Updated May 2022
Childwall Woods has remained virtually unchanged since they were planted in the 1700s, however, through the years their name has changed as have their owners. The woods were originally the grounds of Childwall Hall the seat of a wealthy landowner and were known as The Grounds. They extended from Childwall Abbey Road to The Black Woods, and from Countisbury Drive to Woolton Rd. The owners of the hall owned vast amounts of land and planted much of it as woodlands, some of it still existing today as Childwall Woods and the Black Woods.
The area from Childwall Lane up to Childwall Woods is known today as Childwall Fields. A hundred years ago this area was known as Childwall Park, a name that has gone from the fields but lives on in Childwall Park Road, nearby. Childwall Park was different in every way from Childwall Fields, its transformation taking decades and still continuing today.
Childwall Hall and its grounds
There has always been some kind of Manor House associated with Childwall going back to the 1600s and it has had a long list of owners. It is recorded that the Earl of Derby owned the manor known as Childwall in 1614 but during the Civil War, his lands were taken by parliament. The Earl managed to regain ownership years later only to sell some of them on to raise funds to clear his debts. Documents show that Childwall Manor, occupied at the time by Isabel Houghton was in August 1657, sold or rather mortgaged to Dame Elizabeth Finch and Edward Bagnell. It seems that having a mortgage and cohabiting is not a modern phenomenon after all.
Elizabeth and Edward did not own the manor for long. On 14th October 1658, it was again sold for £4,700 to brothers Peter and Isaac Legay, who are described as Merchants of London. The following year Peter relinquished his right to the manor and Isaac Legay became the sole owner.
Isaac Legay remained the owner until his death in 1680 when the lands and the house went to his son Samuel Legay who himself died ten years later in 1690, leaving the land and the house to his 2 sisters Hannah Hollis and Martha Solly. Having no use for the manor and land themselves they sold them on in 1718 to Isaac Greene of Prescot, a wealthy attorney practising in Liverpool.
Isaac Greene married Mary Aspinall, daughter and heir of Edward Aspinall of Hale, and became Lord of Hale as well as of the manors of Childwall, Wavertree, Much and Little Woolton, and West Derby.
It seems to have been at this time that many trees were planted around the hall, creating The Grounds, and further afield to create areas for hunting.
Isaac had 3 daughters who inherited his wealth on his death in 1749, Childwall Hall and grounds going to Mary, the youngest of the three. Mary (1729-1799) married Bamber Gascoyne (1724-1791), son of Sir Crisp Gascoyne (Gascoigne) in 1756 and went on to have a son and heir also named Bamber on 26th November 1757.
The map of 1769 shows Childwall Heath as the name of the area where Childwall Hall stood. Trees can be seen around the hall and by the road to Woolton where the Black Woods stand today. By the time this map was drawn Isaac and Mary had passed away, and their estate held by their daughter Mary and her husband Bamber Gascoyne Snr. Bamber junior still just a boy.
From the age of the beech and sweet chestnut trees in Childwall woods today it is apparent they were planted roughly 300 years ago, around the time that Isaac and Mary moved to the hall. Thank you, Isaac and Mary, for creating our beautiful Childwall Woods.
Bamber Gascoyne Jnr (1757-1824), son of Mary and Bamber Snr, married Sarah Bridget Francis Price (1766 – 1820) and took a career in politics becoming a member of Parliament for Liverpool in 1780. When he inherited the estate he decided the hall was not to his liking and demolished it to build a new castellated hall to the design of the popular architect John Nash. It looked very much like a medieval castle and was given the nickname of The Abbey by locals.
The new Childwall Hall was built from the local Bunter Sandstone and no expense was spared. Bamber Jnr had a love of books and a huge library was built, along with a billiard room, and an oak Gothic Sarcophagus took pride of place amongst the ornate style of furnishing. The woodland around the hall was planted almost a century before but now was turned into ‘the grounds’.
A wonderful curved carriageway was cut into the sandstone to carry important visitors to the newly built Hall, and within the grounds, an ornamental woodland walk was created through sunken gardens we now call the Folly, (Monkey Island to locals) past variegated holly and rare variegated oak trees. Planted heavily with ornamental trees, what a wonderful spectacle it would have been in its day. All this designed to showcase their wealth and impress the many visitors entertained there. Bamber spent so much time entertaining, that he was asked to step down from his parliamentary seat in 1796 due to his many absences from parliament.
A hall so grand with a carriageway needed a gatehouse and a castellated lodge was built by the main gates where visitors would enter. Also designed by John Nash it still stands today, as a private residence on Childwall Abbey Road but cannot disguise its origins.
Another lodge was built on the path from the Hall to Woolton Road and visitors on foot would have had to walk through its grand archway. It no longer stands but remains can be found in the woodland floor
Bamber Jnr died on 17th January 1824 and his only child, a daughter Francis Mary (1802-1839) inherited the Hall and grounds. Francis Mary married the Second Marquis of Salisbury soon afterwards and moved away from Childwall Hall.
This grand old hall when used as a residence
The hall was let to many tenants, one of them the shipping owner Sir Thomas Brocklebank of the Cunard-Brocklebank shipping line and later his son Ralph Brocklebank.
Another tenant was the wealthy importer Mr Hugh Schintz and his wife, who used the stables as garages for their many cars.
Childwall Golf Club was another tenant of Childwall Hall.
This aerial photograph from 1932 shows the hall in its full glory with its huge stable block behind. Notice the bunkers on the fields and the cars around the entrance belonging to the golfers that day. If you look carefully you will see 2 white pergolas or maybe a bandstand in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.
The Hall became empty in 1938 when its final tenants Childwall Golf Club moved out. They had rented the hall from 1922 to 1938 when they moved to their present site in Gateacre, leaving the hall empty.
Liverpool Corporation bought 50 acres of its parkland from the owner for £10,000 in 1939 and was given the hall and 4.5 acres as a gift. It was planned that the house would be used as a college, however, it was not a good design for a college and when it was found to be riddled with dry rot in 1949 it was demolished.
A college was later built on its site and the woodlands fenced off from the college in 1960. It was then open to residents and 6 years later in 1966, the woods were opened to the public. Childwall Woods was born.
Below is an article from the Liverpool Echo in 1967 when a commemorative tree was planted to mark the opening of the woods to the public. The article states that Lord Cranborne, the grandson of the Marquis of Salisbury, the original owners, was there at the opening.
It is very interesting to read that the tree, a ‘purple-leafed beech’ was given to the Liverpool corporation by Mr George Mellor, who was the Chairman of the Childwall Woods Preservation Society, and watching was the Vice-Chairman Mr F Howard Andrews. This certainly sounds like a predecessor of Friends of Childwall Woods and Fields.
The college was later sold on to Lime Pictures who are the owners of the land today.
In 2004 the site was recognised as being an important habitat for wildlife and was designated as a Local Nature Reserve.
The photographs below show the celebration that was held to mark this achievement. Thanks to Diane Jones for contributing these. Di tells us that this took place in the area just behind the commemorative tree as you walk through the main gates on Childwall Abbey Road, now covered in brambles.
The woods and fields are still owned by Liverpool Council but this 39-acre site is now part of the Mersey Forest and managed in partnership with, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Liverpool City Council and Friends of Childwall Woods and Fields.
Although the Hall has gone, it has left behind many reminders of the important role it played in shaping this beautiful Local Nature Reserve we now call Childwall Woods and Fields.
Below you will see a map to help you locate many of the places described in the narrative.
As you enter Childwall Woods from Childwall Abbey Road main gate you will see the remains of the ‘moat’ ‘ravine’ or ‘carriageway’ as it is sometimes called.
This is the long carriageway that was cut by Bamber Gascoyne Jnr to take the horse-drawn carriages of the day, through the grounds to the newly rebuilt Hall.
During the Access and Habitat Improvement Project which took place in 2021 the carriageway was scraped to make it passable on foot and became a beautiful route into the heart of the reserve.
The carriageway was cut deep into the Bunter Sandstone and this has been identified as a regionally important geological site (RIGS) exposing the layers of sandstone during the excavation.
The carriageway is an interesting place to walk with some fine features along the way.
It curves round to the site where the Hall used to stand, now the home of Lime Pictures.
Hidden in the yew trees, not far from the end of the carriageway and next to the site of the old Hall, is the site of the family Chapel now covered by ivy which covers the arched door. Steps up from the Hall can still be found at the side of the wall. Well worth a look around as it has many secrets still to be uncovered if you have the time.
You will notice 2 sets of concrete steps here. These are nothing to do with the old chapel or the Hall but belonged to the Scout Hut that stood there before it was burnt down by vandals 50 years ago. One set of steps at each end.
The stables would have been just behind this.
The stable block of the old hall is still quite visible inside the campus of Lime Pictures, who kindly allowed this door to the stables to be photographed for our website. Not visible in the woods but just on the other side of the fence in our neighbour’s yard.
Echos of the grandeur of the stable block can be found in the circular windows that remain on the site, tiled at a time when the stables became a garage and now netted due to their fragile condition.
Again thanks to Lime Pictures for letting us use these images from their campus
Next to the carriageway is a sunken area with steps down, opening up to expose a large sandstone outcrop known locally as ‘Monkey Island’.
Many stately homes have a Folly perched up high on a hill to show their wealth. In the grounds of Childwall Hall, the Folly is cut deep into the rock creating a sunken garden used by the residents of the hall in its glory days. Part of the woodland walk past variegated oaks and holly trees. A wide set of steps to show its importance.
Throughout the northwest part of the woods, there are glimpses of sandstone walls that were once associated with the hall and its outbuildings. This one is near the Countisbury Drive Entrance.
Below are the remains of a building adjacent to the wall. The burial place for the beloved animals that had once lived on the estate, and it is thought it was created to honour the beloved horses who died in a fire in the stables and were buried here, along with the dogs from the hall. A suitable burial place for the animals belonging to the family.
If you look carefully on the ground and underneath the leaf litter you can find a metal relic of a gate. No one can explain what it is but it shows us there was something across the path in the past. A gate maybe?
This is a copy of an original watercolour by A. Moscrop depicting the second gatehouse different to the one on Childwall Abbey Road but still reflecting the castle-like design of the Hall. This was kindly donated to FCWF by Ray Lowe whose father William ‘Billy’ Lowe was born in this lodge when his grandfather worked in the stables.
The OS map for 1904 shows a building with the path going through it near the Woolton Road entrance to the woods.
There is just one photograph of the second lodge, shown earlier on this page and with the path going through it would have been a perfect fit for this footprint.
The walls can be found today, now between 2 paths which have replaced the one shown on the map. They are heavily disguised with a century of leafmould and ferns but are there for those who want to find them.
The woods themselves owe their diversity and beauty to the planting that went on by the original owners of the hall. Some of the specimens originally planted are now huge mature trees and bushes, homes for bats and woodpeckers amongst many other creatures great and small.
These beautiful old beech trees standing in a row are close to the site of the old Hall and this wonderful gnarled sweet chestnut (below) is at the end of the carriageway and was certainly around to witness the comings and goings of the Gascoyne family.
But it was most probably the wealthy shipping merchants who brought in the rhododendrons and other rare imported trees.
Most probably the Brocklebanks, father and son, who were both tenants at Childwall Hall were responsible for many of the specimens on the ornamental woodland walk. As the owners of a shipping line, they would have been able to import trees and plants quite easily and their wealth would have made it possible for them to buy rare cultivars and grafted trees.
150 years later, with no wealthy tenants to maintain the site the Rh ponticum has filled every space, hiding rare grafted trees such as the variegated oaks and the ancient hybrid rhododendrons.
Maybe there are still other gems waiting to be discovered amongst the ancient rhododendrons to surprise and delight the walker who happens to look carefully enough. Maybe you have spotted the variegated holly and thick ropes of honeysuckle by the folly.
Two rare Variegated Oak trees, maybe 150years old, can be found on the site of Childwall Woods. Rare, as there are only 69 of these beautiful hybrid trees in the whole of Britain and Ireland. For more information visit the Champion Tree page.
The area that we know as Childwall Fields was once known as Childwall Park and was a gentle grassy slope up from Childwall Lane to the border of Childwall Woods, looking very different to the Childwall Fields that we know today. Its original entrance used to be on Childwall Lane but was boarded up many years ago and that led on to the gradual slope which had just a few small trees and bushes, nothing like the fields and woods we see today.
The lower northern corner of the fields, next to Childwall Lane, used to be the site of the village cross and is clearly shown on the 1904 map, but was moved and today the cross stands proudly on Childwall Lane, overlooking the pedestrian loop of Crossways.
Childwall Park became Childwall Golf Club in 1922 when the hall was rented by Childwall Golf Club and the bunkers bear witness to this on the aerial photo higher on the page.
Throughout World War 2 the land known as the fields was used to grow vegetables and essential food crops that were in short supply. After the war had ended the fields changed again but now to pasture for sheep. Still the gentle slope up to the woods.
In the 1960s the slope disappeared under hundreds of tons of garbage when the area was used as a huge landfill site which continued into the 1970s. Tipping eventually stopped and after burning off as much as possible the site was allowed to settle and the 3 fields we see today were created. The reason for defiling this gentle slope was to create three level areas that could be used by the college as football pitches. The fields were capped with clay and then covered with a layer of soil before being used for a short time as sports fields, but when the college was sold to Lime Pictures, the fields were given back to nature, and an amazing variety of grasses, wildflowers, bushes and trees now cover this site, disguising what lies beneath.
In the 1980s the Fields became the focus of the research done by PhD students from Liverpool University who took on the challenge of planting a variety of trees to see which species would grow best if any, on a former landfill site and the mixed plantation on the SE part of the lower field was created.
Childwall Fields was one of 12 former landfill sites in the region that was planted for research purposes and 30 years later has proven to be one of the best. The whole area has now matured into the perfect habitat for a variety of animals, birds, flora and fauna, as well as becoming a wonderful asset to the community.
The 3 fields are quite different in character with the top field being the most friendly for walkers and offering a spectacular view across Lancashire.
Childwall Woods and Fields has grown into a treasured amenity that its original creators could never have imagined it would become. This beautiful Local Nature Reserve that was once the grounds of a stately home has been taken back by nature giving us a wonderful opportunity to glimpse the beauty of the natural countryside. It is managed yet it is wild, is in the city yet in the countryside, is the same as it was but is everchanging and must be preserved for generations to come.
Artefacts found on the site
Photos are shown with the kind permission of Pete, who found all of these items on the site using a metal detector.
More of Pete’s finds to come as they are unearthed.
Author: B Cameron – Secretary, Friends of Childwall Woods and Fields
Photographs are the authors own unless stated otherwise.
City of Liverpool Consultation Portal –
Pye, K. (2011). Discover Liverpool. Liverpool: Trinity Mirror Media, cited in Hugh Harris: Childwall Hall and Woods, SJ4188 – a timeline – https://activenaturalist.org.uk/mbb/node/232https://activenaturalist.org.uk/mbb/node/232
RSPB give Nature a home
The Naturalists’ Notebook. The blog of the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association
Wild, Jonathan. The History of Childwall – http://www.childwall.info/take-the-tour/4576504282