many areas of the North West, prehistoric forests were flooded as the sea rose.

Among the first people to use the river regularly were the Benedictine monks from Birkenhead Priory, the remains of which still stand near the Cammell Laird shipyard. The monks offered food and shelter to travellers and ran the first ferry across the river.

For centuries the fledgling port was dominated by the castle built in 1235 by William Ferrers, Sheriff of Lancaster. Although it was small compared with the great castles in North Wales – being only about 180 feet in length – it was the largest and most important building in Liverpool for nearly 300 years. By 1559 it was described as an “utter ruin” and it was finally demolished in 1720. The exhibition includes this fabulous model of the castle which I am seen admiring.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).