The history of the present site can be traced back to at least the Norman period with the founding around 1150 of the Birkenhead Priory. In those days Birkenhead was little more than a collection of farms around the monastic settlement. The Monks operated a ferry service to an even less populated site across the River Mersey today called Liverpool – this ferry service still runs today by Royal Charter of Edward 1st – The Mersey River Ferry.
The Monks owned most of the land surrounding their Priory church and buried their dead in the burial ground adjacent to the church. later this churchyard became enlarged and was the final resting place for the mortal remains of the monks, sailors washed up on the shores of the river, knights and men at arms from many nearby battles and skirmishes. The Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1534 but the church and its graveyard remained in use.
In the 1820’s the industrial revolution came to Birkenhead and Scots entrepreneur William Laird arrived to commence shipbuilding on the bank of the Mersey. The site he eventually selected was right next door to the priory church and its well occupied graveyard.
Laird needed land to construct a large dry dock – the No.1 Graving Dock and this meant that the graveyard had to be removed. Many of the ancient bones were dug up and moved to the new Flaybrick cemetery on the edge of the expanding town. However, many were left behind and for many years workers at the shipyard told lurid tales of bones and skulls being washed from walls above the graving dock by heavy rains.
Cammell Laird shipbuilders became a famous name the World over and were responsible for many great ships and many maritime firsts – the 1st iron ship owned by the British government, the 1st ship with a screw propellor and the 1st all welded ship for example.
The Ma Robert, built for Dr Livingstone, the great Liner Mauritania, the Confederate raider CSS Alabama, the battleship HMS Rodney, the ill-fated submarine HMS Thetis and two aircraft carriers bearing the name of HMS Ark Royal all were built and launched from this site along with over 1400 other ships and vessels.
The most prominent feature of the entire site is the truly massive former shipbuilding hall, this was once one of the largest buildings in Europe and dominates the site as well as most of the surrounding area of Birkenhead. Built in the 1970’s this great grey building is scheduled to remain as part of the new development plans for the shipyard site. Surrounding it was once the many workshops and buildings of this historic shipyard – constructed mostly of sheet iron and painted a dull black they housed all of the ancillary departments – the boilermakers, welders and fitters being only a few examples. Within the past year many of these buildings have been demolished to make way for the future developments scheduled to take place on the site, although a part of the site is still in use by a busy ship repair facility which is scheduled to remain for several years at least.
Some of the former workers have tales of ghostly figures seen around the site, others who have spent their entire working lives in the shipyard are more dismissive.
First Broadcast: 27th February 2007
A self confessed super fan of Most Haunted and editor of GhostMag.com. Matt’s passion for ghost hunting began when he moved into a haunted house in his second year of university in Leicester! His favourite location is the Niddry Street Vaults in Edinburgh.