I made an interesting discovery yesterday that relates to my previous blog post about W.G. Grace in Ashley Down in Bristol.
During the 1890s Grace lived in a large house just off Ashley Down Road, called Ashley Grange. From early maps it looks as though the house was previously Ashley Farm.
The house was demolished in 1936, but the map below shows where it was when Grace lived there.
One of the sources of information for my previous blog post was a book called W.G. Grace – In The Steps Of A Legend by Anthony Meredith. A line from the book about Ashley Grange seemed to throw down a challenge:
“A local historian has written of one small relic, the name of the house ‘on a block of stone near the base of a silver birch tree’, but, if it still survives, it frustratingly eluded us.”
Where was this block of stone?
I thought I’d seen a silver birch in the grounds of Ashley House, which still stands and is now used as a school. But I couldn’t find any trace of the stone there. I searched around the garages that now stand where Ashley Grange once stood. Still no sign of the elusive stone.
Then yesterday I was walking down a lane on the other side of Ashley Down Road, when I noticed a large block of stone, newly revealed by some enthusiastic cutting back of the undergrowth.
There seemed to be some writing on it. I wonder…
So I hopped up onto the wall to take a closer look…
And there it was. Fading letters spelling the name of Grace’s house, ASHLEY GRANGE. The last remaining connection between the great man and Ashley Down, gathering moss in a local garden.
I wonder what will happen to the stone. It seems a bit sad to let it lie there. 500 metres from its original site and 500 metres in the other direction to the County Ground, home to Gloucestershire Cricket and spiritual home of WG Grace.
Maybe Gloucestershire CCC could move it inside the County Ground to preserve the link with the club’s founding father?
William James Liversage, ‘the Gallant Pier Master’, was my grandmother Alice Moreton’s adoptive father. He was born on April 24th 1865 at 23 Sampson Street, Everton, Liverpool to Samuel Rutter Liversage, Book Keeper, & his wife Jane (nee Wilson).
Shortly after William was born the family moved to New Brighton, Wallasey and his six siblings were all born there & baptised at St. James’ Parish Church. In his earlier days William’s origins in Liverpool were referred to in less than flattering terms.
In 1891, as a young Boatman, he was tried & fined by the Local Board of Magistrates for shooting a gull on the shore – New Brighton always had a shore not a beach.
One magistrate remarked, “Thirty years ago we never used to hear a case. It is only since our Liverpool friends have come to reside on this side of the water”.
Not much change from today’s attitudes, perhaps!
By the time of his death in 1923 he was a much-esteemed resident – so much so that his obituary erroneously says that he was born in New Brighton on property adjoining the Ferry Hotel. A warning to obtain BMD confirmation – I have a copy of his birth certificate.
William was a volunteer member of New Brighton Life Boat crew as well as being appointed Pier Master, a post he held until his death in 1923. I have found several newspaper accounts of River Mersey rescues he made.
In his obituary he’s described as holding The Royal Humane Society Medal with Two Bars. The Royal Humane Society was founded in 1774 as “The Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, for the purpose of rendering first aid in cases of near drowning.”
I came across the first of his rescues in The Wallasey News, Saturday May 16th 1914, with a report of his jumping into the river to rescue a woman at New Brighton Landing Stage. The article is headed,
EXCITING RIVER SCENE.
GALLANT RESCUE BY MR. LIVERSAGE.
Apparently the ferryboat ‘John Joyce’ was at the Landing Stage and “was packed with many people” who had gone aboard to see ‘The Aquitania’ which was moored at the Pier Head, Liverpool.
The report says,
“The vessel reached New Brighton stage without anything untoward, and it was whilst the passengers were disembarking that the alarming cry of “Man overboard” was raised. There was great commotion and life-buoys were seized to throw into the river.
Someone was seen struggling in the water, and being carried away by the tide, but the life-buoys failed to reach the drowning person. The Pier Master, Mr. W. J. Liversage was fortunately on the scene, and he at once seized a life-buoy and jumped into the river. After an exciting race he overtook the person, and held on until the ferry boat sent assistance.
The rescued lady turned out to be Amy Williams, 37, of 208, Seabank-road, New Brighton.
How she got into the water will form the subject of an inquiry, but it is said that she made a statement to the Pier Master. Mr. Liversage is to be complimented on his bravery.”
There was a further reference to the rescue in the next edition of the newspaper which includes William’s photo and is a tribute to him.
A BRAVE PIERMASTER
“The gallant rescue of a drowning woman on Friday last by Mr. W. J. Liversage, the New Brighton pier master, has evoked the admiration of many residents, and it is felt that a recognition of his bravery should take a tangible form. Subscriptions may be sent to Captain Mason, 18, Westmoreland-road, Liscard.”
I haven’t come across any information about the sum raised but perhaps I can look at the newspapers again when I’m able to have access to the library.
There is a significance to an inquiry into Amy Williams’ fall into the river. In 1915 William Liversage went on to rescue another drowning woman, Nellie White, on New Brighton Shore and she was charged with attempted suicide.
Possibly Amy was jostled and did indeed fall into the river but when William died, his 1923 obituary reports,
“A woman threw herself from the ferry-boat as it left New Brighton and he was on the boat at the time. Without delay he jumped in after her and had a hard struggle in keeping her afloat until picked up by a boat. On this occasion, we understand, he and his charge were carried to the “rip-rap” buoy at the mouth of the river, and he clung there supporting the woman until the rescue party came.”
It’s possible that this more detailed account is correct but the boat has changed direction!
In the original report it says Amy Williams entered the river as the vessel reached New Brighton stage and “the passengers were disembarking”. But nine years later we read that she had thrown herself into the Mersey as it “left New Brighton.”
The article also mentions ‘a hard struggle’ to keep the woman afloat. I’m sure it was. If you’re being swept out by the current, you first of all have to make it to the buoy.
It seems unlikely they were heading straight for it, so that would have involved quick thinking and some strength to divert course to actually reach it. It was a major Mersey marker buoy – a large red conical object bobbing in the outgoing tide. It’s not simple or without risk for a man in the water to latch onto it, especially while supporting a drowning person.
It sounds as though it would have been highly dramatic and very dangerous if the obituary addition is true. As with many of our family ‘legends’, it might have grown in the telling!
This makes me even more interested in looking at old newspaper reports, but as with William James Liversage’s birth place, you can’t believe everything you read in the papers!
One thing I hadn’t noticed when I photocopied these accounts some years ago was the significance of the ‘Aquitania’. The ship had been moored at the Pier Head because she was about to set sail on her Maiden Voyage just two weeks later. This was only two months before the First World War began on July 28th 1914.
I also discovered that she was in Liverpool to be painted after being built on the Clyde.
She was known as ‘The Ship Beautiful’ as she was considered one of the most elegant ocean liners of the time. She served in both world wars and was scrapped in 1950.
Remembering how so many of us on both sides of the river flocked to see The Three Queens on May 25th 2015 to celebrate Cunard’s 175th Anniversary, it is interesting to see that people were doing the same thing in 1914.
William James Liversage, b. 24.4.1865 – d. 3.12.1923
Samuel Rutter Liversage, b. c. 1841 – d. 16.11.1908
Jane Wilson, b.c. 1840 – d. October 1914
Rip Rap Buoy in River Mersey – London Gazette May 1, 1908
Why is a road in a Bristol suburb named after a park in Liverpool?
I grew up in Crosby on Merseyside, so it’s always puzzled me how Sefton Park Road in Bristol got its name. Why would it be named after a Liverpool park? I live in the next road so I’m reminded of the question most days.
Thanks to the world wide web, it can be quite simple to find the answer to questions like this. So I did some searching, confident that all would be revealed. But my confidence was misplaced. It seemed that the question hadn’t been asked before. Or if it had, an answer hadn’t made its way onto the web. Frustrating, but it made the challenge more interesting.
So I thought I’d ask the question on Twitter – people are still better at generating ideas than search engines. And Twitter had an idea.
Stumble into Grace
A helpful person called @amias suggested that there was a connection to WG Grace, the Victorian cricketing legend. This seemed a possibility. The Bristol County Ground, home to Gloucestershire County Cricket, backs onto Sefton Park Road. In the 1890s when the road was built, Gloucestershire cricket was WG Grace.
And I knew that WG had lived within chucking distance of the County Ground in a house called Ashley Grange. Also a lot of the road names in the area have cricketing connections – Lancashire, Nottingham and Surrey Roads are all named after great cricketing counties.
So, armed with the WG Grace idea, I went back to searching online. The first thing I discovered was that Sefton Park in Liverpool is actually home to a cricket club, a club with a long history. And indeed the club’s website reports that in 1877 WG Grace captained a South of England cricket side against a local Sefton and District side.
Wow! So there was a real connection between Sefton Park in Liverpool and Ashley Down in Bristol, where the road is. Interesting.
But why Sefton Park? As I’ve said, lots of local roads have cricketing names. But, with respect to the Liverpool club, they seemed the odd one out amongst roads named after county sides.
A bit about WG Grace
At this point it might help to know a bit about WG Grace. He was the premier sporting hero of his day. At a time when professional football was in its infancy, cricket ruled. And WG Grace ruled cricket. He was described as arguably ‘the most famous man in England’.
In Gloucestershire, cricket was the Grace family. Grace’s father Henry founded Gloucestershire Cricket Club in the 1840s, and in 1889 WG bought the County Ground, home to Gloucestershire County Cricket.
So my theory at this point was that WG had the road named in memory of his performance at Sefton Park in Liverpool. Maybe he’d even owned the land that the roads were built on, which had given him a say in their naming?
The theory was slightly dented by the fact that WG Grace had performed much greater cricketing feats than beating a local Liverpool team. And indeed the club website records that the match winner was not WG, but a player called GF Grace. My theory was looking a bit flimsy.
A few days later I thought it might be useful to find out more about GF Grace, the Sefton Park matchwinner. And it turned out that he was actually WG’s younger brother George Frederick. Known to everyone as Fred, he was WG’s favourite.
Tragically, Fred died young. In 1880, three years after the Sefton Park game, he played in his first, and only, match for England. He caught a chill from standing in the damp field. The chill developed into pneumonia and he died aged just 29 years old. The match was against Australia at the Oval.
The Oval – that rang a bell. I’d read something about the Oval in my research.
Lancashire Road, Nottingham Road and Surrey Road – they aren’t the only roads in the area whose names have a cricketing origin.
Kennington Avenue, which runs parallel to Sefton Park Road. Kennington Avenue, which sandwiches the Gloucestershire Cricket ground with Sefton Park Road.
Kennington Avenue is named after the Kennington Oval!
Holy Moly! I felt a sudden moment of clarity, of revelation.
WG Grace didn’t name Sefton Park Road after his own sporting success in Liverpool. He’d named the two roads – Sefton Park and Kennington Avenue – in memory of his dead brother!
Sefton Park Road for the ground in Liverpool where Fred won the cricket match for the South of England team. And Kennington Avenue for the ground where his favourite brother caught his death of pneumonia three years later!
Making that connection felt quite intense. It was like seeing something that no-one had seen or known for 100 years. A piece of local history revealing itself before my eyes.
Fact or fiction?
Of course it might not be true! The facts seem to fit, but it’s just a theory.
Sefton Park Road and Kennington Road were built in 1893, I think.
Given the amount of cricketing street names in the area, it looks like Gloucestershire Cricket Club played a part in naming them. And WG Grace and his brothers were Gloucestershire Cricket Club at the time.
Anyway, it’s a good story. And the idea that WG Grace named the roads in memory of favourite brother makes me smile. So, if you do have evidence that it’s not true, maybe don’t tell me!
The road’s architect / builder / somebody had a Liverpool connection and a thing for Liverpool parks. This row of houses is on Stanley Road, a cul-de-sac off Sefton Park Road.
Sources and thanks
Dedicated to the memory of Colin Cushion, who loved cricket almost as much as Liverpool FC – no-one’s perfect. A lovely man who spent many a day watching Gloucestershire at the County Ground.