• The Welsh Connection: Liverpool's links with the Celtic culture

The Welsh Connection: How Wales has helped shape Liverpool

The Welsh Connection: How Wales has helped shape Liverpool

We take a look at the Welsh influence on Liverpool and its landscape.

Words by Christine Toner

Liverpool’s links to Wales go far beyond proximity.

Often referred to as the capital of Wales, the city has been influenced by the Welsh in more ways than one – not least when it comes to property.

Links between Liverpool and Wales go back a long way. In the early 1500s, Liverpool actually had a Welsh mayor – one Dafydd ap Gruffydd – while in the late 1700s many migrants from the North of Wales travelled to the city looking for work. By 1813 almost 10% of people living in Liverpool were Welsh, and by 1815 the city had its own Welsh town.

Areas such as Vauxhall, Anfield, Everton, Dingle, and Wavertree were noted for their high migrant populations, and Welsh was the dominant language in these neighbourhoods. By 1900, there were around 90 Welsh chapels, churches and mission halls.

 

The Welsh Connection: Liverpool's links with the Celtic culture

Leading the way

By the 1850s and 1860s, Welsh involvement in the construction sector was well established. There were more than 20,000 Welsh builders working in Liverpool by 1850. And it wasn’t just the skills of the Welsh that Liverpool was utilising. North Wales was a rich source of building materials, thereby consolidating the existing ties between the two regions.

One man, in particular, led the way for Welsh architecture in Liverpool. Architect Richard Owens moved to Liverpool in the 1840s to study. He established his first practice in Everton Village by the age of 30 and relocated to Breck Road two years later, before setting up shop at Westminster Chambers, Dale Street in 1883.

Owens’ first significant commission was the design of the Welsh Presbyterian chapel in Fitzclarence Street, Everton; the first of over 150 chapel commissions in Liverpool and North Wales. Between 1863 and 1891, Owens laid out more land than any other architect for workers housing in Liverpool – an area equivalent to 325 acres. The Campfield, which was built between 1864 and 1878, was the first of at least 14 housing estates to be laid out and supervised by Owens (although it was largely demolished in the 1960s).

By this time, Owens had joined forces with a Welsh timber merchant called David Roberts of D Roberts, Son and Co. Roberts was born in Caernarvonshire and moved to Liverpool in 1822. By 1828 he had established his own timber business, which steadily expanded over the next 30 years or so. By the 1860s, he was wealthy enough to invest in land and property and was one of a number of developers to construct houses on the West Derby Road Estate at this time, before leasing land for housing development in Toxteth.

During the 1870s and 1880s, almost 4,300 houses were constructed over four estates in the fields of Toxteth Park by Richard Owens on behalf of D Roberts, Son and Co. While most of them have been destroyed over the ensuing years, large swathes of estate number two (comprising Pickwick Street, Dombey Street, Dorrit Street and Dickens Street) still survive, together with some parts of estate number three (including the famous ‘Welsh streets’).

The most well-known piece of Welsh architecture in the city is perhaps the Grade II-listed Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Street, commonly referred to as the ‘Welsh’ or ‘Toxteth Cathedral’.

Ironically the church, which was built between 1865 and 1867, was designed by an architectural firm (W & G Audsley) which was founded in Liverpool by two Scottish brothers, although it was constructed by Welsh builders from Cardiff and Swansea to accommodate Toxteth’s growing Welsh population. Richard Owens was involved in authorising payments for site work on the church.

The Welsh builders

Owens and Roberts were not the only Welsh developers to make their mark in Liverpool.

In 1900 builder John William Jones formed his own building company – J W Jones and Sons Ltd. It built homes around Sefton Park, Allerton, Childwall, Wavertree, Calderstones and Anfield.

The firm was employed by the Liverpool Corporation to build houses, shops, flats and housing estates including the Springwood Estate, parts of the Speke Estate, Larkhill, Lisburn in West Derby, Bootle and Huyton and also built private homes in Wavertree, Mossley Hill, Woolton and Allerton.

Builders such as Elias and David Hughes were instrumental in extending the city to Kirkdale, Anfield, Walton, Everton, St Domingo, Islington and Kensington.

Fellow Welsh builders Owen Elias and his son, William Owen Elias gave the first initials of their combined names to a sequence of roads either side of Goodison Park – Oxton, Winslow, Eton, Neston, Andrew, Nimrod, Dane, Wilburn, Ismay, Lind, Lowell, Index, Arnot, Makin, Olney, Weldon, Euston, Nixon, Elton, Liston, Imrie and Astor streets.

Builders such as Elias and David Hughes were instrumental in extending the city to Kirkdale, Anfield, Walton, Everton, St Domingo, Islington and Kensington.

The streets in these areas were often given Welsh names such as Denbigh Road, Snowdon Lane, Barmouth Way, Madryn Street and Voelas Street. Many of the streets surrounding High Park Street, meanwhile, are named after Welsh rivers.

In the latter part of the 19th Century, William Jones, who had built streets in Everton and Toxteth, became the first Welsh speaking mayor of Bootle.

The Welsh Streets

Encompassing 16 streets in Toxteth (including Madryn – Ringo Starr’s birth place – as well as Rhiwlas, Powis, Voelas, Kinmel and Gwiddir streets), the Welsh Streets were built and inhabited by Welsh workers as part of Richard Owens’ development of Toxteth Fields at the end of the 19th Century. The streets are named after Welsh towns and villages.

They were left derelict for many years and earmarked for demolition but are currently subject to one of the biggest redevelopment projects in Liverpool – the shells of these 400 or so homes will be converted into 290 bigger properties.

 

The Welsh Connection: Liverpool's links with the Celtic culture

 

About Author: Matthew Smith

Matthew can be contacted via email at matthew@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.