Bygone liverpool join the quest to discover the location of the lost football ground of Liverpool Caledonian AFC from 1891 to 1892. After a search by historians that began in 2014, we think we can finally solve the mystery.
Back in 2014, a search began to find the location of a football stadium in Wavertree that was home to one Liverpool’s first football teams – Liverpool Caledonian AFC. ‘Woodcroft Park’ had two stands and the owners boasted of a capacity of 30,000 when it first opened (although nowhere near that number ever attended).
Liverpool Caledonian played their first game on 28th September 1891 – a year before Liverpool FC’s first game on 1st September 1892.
Along with the other three professional teams of Everton, Liverpool and Bootle, Liverpool Caledonian (consisting of Liverpool-Scottish players) made a short-lived bid for league success in the 1891 – 1892 season. By the end of the season the club was bankrupt and their games ‘expunged from the records’.
The ground carried on hosting a wide variety of sports until the close of the nineteenth century but it’s history and even its location appeared to have been expunged also.
Tim Beaumont (then councillor) had started the search for the ground, and the challenge was quickly taken up by Mike Chitty, local history secretary of the Wavertree Society:
Over a year ago – in January 2014 – a small article appeared in our Newsletter appealing for information about Liverpool Caledonians FC. In 1891-2 they played at a ground in Wavertree called Woodcroft Park, and only just failed to get elected to the Football League. This January, our request for information – which originally came from Councillor Tim Beaumont – was given more publicity, when the City Council issued a press release and the BBC News website ran a prominent story (on Derby day) entitled “The mystery of Liverpool’s lost stadium”.MIke Chitty, Wavertree Society, March 2015
Tim Beaumont explained how the ground would have been a much simpler design to the later football stadiums as the popularity of the game increased:-
In the 1890s, Liverpool stadiums weren’t as grandiose as we conceive them, compared to today’s. Bear in mind, this was a time where Everton players still got changed in a pub. There was a rapid change, structurally; you went from having fields around that area to housing estates just 20 years after.Councillor Tim Beaumont via Liverpool Life, ‘Hunt begins for lost Liverpool stadium‘ 2015
That said, Woodcroft Park had all the amenities of a professional sports stadium of its time. The ground had a level and well-drained pitch, with two stands that were 40 yard long – one of which was covered. One stand seated between 600-700 and the other, erected a few weeks later, seated 1,200. For the benefit of the standing supporters, the ground was topped with cinders. Woodcroft also had a press boxes, turnstiles and a cinder race track. The track allowed the ground to be used for athletic events in the summer months.
Why is the location not known?
You would think that finding the location of an old football stadium would not be too difficult. The problem is that it does not appear on any maps. The few maps drawn of this area (prior to houses being built on it) chart it’s development from a country estate named Woodcroft – to an area of dense housing. The three most likely plots of ground where Woodcroft Park could have been appear just as blank spaces.
A public appeal to find the ground
From the earliest days of the search Mike Chitty has done an excellent and thorough job in researching the ground. An appeal was launched in the Liverpool Echo and BBC News. After which the society received an influx of information from people making suggestions about where the stadium once was.
While millions around the world watch Everton take on Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, local historians are pondering one of the football-mad city’s great “what-ifs”. Long before the blue and red rivalry that dominates derby day another team – Liverpool Caledonians FC – were among the city’s leading Victorian era clubs.Rumeana Jahangir, BBC News, 7 February 2015
One minute from Wavertree Station
From the start, the Wavertree Society had narrowed the site down to three most likely sites (see section: A summary of the research to date). As contemporary records state it was just ‘a minute from the station’, one in particular appeared to be the most logical:-
The Wavertree Society has been researching where this ground might have been and the most likely location is a site occupied by terraced housing next to the main London railway line in Wavertree between Picton Road and Smithdown Road. But the truth is that we don’t know for sure. So we need the help of anyone out there who may know something about Liverpool Caledonians or Woodcroft Park.Councillor Tim Beaumont, Liverpool Express, 2015
Rather than show Mike’s full research on these pages, you can read his progress on the Wavertree Society Website, this is a 2020 update of Mike’s original findings. At the same time Kjell Hanssen of Play Up, Liverpool also joined the hunt for information, with our very own Daz from Bygone Liverpool also assisting.
Liverpool Caledonian AFC
The Woodcroft estate had been previously used for a variety of sports, mostly cricket, but in 1891 Liverpool Caledonian Association Football Club was formed and developed Woodcroft into a football ground. Behind this venture was the Scottish business Robert Kirkland. Kirkland was one of two hugely successful brothers who had moved to Liverpool to establish a baking empire. The surviving Kirkland Vienna Bakery building on Hardman Street was just one of their premises, others were in Bold Street and Lord Street. You can see our reconstruction of the Kirkland Lord Street premises here.
Funded by Scottish businessmen in Liverpool
In June 1891 Liverpool Caledonian AFC held a ‘Smoking Concert’, the clipping below says the club was in a sound position financially due to the number of ‘wealthy Scotchmen’ in the city, ever ready to ‘gie a helpin’ haun tae brither Scots’.
First game was against Everton
The purpose of the club was to gain football league status and they had their eyes on the First Division. The first ever match at the ground was against Everton at on Monday 28 September 1891, Everton won 1-0.
October 1891 saw them win 11-0 to Bangor, to just 1,500 spectators.
In November 1891 they played Notts Forest Reserves at Woodcroft, the fixture names the players – Whitehead, goal ; Griffiths and Wilson, M’Ilwraith, Gripe (?) and Muir, half-backs ; Hastings, Seggie, Davidson and brothers T. Deighton and J. Deighton, forwards.
In the same month they played Bootle Athletic at home and won 2-0 but foul weather again saw a low turn out.
Everton use Woodcroft as their pitch
January 1892 saw Everton Reserve play Denton at Woodcroft due to the English cup tie being replayed at Anfield Road. Anfield was of course Everton’s ground prior moving to Goodison in August of the same year. This came after a rift with landowner John Houlding that saw the formation of Liverpool FC. Everton beat Denton 14-0 (ouch!).
The ‘Callies’ as they were known had certainly got off to a very impressive start. This clipping below from April 1892 states they had won 22 out of the 37 matches they had played so far and racked up 117 goals against 48. With £5,000 capital behind them their future looked bright.
On the 10th June 1892 the Liverpool Mercury wrote that the club had been so successful in its first season that the had reached the semi-final of Liverpool Senior Cup, won the Liverpool Challenge Shield and gained admission to the Lancashire League. The same article states that Liverpool Caledonian, Limited had been formed to to take over the grounds known as Woodcroft Park.
In October 1892 they beat Wrexham 7-0 at home.
Liverpool Caledonian knocked Bootle out of the English Cup in November 1892, the newspaper says the Caledonians had:
a most compact team, and the way they are winning matches is enlisting a lot of followers. They are determined to go ahead in the Cup competitions, believing that if they make their mark in these they will be all right for the league next year.Football News (Nottingham) – Saturday 12 November 1892
So far, so good
Mike Chitty tells us of the success of the club and how they reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA cup when they faced Northwich Victoria at home:
In their first season they had won the Liverpool Senior Shield, and reached the semi-final of the Liverpool Senior Cup. They were then accepted into the Lancashire League, and played seven league games. They played in front of 2,500 (against Blackpool) and 5,000 (against Fairfield). Later in 1892 they got as far as the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup – one round further than Liverpool FCMike Chitty, Wavertree Society, ‘The Search for Woodcroft Park’, June 2020
Liverpool Caledonian Vs Northwich Victoria
An advertisement had been placed in the Liverpool Mercury to drum up support for the Northwich Victoria match:
Come in your thousands and see the fastest game of football ever witnessed in the North
The advert includes some motivational slogans for the players including Tommie Deighton, Get your head down! – Play up Callies! – Bravo, Old Horse, Parry! – Block them nicely Lyon! and Save in Champion style, Whitehead! Also included is the less catchy is Half-backs play your scientific game!
Unfortunately Liverpool Caledonian were beaten by 3 goals to 2.
The club goes bust
Sadly the business venture behind the club was not a success and within a week of being defeated by Northwich Victoria they had gone into liquidation.
It appears from the clipping below that one of the club’s creditors had taken proceedings for compulsory liquidation and this forced the club into voluntary liquidation.
Another week on, and already the ‘land and erections’ at Woodcroft Park were put up for sale. The club’s match record was expunged, and the short but bright flame of the club’s history was all but lost for over a century.
When the club folded, Parry the Caledonian’s left full back, was transferred to Everton.
This was Charles Parry who had previously played for Everton at left full back and was also a Welsh International. Parry was re-engaged to Everton after the demise of Liverpool Caledonian. Parry’s home town of Oswestry has a plaque for him and Charles Parry Close is named in his honour. Parry made 94 appearances for Everton and was part of the squad that won the League Championship in 1890-91. He also earned 13 caps for Wales.
Charlie was buried in an unmarked grave but a campaign in 2003 had a headstone made for him.
EFC Heritage Society (EFCHS), which has been involved in the restoration of nine graves, to date, decided to commission the installation of a headstone in recognition of Charlie’s service to Everton. The project progressed with support from, amongst others, the Parry family, Oswestry Town Council, The Football Association of Wales, Everton FC, Neville Evans (President of Aberystwyth Town FC and the man behind the National Football Collection) and Clive Davies. Thomas Reagan, of Toffee Art designed the event programme.The Charlie Parry Grave Event – 1st March 2019. EFC Heritage Society
A month after joining Caledonian Charlie came up against Everton’s reserve team at the Woodcroft Park ground. With a point prove to his former employers, he excelled, according to the Liverpool Mercury: ‘Parry played in splendid form…For the Caledonians, who at one time had the game in hand, none played better than Parry, who gave a first class exhibition of back play.’Rob Sawyer, The Life of Charlie Parry, Toffee Web, 2018
The 1891 census captures Parry at the time he was playing for Everton and just before he transferred to the Callies. He is one of a handful of men listed as a Professional Footballer in Liverpool at this time. He was lodging with his brother John at 49 Flinders Street, Kirkdale, aptly now the site of William Collins Playing Fields.
William Marr Orr
Another player to have also played for Everton was William Marr Orr. He made one Football League appearance for Everton and lived in Gwladys Street. Orr went on to switch to rugby. He became President of Sefton Rugby Union Football Club in 1936 at the age of 67.
Kirkwood was yet another Everton player who also played for Caledonian. In his case, the decision to move would end his playing career within months. Kirkwood was signed to Everton in 1889 and it wasn’t long before he made his mark:
Kirkwood helped Everton to an impressive 11-2 victory over Derby in the first round of the F.A. Cup on 18 January 1890. In the first half Derby took the lead twice, although by half-time Everton led 3-2. After the break the Derby defence caved in. Brady, Geary and Milward each made hat-tricks in the match. Kirkwood and Doyle added a goal apiece. The score remains an Everton record.
…Kirkwood was part of the team which stormed to the top of Division 1 in the 1890-91 season. He made 19 league appearances that season, missing only 3 matches, and scored 1 goal. Yet, by the end of the season his career with Everton was under threat. On 23 March the directors decided not to re-engage him, but by 6 April they changed their minds and he was signed on the same wages as before.Daniel Kirkwood, www.evertoncollection.org.uk
Both Parry and Kirkwood feature on this photograph below of ‘Everton Football Team, League Champions Season 1890 -1‘. Kirkwood is sitting on the left of the stairs and Parry on the right with his hands on his knee. This was taken just before both left for Liverpool Caledonian.
Six Everton players in one small house
The same year he is recorded in the census taken on the 5th April. KIrkwood is listed as a labourer who was lodging at 26 Coniston Street, Everton. The Scottish Sports History website points out that the six Scottish labourers listed in Mrs Hughes house were actually all Everton players; Duncan McLean, Daniel Kirkwood, Daniel Doyle, Alexander Brady, Patrick Gordon and James A. McMillan.
A possible reason for Kirkwood leaving Everton for Liverpool Caledonian was that in August 1891 he was going to made captain but Everton decided to choose Johnny Holt instead. He had also got into and argument with another player. By April 1892 Kirkwood’s name disappears from Everton’s records. By September of the same year he had joined Liverpool Caledonian and was now their captain.
Injury ends Kirkwood’s playing career
A game at Waterloo on the 26th November 1892 against Blackpool’s South Shore team would be Kirkwood’s last. Kirkwood was captain and his game started positively by scoring the first goal. Then, South Shore’s Billy Mather was going for the ball, but facing his own goal with his leg high. Kirkwood went for the ball but missed and hit Mather’s heel instead. The clash saw Kirkwood leg broken so badly that the crack could be heard all over the ground. He was taken to Dr. Schofield’s by ambulance and after treatment was unceremoniously put on 4:45 train home!
A collection was started immediately for him and the sum of over £5 was raised instantly (a value of £650 today).
The Lancashire Evening Post on 26 November reported that the injury was so severe that the fractured bone actually pierced Kirkwood’s shin pad.
LFC have a testimonial to raise money
Four months after the injury Kirkwood was still in the Convalescent Home at Walton. With no income Kirkwood’s life was devastated. Liverpool FC had a testimonial match to raise money for Kirkwood on 23rd March 1893. The game was against Bootle at Anfield and Liverpool won 1-0.
March 20, 1893Liverpool Mercury: March 20, 1893 via Play Up, Liverpool
On Wednesday, Liverpool and Chester will meet in their Liverpool senior cup tie at Anfield. On Thursday, Liverpool and Bootle, play the testimonial, for the benefit of D Kirkwood, the ex Evertonian and late captain of Liverpool Caledonians, at Anfield. Kirkwood, it will be remembered, had his leg broken in November last, while playing at Blackpool, and is still on crutches, being for the present at the Convalescent Home, Walton.
The clipping also talks of the respect the players and supporters of all teams had for Kirkwood:
Kirkwood was always a popular man, more particularly when leading his men of the Everton Combination team out to a remarkable sequence of victories last season, and the many friends he has made during his residence in Liverpool will, we are sure, foregather at Anfield to see Liverpool and Bootle, who are so evenly matched, fight their battle over again, and at the same time demonstrate respect for and sympathy with the beneficiary.Liverpool Mercury: March 20, 1893. British Newspaper Archive
A return to Everton as director
The injury may have ended his career as a player, but Kirkwood returned to football as a director of his old club Everton. He then went on to be chairman in the 1909-10 season. He also became a scout for the club in 1920s. Daniel Kirkwood died on 22 December 1928 aged 61.
The Deighton brothers
The two forwards of the Callies were Tommie and John Deighton. In contrast to Parry, and in common with Kirkwood, the 1891 census does not mention football. Instead their occupation are engineers – Tommie is a Turner and John is a Fitter. They are living with their mother and six siblings at 82 Cyprus Road, Bootle.
Whitehead played for all four of the Liverpool teams in goal. He played first for Caledonian and when the club folded he joined Bootle (1890-92) and Everton (1892-94). He then signed for Liverpool in 1894.
Hastings was a Caledonian half back, he was originally a Bootle player. where he played alongside the pioneering Black football player Andrew Watson. Hastings joined Southport Central after the demise of the Caledonians and played against Liverpool FC in 1893.
Liverpool Old Boys take over the ground
In 1893 a rugby football team named the Liverpool Old Boys moved from their previous ground at Fairfield to call Woodcroft Park their new home. Athletic events continued on the grounds in the summer months.
A picture of Woodcroft Park?
This rare collector’s card below possibly shows the covered stand at Woodcroft Park when it was home to the Liverpool Old Boys.
A summary of the research to date
Before we present our new findings, a recap of the research done to date is necessary.
The biggest clues to the location of the football ground is the name Woodcroft itself, and the fact that it was only one minute from the station. Having that name means the ground must have been southwest of the railway line and almost certainly on the country estate of Woodcroft.
Below is the ordnance survey map from 1851 (updated to include railways). We have coloured the extent of the Woodcroft Estate in Green, this is the most likely area for the ground to have been located. The other possible site that was next to the estate is coloured pink. Wavertree Station is shown by the red dot.
Mike Chitty’s three most likely options
Below are shown the three sites that were narrowed down by Mike. Somewhere in these blank spaces was the football stadium.
As Mike pointed out, the Woodcroft Estate covered his options 1 and 2. Option 3 being on the edge of the estate and a clear piece of ground is also included.
Of these three options, number 2 was Mike’s original preferred site as can be read on his post Is this the site of Woodcoft Park?. Wavertree Station (closed in 1958) can be seen on the bottom right of the map above and is closest to option 2. This is the only option that could be said to be one minutes walk from the station.
A stumbling block for researchers
The big issue for researchers with option 2 was that Woodcroft Park is mentioned in a fixture in 1900 as houses were already on this site by then (see sections The date for the end of Woodcroft Park and Date Evidence). This appears to completely rule out option 2 as the site of the football ground.
The problematic mention of the ground appeared on 10th November 1900 when the Liverpool Mercury advertised a fixture for Albion v Liverpool Central at Woodcroft Park. This later date causes an issue for anyone researching the site as evidence shows the three possible sites are known to have been covered in houses by that time.
Even though option 2 looked most likely geographically, the dating evidence appeared to rule it out completely.
Another issue with option 2 is that the site is covered by streets on a map from 1898. Shown below is the 1898 Plan of Liverpool – Royal Atlas of England and Wales. Bartlett, Banner and Bligh streets on option 2 appear as they do today.
How can option 2 have possibly been on the site Woodcroft Park in 1900 if it was covered in streets in 1898?
The end of Woodcroft Park
To locate the ground it is vital for researchers to discover exactly when it closed and was redeveloped into housing. Prior to our research, the last evidence of the Old Boys playing at Woodcroft Park was December 1897 and by January 1899 the Old Boys had already moved to their new home at Edge Lane. The move was certainly due to the ground being closed down.
A timeline of Woodcroft Park
To summarize the research that was known before we looked into the location of the site, a timeline is shown below:
Before 1845 Woodcroft House is built by Richard Rathbone
1845 On the Tithe Schedule, Woodcroft Estate was owned by ‘Serjeantson and others’
1855 The Woodcroft Estate up for sale in the Liverpool Mail
1865 Woodcroft Estate is up for sale again (Options 1 & 2) and the plot next to it (Option 3)
1860s Option 1 starts to be developed with a few bordering streets and houses, Cricket is played at Woodcroft
1870 Wavertree railway station opens
1891 September 28, Woodcroft Park is the ground of Liverpool Caledonian
1893 Liverpool Old Boys take over the ground
1897 Last record of the Old boys playing at Woodcroft
1899, January Old Boys have already moved to Edge Lane
1900 A fixture stating Liverpool Central were to play Albion at Woodcroft Park
1901 All 3 sites appear in the census as being fully occupied
Bygone Liverpool’s new research
With no map evidence, illustrations or photographs to prove the location of the site to be found, we concentrated on three main areas of research:-
Dates: If we could find a definite date for when the ground closed, and when the houses were built on the site, we would have a smaller window to search for any new evidence.
Suitability of each site: We know what sports were played on the grounds, these included cricket, football and rugby. It also had a quarter mile cinder track for athletics and bicycles races. Which site was large enough to accommodate these?
Newspaper evidence: Since 2014 the records of old newspapers at the British Newspaper Archives have been searched extensively for any reference to the ground. Could we find anything that was missed to help us to locate it?
As mentioned, the big issue with the timeline is that before 1899 the Old Boys had already moved to Edge Lane – but Woodcroft, after seemingly disappearing from the newspapers since 1897, is mentioned once again in 1900. We discovered this information must have been a typographical error by the newspaper.
Proof it was a mistake comes from small clipping from the Southport Visiter on Tuesday 15 March 1898. This covered a rugby match between Liverpool Old Boys and Waterloo. It contains this key piece of evidence:
These teams met on Saturday at Woodcroft Park, the game being one of the last before the closing of the ground.Southport Visiter, Tuesday 15 March 1898, British Newspaper Archive.
The rugby season was usually October to the end of March. The Pall Mall Gazette stated on the 28th March ‘On Saturday next the Rugby season, except for a few holiday matches, practically closes with the England and Wales match’.
This gives us the last possible date for the ground, late March or very early April 1898.
WANTED, a football ground in Wavertree
On the 18th June 1898 an advertisement was placed in the classified section of the Liverpool Echo. ‘WANTED, a football ground for season 1898-1899 : Sefton Park or Wavertree’. Coming just a few months after Woodcroft closed, this is quite possibly the Old Boys looking for a new home.
Why did the 1900 fixture mention Woodcroft Park?
By the time of the clipping in 1900, Woodcroft Park had actually been demolished for over two years!
Circa 1900 Wavertree Park and Wavertree Playground hosted many matches, It’s almost certain that the paper should have listed the fixture as “Wavertree Park’ rather than Woodcroft Park, Wavertree’
It would have been impossible for any of the land on the Woodcroft estate to stage a football match in November 1900. All three options were either covered in occupied houses or where building sites. The 1900 evidence must be a error by the newspaper.
Dates for the development of each area
We have dated the order that each of Mike’s options were developed by checking if they appear in the directories’ list of streets in 1898 and 1900.
Option 1: Granville, Egerton, Langton and Portman streets in Mike’s options 1 are all listed in the 1898 street directory.
Option 2: Banner, Barlett and Bligh streets in Mike’s option 2 are not listed in 1898 but they are in the 1900 directory.
Option 3: The 1900 directory has no listings for any streets in option 3.
It appears all three sites were built in stages from Smithdown Road up to Picton Road. Option 1 was the first area to be be developed, this rules out this option for the site of Woodcroft Park in the 1890s. Option 2 has a window of opportunity between 1898 and 1900. It would have started development in Spring 1898 as soon as the ground was cleared and to take advantage of the spring weather. Some occupied houses are in the area one year later.
Solving the map problem
If we return to the 1898 map shown earlier we discover that there are serious issues with the streets recorded on it. In the area circled appear three streets – Klondyke, Yukon and Puget.
But, if we look at Bartholomew’s plan from 1910 – 1919 we can see that those three streets were never built. In fact, the triangular plot odd of land was a confectionery factory by the 1920s.
When Martin Greaney at Historic Liverpool posted the 1898 map he received a comment by Paul O’Donnell who noticed other errors in the same area:
Never seen that before, the roads by me, Langdon, Granville, Edgerton, Portman and Woodcroft, all continue on the other side of Lawrence Road, where now they are called Liscard, Tabley, Callow, Createn and Talton., Yet Salisbury and Alderson and Bagot, still continue to Gainsborough and Picton.Comment by Paul O’Donnell on the Historic Liverpool site
It is clear that the 1898 cartographers have also included proposed streets with a view of making their map future-proof (ooops!). This is not the first time this happened to the Woodcroft Park site, the Philip’s map of 1895 also included proposed streets that never went ahead, these are Southey, Wilkie and Ormsby Streets. Mike pointed this out in his updated research in 2020:
When the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area around 1890, houses had already been built along the north side of Lawrence Road, with provision made for three side roads – to be called Southey, Wilkie and Ormsby Street – running towards Grosvenor Road. Could the plans have changed, and the area instead have been used as a football ground?Mike Chitty, Wavertree Society, The search for Woodcroft Park, 2020
It was clear that the appearance of streets on maps could not be used as reliable evidence to date the site. Bartlett, Banner and Bligh streets may also have been proposed streets in 1898.
Suitability of each site to host sports events
We took the approximate measurements of each of the sports that are known to have been played at Woodcroft Park. These included cricket, football, rugby and a quarter mile (400 metre) track. We then measured the site as accurately as possible using the feature available on the National Library of Scotland website and a map from 1888. It was then possible to see which plot could accomodate the sports held at Woodcroft park.
It was clear that only one of the site options had the correct area to host these games and this was option 2. Furthermore, option 2 was the only site that could fit two 40 yard-long stands and have a capacity anywhere near 30,000. Option 2 was also the only site where games could be viewed from all sides.
Another factor that makes the top site unsuitable is a geographic feature that appears on the map above. The line that divides the top site looks like a wall on all other maps, but in 1888 it appears blue, marking it as a water feature.
Not only was Option 3 not within the Woodcroft Estate, but water running through the site makes this option very unlikely to be an athletic field. (The Upper Brook stream once passed near to here).
Size-wise, Option 2 is the only suitable site for Woodcroft Park.
New newspaper evidence
Sometimes the smallest find can yield the most important result.
We found a newspaper clipping from the Liverpool Mercury on Thursday 19 May 1892. From this we can see that the ground was not just one minutes walk from the station – it actually adjoined the station:
Not only that, we found another clipping that showed that the ground was so close to that is is described as being ‘at Wavertree Station’ when the cinder track was added in 1892:
The Liverpool Caledonian Football Club, which have established a fairly good reputation this season have laid down a cinder track at Wavertree Station, and will hold sports next month.Edinburgh Evening News – Thursday 21 April 1892. British Newspaper Archives
The site of Woodcroft Park must have been right next to the station. Option 2 is the only site that ‘adjoins’ the station.
Unsuitability of options 1 and 3
• Option 1 was the earliest site to be developed so cannot be the site of Woodcroft Park
• Option 1 and 3 do not adjoin the station
• Option 3 has water running down its southern border and was very unlikely to be a suitable site for an athletic field
• Option 3 is not big enough to have a cricket field as the minimum required cricket field almost touches both boundary walls
* Option 3 does not have room to accommodate two stands a potential capacity of 30,000
• Option 3 was not within the Woodcroft Estate
Suitability of Option 2
• Option 2 is within the Woodcroft Estate
• Option 2 is the only site ‘adjoining’ the station and could be accessed directly from a path leading from the tunnel under the railway bridge
• Option 2 is the only site big enough to be capable of hosting cricket, rugby and football matches
• Option 2 is the only site capable of having 2 stands and a potential capacity of 30,000
Found! The location of Woodcroft Park
From the summary above, without doubt, option 2 must have been the site of Woodcroft Park. Our new evidence shows it was the right size and at the right location. We have also dismissed the previous idea that the ground still existed in 1900.
Shown below is the area today, the ground would have covered Bartlett, Banner and Bligh Streets. The entrance to the ground would have been in the area now covered by the aptly-named Mystery Close (but named after what was once another mystery in Wavertree – the donor of the park on the other side of the railway).
Possible layout of Woodcroft Park
Mike had tracked down a contract for the ground. This shows that Woodcroft Park also featured pay boxes, a press box, substantial hoardings, turnstiles and ‘other erections and conveniences’. It is now possible to imagine a layout of the ground.
An area of waste ground next to the ground and this could be accessed by two tunnels beneath the railway. The first was the tunnel from the station itself, the second was a much larger tunnel that would have been used for supporters coming from Picton Road.
The logical location for the entrance to Woodcroft Park is on this triangular plot. This would allow space for a large build up of supporters to gather before entering the ground. This would be an ideal location for local traders and newspaper stands. Importantly, it also makes the walking distance a minute away from the station.
A banked, bowl-shaped ground?
In 2007 a thesis about the development of Association Football in Liverpool by Thomas John Preston states that the Woodcroft ground was a ‘a large banked bowl’. We have been unable to find further evidence to prove this 100%. But, when Everton moved to Goodison in 1892, one side of their new ground had ‘been so well banked up with thousands of loads of cinders that a complete view of the game can be had from any portion’. Caledonian’s ground also had areas ‘topped with cinders’ as can be seen below. If the club expected even a fraction of 30,000 capacity they initially boasted of, they would have needed banked areas for the supporters to get a view of the game.
If raised banks for supporters were used, there was enough room on the site at either end of the pitch, these are shown in the darker grey tone on the illustration above.
Shown below is the view from the station, the entrance to Woodcroft Park would have been clearly visible from here, and just a minute’s walk away. The two passageways beneath the railway would have once echoed with the chants of thousands of supporters. Perhaps the earlier mentioned ‘Tommie Deighton, Get your head down!‘ was a favourite?
Mike Chitty’s response to our research
Prior to publishing, we presented our research to Mike Chitty of the Wavertree Society to get his opinion on our research. A dialogue then followed that was very helpful. Mike commented on our findings:
I congratulate you on ‘finding’ Woodcroft Park! What clinches it, in my opinion, is the newspaper cuttings you’ve discovered saying ‘Adjoining Wavertree Station’ and ‘at Wavertree Station’Mike Chitty, local history secretary of the Wavertree Society
Tim Beaumont’s response
As it was Tim who first drew everyone’s attention to Woodcroft Park, it was rewarding to have his thoughts on our research also:
This is just incredible! Huge congratulations to everyone involved with cracking this conundrum.Tim Beaumont
We can now add another great ‘what-if?’ to the history of football in Liverpool. What if that debt hadn’t been called in? Perhaps we would be talking about Diego Simeone leaving the Woodcroft disgruntled after Trent Alexander-Arnold set two goals in a victory for his boyhood club – Liverpool Caledonians!
From country estate to football ground.
After finding the site of the football ground, we now go further back in time to the earliest days of Woodcroft, even before its known resident Richard Rathbone.
It is not known whether Woodcroft House existed before the 18th century but William Yates’ map of 1768 certainly shows a cluster of houses in the area 50 years or so before Richard Rathbone lived there. We have coloured the buildings around Woodcroft House red. Also indicated is Greenbank, 20 years before the Rathbone family took it over. Smithdown Road is shown by its much older name of Smeatham Lane. This was the ancient highway of Esmedune, meaning ‘smooth down’ – running down hill. This was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086.
The esteemed Liverpool family of the Rathbones had nearby Greenbank as their family home from 1788 when William Rathbone IV first leased what had been a group of farm houses. William was originally a Quaker but was disowned by them after he criticized their religious intolerance in 1786. William was a ship owner and merchant, he was also a prominent abolitionist being an early member of Liverpool Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Although, this did not stop him from making his fortune from slave-grown cotton. After his death in 1809 William’s wife Hannah Mary purchased the freehold of Greenbank and made substantial alterations to the house, as can be seen in this wonderful surviving property.
William and and Hannah Mary had 8 children, Hannah Mary remained at Greenbank for many years after her husband’s death.
Greenbank was passed to their eldest child William Rathbone V in 1831. Richard, their second eldest child, had married the daughter of Joseph Reynolds of Shropshire in 1817. She was another Hannah Mary (there was a few in the family). Soon after Richard then lived at the house he’d built (or modernised) and named it Woodcroft. Like most wealthy merchants, Richard also had a house in town, in Richards case it was in Duke Street, one of the most desirable locations for a merchant to live. Richard sold this house in 1827 and instead stayed at Wavertree which was then mostly countryside.
Richard was also a fierce opponent of the slave trade, in 1838 he published a Letter to the President of the Liverpool Anti-Slavery Society. He attended the anti-slavery convention in 1840.
In 1826 Woodcroft was visited by the American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audobon. Audobon stayed at Greenbank for the summer but was entertained several times by Richard.
September 30, Woodcroft.European Journal of John James Audobon.
I am now at Mr. Richard Rathbone’s; I did not leave Green Bank this morning till nearly noon. The afternoon was spent with Dr. Traill, with whom I dined; there was only his own family, and I was much entertained by Dr. Traill and his son. A man of such extensive and well digested knowledge as Dr. Traill cannot fail to be agreeable. About eight his son drove me to Woodcroft, where were three other guests, Quakers. The remainder of the evening was spent with a beautiful microscope and a Diamond Beetle.
The Tithe map of Toxteth Park of 1845 shows that the Woodcroft estate actually spanned two townships. While the vast majority of the estate was within the West Derby township, this area was inside the Toxteth Park boundary.
When William V took over Greenbank, Richard had a house erected on the Woodcroft Estate for his mother to live in.
My grandmother remained for many years at Greenbank after her husband’s death ; during that time her three sons married, and when in 1831 her daughter ‘ Annie ‘ was married to Dr. Reynolds, it seemed to her right that her eldest son (William) should come to reside at Greenbank, and take up his position as head of the family. Upon this her son Richard had a most comfortable cottage-house built for her on his own estate of Woodcroft. It was built close to the entrance drive, and his mother’s sight being then failing, he had the house built in one story, without a single step anywhere, so that she could walk with ease from one room to another. Here she lived, made happy by the affection of her children and grandchildren till her death in 1839.Reynolds-Rathbone diaries and letters, 1753-1839, Emily Rathbone Greg
Describing the home Richard built for his mother as a ‘most comfortable cottage-house’ does not do justice to the property, as can be seen below.
In 1839 Richard’s mother died. In the census of 1841 Richard Rathbone is still on the Woodcroft estate, but confusingly he is listed as living at ‘Edgelane’ between Woodcroft View on Wellington Road and Sandown Lane. Mike points out this is not the Edge Lane we know today but merely refers being at the edge of Smithdown Lane (Road).
The Wavertree Tithe schedule shows the majority of the estate and that the landowner was “Sarjeantson & Others” and the occupier was Richard Rathbone.
Woodcroft after Richard Rathbone
Soon after the Tithe survey in 1845, Richard had left the area and moved to another house named Woodcote on Aigburth Road. Woodcote was a short-lived name for Grove House, this predated Rathbone’s occupancy and stood on the area between Allington and Dalmeny Streets.
Richard Rathbone died in November 1860 and was buried at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth.
Woodcroft up for sale
When Richard had moved away, the Woodcroft Estate was then put up for sale.
This map from the 1850s below (over a Google street view) shows Woodcroft House but Woodcroft Cottage is not shown. It was located within the red circle.
Shown below is the 1846 to 1864 map showing the Woodcroft estate, the pink denotes the area of the estate that was within Toxteth Park. Some of the houses shown on this map will be looked at next.
Surviving houses from the Woodcroft estate
On the maps from the 1840s above can be seen a property called Woodcroft View. This still appears to have survived as a semi-detached property at 12-14 Wellington Avenue. These have been listed by English Heritage as grade II properties. The listing merely says they are early 19th century. The right side of the house, facing Garmoyle Close (originally called Boreland Bank) is slightly older and is likely to be Woodcroft View. The left hand property was known as Welland Cottage. Woodcroft View appears next to Richard Rathbone on the 1841 census above and was probably built between 1820 and 1835.
Also on the 1840s map is a name familiar to anyone who lives in the area. Willow Bank is the name of a charming pub that stands on the same site on Smithdown Road near to the corner of Gainsborough Road. Exactly when this private house became a public house is not clear but it’s listed as such in 1924. The house has undergone may structural changes but the original house may survive in part. This was within the Toxteth Park township.
2 Wellington Fields
Also on the Woodcroft estate is another early house, 2 Wellington Fields, This dates from the 1840s as is also Grade II listed.
A need for houses for the rapidly expanding Liverpool
When the estate was put up for sale again in 1855 the notice mentioned the demands of Liverpool’s increased population – but at this point ‘moderate-sized villas, with good gardens attached’ were hoped to be erected. Also mentioned are sewers that were in the process of being laid that ‘will afford excellent drainage’. The advertisement was placed by the trustees of the late Charles Tayleur and plans could be seen by application to Peter Serjeantson. Talyleur had already moved to Hampton House in Babbacombe in 1851 and died there in 1854.
The Woodcroft public house
One of the first of the newer buildings after Rathbone was the Woodcroft Inn, this is now the Landmark Indian restaurant. Construction was already underway on 19th December 1859. Note from the clipping below that Woodcroft Road was originally named Tayleur Street. Amusingly, they hadn’t decided on a name for Thornycroft at the time of press so left it blank.
The earliest landlord was probably James Mc’Dougall, he transferred his license to Thomas Lovelady in 1867. In 1870 it was referred to as ‘Lovelady’s Vaults’.
Auctions were held there in the 1860s. With a lack of a mortuary in Toxteth Park, in the 1870s several inquests where also held there. In modern years this building has endured some questionable paint schemes. Here it is in 2016 after its psychedelic period of bright pink.
The building features some attractive period details including urns mounted in the broken pediments above the central window facing Smithdown Road and the entrance facing Bagot Street. Decorative wreaths appear on both sides of the building.
The beginning of large housing developments
Woodcroft Villas in the new Bagot Street was one of the first developments – 1862:
In 1865 some of the surrounding roads had been laid on the Woodcroft estate and the sewers now laid. Lot 1 is for Woodcroft and Lot 2 is the plot next to it (Mike’s option 3)
By 1866, the plans for ‘moderate sized villas’ now gave way to a much larger scheme of 500 terraced houses to be built on the estate (and no gardens of course).
In 1868, the plan for hundreds of houses brought a new requirement – catering for the spiritual welfare of the future residents. This would be St. Bridget’s.
History told in houses
In this period (before 1866) Argyle Terrace had been erected in Bagot Street. This is shown on the map from the 1880s further down this post.
A walk around the streets in this area will demonstrate the different periods of house building. From the few surviving original villas up to the 1850s – to the more ornate terraces with small front gardens like Argyle Terrace below from the 1860s – to the more uniform terraces that are from the later Victorian and Edwardian periods. This small cluster of streets tells its own history through its architecture.
The beginning of sports being played on the site
While the plans for the housing developments were advertised, sporting events began to be played at on the estate. This probably made some revenue for the landowners while they waited for a developer to purchase the plots. The first game played there appears to have been cricket, like this match Woodcroft Cricket Club played at home to Olympic in August 1869.
Cricket matches continued in the 1870s – and so did the advertisements for building on it. In April 1871 Freehold land on the Woodcroft Estate near Smithdown Road was described as ‘suitable for shops, other places of business, and houses’. These advertisements ran for a decade.
Cricket was still the still the main sport at Woodcroft throughout the 1880s with little or no evidence of any other sort being played. Hockey also made an appearance at the very end of the decade when Lancashire played Cheshire. Fewer advertisements for building land appeared in the 1880s but that is likely because development had already began in parts of the estate. Plans for the Grosvenor Hotel on the corner of Bishopgate Street had been approved in 1886. This would have afforded a view of the ground – but only if you cranked your head out of the upstairs windows.
The football era
We now reach the 1890s. The first year of the new decade saw cricket matches still played at Woodcroft. Then, as we have seen, the opening match of the Liverpool Caledonian AFC was played on Monday 28 September 1891 against Everton where the ‘Callies’ lost 1-0.
After the match Robert Kirkland, the president of Liverpool Caledonian, entertained both teams and the Everton League team to dinner at the Bee Hotel in St. John’s Lane.
End of Liverpool Caledonian football club
On the 16 December 1892 the business behind the Liverpool Caledonian club was insolvent and ceased trading. The ground and fixtures were put up for sale immediately.
Cycling at Woodcroft Park
Cycling races were still ran at Woodcroft in the 1890s, in May 1892 Southport Cycling Club competed against West Lancashire. Races included the one mile flat and the half-mile safety bicycle race.
A proposed recreation ground for Wavertree
Just two days before the Old Boys took over the ground on the 7th January 1893, it had been proposed by Rev. C. W. Stubbs that Woodcroft Park should be considered as a recreation ground for the people of Wavertree. He stated the land could be had for £25 a year (a value of £3,285 today). The fixtures could be purchased for £120.
This was two years before Wavertree’s ‘Mystery’ was opened after being donated by Philip H. Holt. Woodcroft Park was then home to the Old Boys rugby club until the ground closed in 1898.
Streets closing in
Portman Road, Granville Road, Egerton Road and Woodcroft Road appear as occupied in 1898. This is the part of the Woodcroft estate closest to Smithdown Road (option 1).
The end of a very short era
As we have seen the last matches were played at Woodcroft Park in March 1898. The developers wasted no time in erecting their houses, because less than a year later number 4-42 Banner Street appear in a document from the Land Registry dated 20th February 1899. No doubt the ‘flat and well drained ground’ that had been praised for its suitability for football also sped up the process of converting it into rows of streets.
By the census of 1901 the entire land that was once the Woodcroft Park athletic field was covered in occupied houses. Three schools, a church and a chapel are within the old estate. Wavertree Playground, opened in 1895, now provides the area with green space with sporting activities.
Always under threat
From the map evidence presented earlier we can see that the Woodcroft Park stadium had existed under the threat of demolition ever since it was constructed. The advertisements show that the landowners had been trying to sell the site since the 1840s – 50 years!
The ground’s existence was likely only a stopgap until the landowners could find someone willing to take it on. It must be remembered that the 1880s to 1890s saw vast areas of what is now south Liverpool being converted from countryside into terraced streets. Developers were not short of options for building land. Wavertree Station opening in 1870 was sure to make the site a much more desirable location for the influx of working people requiring new and sanitary housing with good transport links.
The site suffered the same fate of stalled and failed developments that has occurred in modern Liverpool in recent decades. We’ve seen that Philip’s plan of 1895 (just four years after the new ground was opened) shows the failed scheme of Southey, Wilkie and Ormsby Streets. This gave the Old Boys a reprieve. Maybe they even dared to hope they could keep their ground forever?
The next scheme for Banner, Barlett and Bligh Streets was finally successful. We can imagine a scene where that the last game was played with workmen lining the edge of the pitch, eagerly anticipating getting to work.
All ball games prohibited
Below is Banner Street today. The site of this street originally ran through the middle of Woodcroft Park’s pitch.
Our thanks to…
We’d like to thank and congratulate Mike Chitty and the Wavertree Society for the excellent research that was essential in helping us prove the site of Woodcroft Park. Also for engaging with us prior to publishing and helping us finetune our research.
Thanks also for all the people that have looked into the history of the site since 2014, with a special thanks to Kjell Hanssen of Play Up, Liverpool. Also ToffeeWeb and EFC Heritage Society for information and images.
Thanks too to sites like Liverpool 1207, Historic Liverpool and the National Library of Scotland for putting old maps online, making research so much easier. Also the British Newspaper Archive, without which research like this would be near impossible.
Lastly, a thank you to Tim Beaumont for raising the issue of Woodcroft Park in the first place.
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History of Wavertree
For everything you want to know about the history of Wavertree the Wavertree Society is highly recommended.
William Orr – http://efcheritagesociety.com/?p=4783
The history of Bootle FC can be read here
Play Up, Liverpool, The history of Liverpool Football Club, their home at Anfield and all the people. This site is highly recommended, especially for the early history of LFC. It also contains a wealth of information about Liverpool Caledonian.
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