Birkenhead Priory & St Mary's

Modern Images of the Priory sent to me by David Lee

The priory of St. James the Great at Birkenhead stood on a wooded headland on the north-eastern shore of the Wirral peninsula near a river ferry across the Mersey to Liverpool; the existence of a ferry may have been the reason for the foundation of a monastery on such an isolated site and for its dedication. According to John Leland the priory was founded for sixteen monks and was a cell of Chester abbey. Although it is possible that the original monks were supplied by St. Werburgh's, there is no further evidence of dependency. The date of foundation and the identity of the founder are as obscure as most other aspects of the history of the priory. The traditional date is 1150 but there is no documentary evidence that the priory existed before the second half of the reign of Henry II. The nature of the priory's endowment suggests that a member of the Massey family of Dunham founded it, probably the second Hamon de Massey who died in 1185. A Hamon de Massey granted the monks the right to elect their priors from among their own number; the right is likely to have been the gift of the founder and the Pope Alexander who confirmed the grant was probably Alexander III (1159-81).

'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Birkenhead', A History of the County of Chester: Volume 3 (1980), pp. 128-132.

URL: This Priory was actually here before Birkenhead existed as a settlement.

1275 & 1277
Edward I visited the Priory
Edward III granted the Priors and their successors forever the right to ferry over the Mersey
Circa The Priory closed
Priory lands and ferry purchased by Ralph Worsley
Worsley died, the lands and ferry passed to the Powell family
Cavalier troops, ‘Kept a guard about Berket wood’
Cavalier troops, ‘possessed themselves of Berkett in Worrall’
Priory lands and ferry bought by John Cleveland, a merchant of Liverpool
Cleveland died, lands and ferry passed to the Price family

Cost of the Ferry in 1357 (single)

Foot Passengers - Liverpool Market Day - ¼d (farthing)
Foot Passengers - Other Days - ½d
Foot Passengers - With Laden Pack - 1d
One man and - With Laden Horse - 2d
One man and - Unladen Horse - 1d
- Quarter Sack of Corn - 1d