Wellington Road in Edwardian Times
The designations of most of Oxton’s oldest roads and byways are probably easy to explain. Typically, they record either their general and ancient use – as in Village Road (ever, perhaps, the well trodden path leading to Oxton’s original village centre). The ownership of the land across which Oxton’s new roads were laid down in the 19th century often resulted in their naming. Fairclough Lane and Bennetts Hill are good examples of this process – Messrs Fairclough and Bennett were Oxton land-owners in the mid 19th century. Other roads were given more descriptive names as Oxton was developed into a residential area for the wealthy families who came to live here from Birkenhead and Liverpool. Fairview Road and Rich View both say something about the place as it was then perceived. Perhaps the name Rose Mount might always be enigmatic, however.
Wellington Road was surely named after the great man himself – the Duke of Wellington - but given that it was known by that name before his death in 1852, it must be concluded that it was named in his honour rather than in his memory although at the time of the 1851 Census there were only two houses recorded there.
One was the home of Richard Scolefield (a Wool Broker) and his family, and the other of the family of William Tyson (described as a Share holder in joint stock). Not much had changed ten years later (still just two houses, but with different owners), but by 1871 the two houses were named as Apsley Villa, and Field House. It is not surprising that on a road named Wellington there should be a house named Apsley: Apsley House was the London home of the Duke of Wellington (and its postal address was then often referred to as “No. 1, London”). Apsley Villa is still standing (at the junction of Wellington Road and Gerald Road – but now numbered 10 Gerald Road), but Field House, which stood near to the junction with Silverdale Road, was destroyed by the WW2 bombing raid (March 1941) that also destroyed the old Caernarvon Castle pub and damaged St Saviour’s church.
There was little else along Wellington Road in those times other than Mr. Caton’s rope-walk (a long stretch of land where fibres were twisted to make great lengths of rope). In a work by F. R. Beazley, he refers to a memoir of an Oxton man who knew it then, and who described Wellington Road as being “dirtier than the fields”, but from the 1870’s onwards, that whole area began to be developed, and what was seen as appropriate houses were built there for people of a certain middle class standing. One of the residents of Wellington Road’s new houses was Rev. Percival Carteret Robin. He was the vicar of St Saviour’s from 1884 to 1897, so he had the privilege of serving the congregations of both the first and the new church (consecrated in 1891). The Robin family (and the King family before them, and into which the Robin family married) had for generations held the advowson of Woodchurch – and, therefore of Oxton. There also grew up a small but convenient row of shops in Wellington Road to provide for its residents’ immediate needs A Post Office of course, and at various times a grocer, a chemist, a draper, a confectioner (described in 1899 as a high class confectioner, of course), a dairy, a butcher and a stationer & tobacconist.
There is a very interesting entry on the Census returns for 1911. At No. 48 Wellington Road, Laura and Jane Willmer are given as its residents (with two female servants).They were the daughters of Charles Willmer, whose family printing business was a feature of down town Birkenhead until well into the 20th century. The family were staunchly Liberal, and it was one of Charles’ sons, Frederick, who came up with the idea of publishing a Liberal newspaper – to be called The Birkenhead News – to counter the perceived Tory voice of Birkenhead’s first newspaper, The Birkenhead Advertiser. Laura and Jane (Jeanie as she was known) were truly remarkable women. Following the death of their father and three of their five brothers they decided, in 1903, to manage and edit the newspaper themselves – quite a thing for them to do given the male dominated business world of those times, and probably unequalled through the land! But they also held quite deeply felt political views. Especially, they were dedicated to the cause of women’s suffrage. On their 1911 Census Return, Laura gave as her occupation “Editor & Managing Director”, and Jeanie gave hers as “Editor & Secretary”. There is an additional written note on this return which reads “All constitutional Suffragettes. Census paper filled in under protest as disfranchised citizens”. Jeanie died in 1933, and Laura in 1936 thus bringing to an end a truly remarkable story.