Birkenhead Priory

Coordinates: 53°23′22″N 3°0′41″W / 53.38944°N 3.01139°W / 53.38944; -3.01139

Birkenhead Priory is in Priory Street, Birkenhead, Merseyside, England. It is the oldest standing building on Merseyside.[1] The site comprises the medieval remains of the priory itself, the priory chapter house, and the remains of St Marys church. All three are recorded in the National Heritage List for England, though at different grades.

St Mary's Tower on the grounds of Birkenhead Priory.
Birkenhead Priory Visitors Sign


The Priory was founded about 1150 by Hamon de Masci, 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey for the Benedictine Order.[2] It was visited twice by Edward I due to its strategic importance, being close to the Irish Sea as well as the Welsh border.

In 1318 the monks from Birkenhead Priory were granted ferry rights by Edward II. This allowed them to build a house in what is now Water Street to store their corn. The house was also used by travellers for shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.[2]

The medieval remains of the priory are designated Grade I listed building,[3] and it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[4]

The priory's chapter house dates from the late 12th century, though it was extensively restored in the early 20th century. It was in use as a chapel from the Reformation and remains a consecrated Anglican church which is still in use for services.[5] It is a Grade II* listed building containing elements of Norman architecture and was restored in 2005.[6][7][8] The upper floor of the chapter house, the Scriptorium, contains a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway.

St Mary's Tower was originally part of Birkenhead's first parish church, opened in 1821 in the grounds of the priory.[9] It is a Grade II listed building.[10]

The ground floor of the Frater House contains a museum detailing the history of the site.[11]

Twentieth centuryEdit

Redevelopment of the area from 1925 resulted in a large amount of residential housing within the parish being cleared to make way for the construction of the Queensway Tunnel. An expansion of the Number 5 dry dock at the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard in the 1960s resulted in the church losing a significant portion of its graveyard. Subsequent redevelopment of the approach roads to the Mersey Tunnel effectively cut off the church from most of what remained of its parish, further dwindling the congregation. St. Mary's Church closed in 1974[12] and was partly demolished a year later, for reasons of safety.[9] Only the former church tower and parts of the outer walls remain. The tower has since been refurbished and is dedicated to those who died in HMS Thetis.[1]

The churchyard contains the burial vault of the Laird family, which includes John Laird (1805–74), Birkenhead's first Member of Parliament and co-founder of the adjacent Cammell Laird shipbuilding company.[9]


Coat of arms of Birkenhead Priory
Quarterly Gules and Or over all a crosier erect Proper in the first quarter a lion of England.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Wirral Borough Council: Birkenhead Priory, Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, archived from the original on 19 June 2010, retrieved 18 June 2010
  2. ^ a b Richards, Raymond (1947), Old Cheshire Churches, London: Batsford, pp. 54–60, OCLC 719918
  3. ^ Historic England, "Remains of Birkenhead Priory (1201757)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 4 July 2013
  4. ^ Historic England, "Birkenhead Priory (1019159)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 4 July 2013
  5. ^ "Services". Birkenhead Priory Parish. Archived from the original on 22 June 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  6. ^ Birkenhead Priory, Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture of Great Britain and Ireland, archived from the original on 29 July 2012, retrieved 13 June 2010
  7. ^ Historic England, "Chapter House chapel at Birkenhead Priory (1218733)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 4 July 2013
  8. ^ Clarke, Wayne (25 January 2006), New life for Birkenhead Priory, BBC Liverpool, retrieved 15 December 2007
  9. ^ a b c Birkenhead – St Mary, archived from the original on 13 September 2007, retrieved 29 August 2007
  10. ^ Historic England, "Remains of Church of St Mary, Birkenhead (1218757)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 4 July 2013
  11. ^ Birkenhead Priory & St. Mary's Tower, The Mersey Partnership, retrieved 15 December 2007
  12. ^ "Cheshire Parishes: Birkenhead (St. Mary)", GENUKI UK & Ireland Genealogy, retrieved 29 August 2007
  13. ^ John Woodward (1894). A treatise on ecclesiastical heraldry. p. 357.

Brief reference to the "Abbey of Birkenhead" in chapter 31 of 'Redburn' by Herman Melville.

Further readingEdit

  • Budden, Charles W. (1922). Rambles round the old churches of Wirral. Liverpool: Edward Howell Ltd.
  • Cox, Edward W. (1895). Birkenhead Priory : a paper, read before the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1st November, 1894. Liverpool: T. Brakell. OCLC 20479978.
  • Birkenhead Priory; founded 1150 A.D. Birkenhead. 1965. OCLC 316016509.
  • Mason, William I. (1854). The history and antiquities of Birkenhead Priory : illustrated by views, plans, and elevations together with views of the churches formerly connected with the Priory. Oxford: J. H. Parker. OCLC 3782912.
  • Stewart-Brown, Ronald David; Brakspear, Sir Harold (1925). Birkenhead Priory and the Mersey Ferry. Liverpool: State Assurance Co. OCLC 4147493.
  • Lee, Kenneth (1960). The parish church of Birkenhead and the Priory ruins. British Pub. Co. OCLC 30234518.
  • Birkenhead Priory. Birkenhead: Borough Council (Birkenhead). 1965. OCLC 27398205.
  • McInniss, Jean (1983). Birkenhead Priory. Birkenhead: Countyvise. ISBN 9780907768159. OCLC 11572530.

External linksEdit