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History – Kirkby

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The name Kirk-by means church and settlement. Its origin may have taken place prior to the Norse who are believed to have arrived via Ireland around 900 A.D.. It is further believed that a simple chapel existed here about 870 A.D., this tradition being inscribed on a stone at the base of the cross which was erected within the present Kirkby parish church grounds in 1875. Though there is no evidence to support this claim, a chapel is known to have existed on this site after the Norman Conquest.

Cross in the grounds of Kirkby Parish Church


Font, St Chad’s Church, Kirkby

An early surviving artefact of the period is a red sandstone Norman font which is now located inside the present parish Church of St. Chad. This indicates that the practice of baptism has taken place from at least that early period onwards to the present day.

In the Domesday Survey of 1086, Kirkby was mentioned as Cherchebi, one of the six manors held by Uctred; the others being Roby, Knowsley, Crosby, Maghull, and Aughton. In the 11th Century, the area now known as South Lancashire was identified as the land between the Ribble and the Mersey. This land was divided into six Hundreds or Wapentakes, Kirkby being part of the Derbei Wapentake, or West Derby Hundred. It is believed that this Hundred, originally contained around thirty settlements with a total population of around 2,000 people; Kirkby’s proportion therefore may have been as few as 70.

Over the centuries, the ownership of land around the Kirkby settlement passed through the hands of many families and it was not until the Molyneux family purchased the manor lands in their entirety in the 16th Century (partly in the 1560 s and partly in 1596), that a semblance of continuity existed.

The Molyneux family like many others in the area were staunch Catholics who retained their religious beliefs despite the pressures of the English Reformation. Their patronage of Kirkby was lost though in 1747 as a result of the head of the Molyneux family taking up holy orders in the Catholic Church.

Conversion to the Church of England came with the marriage of Charles William Molyneux in 1768 and a few years later in 1771, he was created Earl of Sefton. The Manor of Kirkby continued to be held by successive Earls of Sefton until 1947 when the land was sold to the Liverpool Corporation.

By 1766, the ancient Kirkby Chapel was in a decayed state and the then minister Reverend Thomas Wilkinson raised funds to replace the building which was duly constructed in plain red brick.

Kirkby Chapel, built 1766

Various additions and enlargements took place to the Chapel over the next fifty years to encompass a much needed School Room and a Vestry. But over time this became too small for the needs of the community and it too was replaced with larger purpose built buildings.

Kirkby School, built 1806

A Church School was erected in 1806 on land given by Lord Sefton. This was further enlarged in 1851 and extended in 1907, continuing to be used for education in the township until 1967.

St Chad’s Parish Church, Kirkby, consecrated in 1871

The present parish church of St. Chad was begun in 1869 and consecrated in 1871 by the Lord Bishop of Chester; located adjacent to the old Chapel. It was designed by Paley and Austin in red stone and has many Gothic and Norman features which give the appearance of an older structure. The old chapel was taken down in 1872, its stone used to build a wall around the new church. Both chapel and church were dedicated to St. Chad, who in the 7th Century was the Bishop of Lichfield.

Kirkby Corn Mill

For centuries a Mill had existed in Kirkby and the flooding of land by use of dams had caused many legal disputes dating back to the 14th Century. The Corn Mill was in use until the early 20th Century when it was destroyed by fire. During the summer-time, Mill Dam Lake was used for boating and recreation purposes.

Boating on Kirkby Mill lake





Until the mid-19th Century communication to and from the rural townships of Kirkby and Simonswood was poor. A new form of transport arrived with the introduction of the Liverpool, Bolton and Bury Railway in 1848 which brought new travel opportunities to the people of the area. Kirkby’s population thereafter decreased until the Second World War. Further development took the form of the Kirkby Waterworks, built in 1848 by St. Helens Corporation; a Pumphouse to which was added in the 1888.

Kirkby Railway Station


Kirkby Waterworks and Tower

In general Kirkby’s rural lifestyle remained little changed until well into the 20th Century when sectors of land were required for other purposes.

A notable burial took place at St Chad’s churchyard in 1930 when Robert Atherton also known as Robin O’Bobs, Rupert Upperton and by some as the ‘Lancashire Burns’ passed away. He was born in Kirkby in 1861, spent his youth as a ploughboy, then took holy orders and for 15 years was Rector at Bolnhurst Parish Church in Bedfordshire. He also composed rhymes and verse which were published in booklets and when he left the church in 1904, he took up the role of wandering poet before returning to Kirkby where he settled at Pear Tree Farm.

The opening of the East Lancashire Road in 1934 made Kirkby more accessible and though plans for an industrial estate here were considered (after the success of the developments at Speke and Aintree), the coming of war postponed industrial changes for some years.

The threat of war lead to a Government decision to build a munitions factory in the area and work began on the site in late 1939. A vast tract of land was needed and due to the urgency involved, short notice was given to the occupiers of the twelve farms affected by the construction. The Royal Ordnance Factory completed in early 1941, became a major employer, with a workforce increasing to around 20,000 people by its peak in 1942, many workers travelling in from Liverpool, Birkenhead, St. Helens, Southport, Wigan and Warrington by bus and tram.

Main Gate, Royal Ordnance Factory, Kirkby


Administration Building, Royal Ordnance Factory, Kirkby (demolished in 2018)


General view of Royal Ordnance Factory, Kirkby

In post-war years, Liverpool City Council bought the site for industrial development. Industrialists gradually took up the challenge and Kirkby Industrial Estate was born. Expansion through 1950s and 1960s made it one of the largest in the country. In 1971, the estate employed over 26,000 people.

Kirkby Training College blazer badge


Kirkby Training College students

Following the Second World War, the site at Kirkby Fields that had been used as a hostel for important munitions workers at Royal Ordnance Factory became Kirkby Training College, a Liverpool Corporation facility operated to provide emergency training to teaching staff. This college was officially opened on 5th July 1948.

Main gate, Malayan Teachers’ Training College


Federation of Malaya Teachers’ Training College crest

Once Kirkby Training College was no longer required, the site was acquired by the Malayan Government to be used as the Federation of Malaya Teachers’ Training College (the first ever training college in Britain operated by a foreign power). This college was in operation from 1952-1962 during which time over 1,300 qualified male and female teachers were trained, many of whom later became pillars of Malaysian society.

Hand-in-hand with the progress of the Industrial Estate came huge housing developments which were in turn to relieve the problems in Liverpool of overcrowding and insanitary dwellings. Consequently Kirkby, with new developments in the areas of Southdene, Westvale and Northwood, lost its old image of a rural farming community and gained the status of ‘New Town‘. The modest post-war population of around 3,000 people, increased considerably as a result and a whole new infrastructure was implemented to support the influx of such large numbers for, by 1961, the population of Kirkby exceeded 50,000.

By the late 1950s, it was realised that to avoid overcrowding within the newly constructed areas, further housing was needed and the result was the construction of the Tower Hill Estate, the first phase of which was completed in 1967.

Greater control over the area’s future came with the creation of Kirkby Urban District Council in 1958 and the following year it produced a five-year plan. New buildings and recreational areas appeared rapidly: Kirkby Market opened in 1960, followed in 1961 by Westvale Community Centre, Webster’s Park, a College of Further Education and a Police Headquarters. In 1964, Kirkby Library opened it’s doors as did Kirkby Athletics and Sports Stadium, which was opened by J. Harold Wilson M.P., the then Prime Minister. Harold Wilson was again on hand to open the Kirkby Civic Buildings on 19th April 1969.

Kirkby Urban District Council crest


Kirkby Market


Kirkby Library, Newtown Gardens

Improvements to the transport network were made when the first phase of M57 Motorway (junctions 4-7) was completed in 1972.  Access to and from Kirkby township being made along Valley Road to Junction 6.

Local government re-organisation in 1974 brought Kirkby into the newly created Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley. Further changes to the infrastructure of the township were now due to take place.

Leisure facilities improved in the area when J & A Kirkby Entertainments Centre (including a Bingo and Social Club) opened on 21st November 1975 followed soon after by their two-screen cinema which as a first film showed ‘Paint Your Wagon’ featuring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood in early January 1976. Films continued to be shown there until the cinema closed on 1st August 1982.

Crowds gathered to welcome Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Kirkby on 25th October 1978 during her tour of Merseyside.

Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Kirkby, pictured in Kirkby Row

As time passed, Kirkby needed regeneration and so during the mid-1990s, the town centre received a make-over which included modifications to Kirkby Library and two new installations in Newtown Gardens: a colourful hexagonal stemmed clock was positioned near the post office and a bandstand was erected opposite the library to be used for community events.

During 1998, a major employer in the form of QVC opened a call centre and warehouse in South Boundary Road and in the same year Liverpool Football Club opened The Academy, a 56 acre training ground and youth academy off Simonswood Lane.

Education in Kirkby for senior-school pupils changed when Brookfield High School was merged with Ruffwood School to form Kirkby Sports College, Centre for Learning based on the Brookfield School site. This school was officially opened 2nd October 2009. However, in September 2013 Kirkby Sports College converted to academy status and thus became known as Kirkby High School.

During this period, various plans were discussed to enhance Kirkby township called the Kirkby Project, however the two main proposals did not actually materialise. The first proposal in 2006 was for a new football stadium to be built in Kirkby for Everton Football Club to replace Goodison Park but following a public inquiry, central government decided in 2009 not to proceed with the venture. Secondly, the retail park complex that was to be built around the Cherryfield Drive area was to include a new Tesco supermarket but in January 2015, Tesco pulled out of the venture. Shortly after this, St Modwen bought the Kirkby town centre land from Tesco and a new set of proposals were eventually developed.

Despite the supermarket setback, improvements and modernisation around the town centre did take place. Following redevelopment of the former Kirkby Suite building in Norwich Way, it re-opened on 3rd March 2014 as The Kirkby Centre providing multiple key services under one roof including: Kirkby Library; ARK (Archive Resource for Knowsley); Gallery; One Stop Shop; Adult Disability Day Service and Knowsley Works team. Also in 2014 on 26th April, the refurbished (now covered) Kirkby Market re-opened.

The Kirkby Centre

Two of the three proposed new public artworks were installed in 2015 at Newtown Gardens. The ‘Tree of Life‘, a 6 metre cast replica of Knowsley Borough’s oldest tree (allegedly 400 years old) and the three metre high ‘Edward’s Elephant‘ (inspired by the work of Edward Lear who drew the animals in the menagerie at Knowsley Hall in 1832), which is mounted on a metal 11 metre long representation of a Viking longboat (representing Kirkby’s Norse heritage).

Further modernisation took place in 2016 when Kirkby’s new enlarged bus station was completed (officially opened 14th October) and additionally, the final piece of the three public artworks was installed in the area in front of The Kirkby Centre (now called Civic Square) in the form of three colourful winged thrones each with distinctive features.

An unusual event took place in Kirkby on 31st August 2017 when 38 former students of the Malayan Teachers’ Training College at Kirkby Fields (most of whom had made the journey from Malaysia) attended the unveiling of a commemorative plaque (detailing the history of the site) which had been erected on the grassed area of Granborne Chase marking the spot where the former college stood. The date of this reunion was hugely significant as exactly 60 years earlier Malaya had become an independent state. The historic announcement to the world that independence was to take place was made in the main hall at the Kirkby Fields college when the visiting Chief-Minister of Malaya announced the news on 7th February 1956. More information regarding the reunion can be found here: The Malayan Connection 

Former Malayan Teacher Training College students return to Kirkby in 2017

Following negotiations by St Modwen with a handful of major retail companies, it was announced in September 2017 that Morrisons had been confirmed as the company who will build a new 45,000 square foot supermarket on the former Gala Bingo site, north of the town centre.  Other new large retail units will also be built. A cinema is also part of the new development which will be built on the site of the old Kirkby Library building in Newtown Gardens which was demolished in late March 2018.

A ‘breaking-ground’ ceremony took place on 20th September 2018 at what will become Liverpool Football Club‘s new training centre for the first-team and the Under-23’s team. It will be constructed at the northern end of the existing Academy site at Kirkby, replacing Liverpool FC’s former training ground at Melwood, West Derby.

Funding of £10 million was approved by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in December 2019 to support Knowsley Council’s development of Kirkby town centre.  Also in December, work began on the retail development itself including Morrison’s supermarket and petrol station, Home Bargains and a drive-through KFC, together with improved car parking.

The Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 dominated the news for the whole year. A timeline of the events that occurred can be consulted here: COVID-19 National and Local timeline 2020

The Maples Extra Care facility, Westhead Avenue, opened in February 2020 providing 100 modern and secure apartments for supported living options for individuals aged 55 years and above.  Residents will also have access to assistive technology in the form of an in-built video intercom system, providing extra security and peace-of-mind.

Plans to improve public transport to Liverpool and Manchester received a boost in July 2020 with the announcement of further investment in the scheme to build a new railway station development at Headbolt Lane.

Well-known Mexican food chain Taco Bell announced in December 2020 it is to open a restaurant and drive-through as part of the new Kirkby retail development.

KFC became the first of the new retail units to be completed in the town centre development, opening on 10th July 2021. The new Morrisons supermarket building has also been completed and is undergoing its internal layout. The store is due to open in the autumn. Meanwhile, the Taco Bell Mexican food restaurant is set to open on Tuesday 24th August.

Following a public consultation, investment has brought new play equipment and improvements to the play areas and footpaths at Mill Dam park and in late September, a new café called Esposito’s opened on the site providing a variety of food and drink. The café is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm.

Morrisons petrol station opened on 7th October and two weeks later Morrisons supermarket opened to customers on Thursday 21st October 2021. Opening hours will be Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, Sunday 11am-5pm.

A remembrance service and the laying of wreaths took place at the Kirkby cenotaph, Norwich Way, on Sunday 14th November. The outdoor service, organised by the Royal British Legion began around 10.30am. 

Thursday 25th November saw the Christmas lights switched on in Kirkby town centre and also featured a fireworks display and live music (from 4pm-7pm). The next day a ‘pop-up’ Christmas cinema, located at Unit 9, Telegraph Way showed four different festive films each day Friday 26th and Saturday 27th November. The films were shown at 12 midday, 2.30pm, 5pm and 8pm each day.

Knowsley Archive Service based at the Kirkby Centre has retained its Archive Accreditation award following assessment by the National Archives in November. The award, originally bestowed in 2017 was confirmed in mid-December and acknowledges the service meeting defined national quality standards of collections management and service delivery.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continued in 2021 with new variants appearing, a further timeline shows the changing situation throughout the year: COVID-19 National and Local timeline 2021

The new year 2022 sees Knowsley as the Liverpool City Region’s Borough of Culture and a series of illuminated after-dark art and music events are scheduled around the borough. The first event, was the switching on of Aqualux, an 8 metre X 3 metre light installation containing 48 water containers. This was augmented by a performance by Spark illuminated drummers.

Planning permission has been granted for the new railway station at Headbolt Lane, Kirkby. Work began in January 2022 and the station (which will be using battery operated trains), is due to open in Spring 2023.

Home Bargains open their larger store in the new retail development on January 22nd, replacing the smaller shop on St Chad’s Parade and providing an additional 40 jobs.

During March 2022, Knowsley Council began a refurbishment programme at Kirkby Market, improvements are wide ranging but include new signage and the siting of bollards to improve pedestrian safety. Also in March, a number of new businesses opened premises on St Chad’s Parade, they include Benetton’s childrenswear shop, Doogle Donuts and Davey’s Chemist.

Sir George Howarth, M.P. for the Knowsley Constituency received the honour of Freedom of the Borough at a Knowsley Council meeting on 23rd March. The long-serving Labour M.P. began his political life as a councillor for Huyton-with-Roby Urban District Council in the 1970s, before becoming an M.P. in 1986.

Investment was secured in June 2022 to enhance the Kirkby gateway into the town. This will take place on the site of the former Civic Buildings once detailed plans are approved.

A new railway bridge has been completed over County Road, which will eventually link the new Headbolt Lane railway station (now under construction), to the present Kirkby station. The new line is expected to open in Summer 2023.

Show homes are now open on the new Whitefield Brook housing development off Whitefield Drive. The site which will eventually comprise over 260 houses was formerly occupied by the Kirkby Sports Stadium.

A new art exhibition is underway at Kirkby Gallery celebrating the work of four influential figures of the Merseyside art scene during 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition titled The Likeness of Things features work by the four artists: John Baum, Maurice Cockrill, Adrian Henri and Sam Walsh and can be seen between 10th May till 16th July.

Amazon’s new state-of-the-art ‘fulfilment centre’ opened on Dale Lane in October creating 700 jobs. Additionally, the fitness company PureGym who already run over 300 venues in the UK have confirmed they will open premises on the new Kirkby retail development site before the end of the year.

A unique exhibition has opened at Kirkby Gallery. Two art collections have been combined: The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour and Making an Impression. The exhibition features 35 artworks by renowned Impressionists including Cézanne, Degas, Manet and Renoir. The exhibition runs from 10th October to 17th December 2022.

The success of the UK’s vaccination programme meant that coronavirus restrictions were eased in 2022. A summary of COVID-19 information for the year can be found here: COVID-19 National and Local timeline 2022

To mitigate the effects of the construction of the new Headbolt Lane Railway Station, biodiversity improvements are to take place at six locations around Kirkby: at Mercer’s Dell, Mill Dam Park, Northwood Forest Hills, Millwood Park Millenium Green, Eddie McArdle Playing Fields and at Saxon Green Public Open Space. Work will begin in February 2023 and will continue into to the autumn to improve water quality, reduce flooding from the River Alt, whilst improving the habitat for birds, fish, mammals and insects.  

The UK Government’s Emergency Alerts System is now live and will be used to warn people when lives are in danger, initially to warn of severe weather-related incidents including flooding and provide instructions how to respond to an alert. To check the system, a test took place at 3pm on Sunday 23rd April whereby most people received an official text message on their mobile phones.

The latest COVID-19 information can be found here: COVID-19 National and Local timeline 2023 (to end of May 2023)

Final testing of the new battery-powered trains that will soon operate on the passenger line to the new Headbolt Lane railway station is now underway (July 2023). These trains (the first of their type in the country to operate in passenger service), will deliver an 80% reduction in energy consumption.

With investment secured by the council from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the multi-storey car park in Kirkby town centre will close from 21st August to allow refurbishment and its transformation into a modern ‘travel hub.’ Once completed in early 2024, the car park will offer long and short stay parking, electric vehicle charging, cycle storage, CCTV and sensor-controlled lighting.  




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