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The name GATEACRE (pronounced gat-acca, not gate-acre) is thought to derive from 'gata' - the way - to the 'acre field' of Much Woolton. Gateacre was never a township in its own right. The village was bisected by the boundary between Much and Little Woolton: 'Much' being centred on Woolton village, and 'Little' being an almost entirely rural area which included Netherley. The present-day Halewood Road and Grange Lane follow the line of an old packhorse trail, which led from the Mersey at Hale to the settlement of West Derby before Liverpool even existed. The crossroads in Gateacre is shown on eighteenth-century maps, and the 'Bull' and 'Bear' would at that time have catered for travellers passing through the district.

The oldest buildings surviving in the village are probably Grange Lodge in Grange Lane (a house which retains some 17th century features), the Unitarian Chapel in Gateacre Brow (built in 1700 for an English Presbyterian congregation) and Paradise Row in Grange Lane (the original inhabitants of which, pre-1750, are thought to have been out-workers producing components for the Prescot watchmaking industry). Around this small cluster of buildings stretched farmland and heathland, which during the nineteenth century proved attractive to wealthy individuals seeking a rural retreat from their everyday business in Liverpool, Warrington or Widnes.

Eighteenth century Gateacre was characterised by buildings and boundary walls of Woolton stone: the local red sandstone which was later used to build Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. Many of these survive to the present day. In the late nineteenth century, however, a change in architectural fashion led to Gateacre village being associated with the 'black-and-white' or 'mock Tudor' style which makes it such a distinctive enclave today.

Among the wealthy Victorians who moved to Gateacre was Sir Andrew Barclay Walker: the Scottish-born brewer who was knighted in 1877 following his gift of the Walker Art Gallery to Liverpool. Walker settled in Gateacre in the late 1860s, having commissioned the local architect Cornelius Sherlock to rebuild Gateacre Grange on Rose Brow. It was Sir Andrew Barclay Walker who, in 1887, gave the village green to the Little Woolton Local Board of Health (the local council of the day), to commemorate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. On it he placed a bronze bust of the Queen, sculpted by her nephew Count Gleichen.

Another local resident was John Hays Wilson, a brassfounder who was also chairman of Liverpool town council's Water Committee. He died in 1881, having caught a chill at a horseracing meeting held in the grounds of his home, Lee Hall. The people of Gateacre paid for a picturesque memorial: the hexagonal sandstone structure (originally housing a drinking fountain) which remains a well-known local landmark on the corner of Grange Lane.

It was Sir Andrew Barclay Walker who donated the land for the Wilson Memorial and who, at about the same time, gave the nearby Black Bull pub its 'mock Tudor' look. A few years earlier, in 1877, he had provided land in Halewood Road for a new Church of England school, and converted the old school building in Grange Lane into a reading room, later to become the Gateacre Institute. And it was Sir Andrew's son, William Hall Walker - later Lord Wavertree - who built stables for his polo ponies (now Grange Mews) in 1895, and 'model' houses (Soarer Cottages) for his married grooms in 1896 to commemorate his Grand National victory.

Other Gateacre village landmarks - unconnected with the Walkers - include the mid-nineteenth century Fleetwood's brewery (later a felt factory) at the bottom of the Brow, and the Bear and Staff pub (originally the 'Bear and Ragged Staff', displaying the emblem of the Earl of Warwick). Between the two is an unusual black-and-white former bank building (once also housing a telephone exchange) on the corner of Sandfield Road: an early work of Walter Aubrey Thomas who went on to design the Royal Liver Building on Liverpool's waterfront.

Although officially absorbed into the City of Liverpool in 1913 - and having been connected to Liverpool Central station by the Cheshire Lines railway from 1879 onwards - Gateacre and the rest of Little Woolton remained remarkably rural until after the Second World War. It was only in the 1960s that a rash of new building - housing estates off Grange Lane, and a utilitarian shopping parade - threatened to engulf the old village. At the same time, several of Gateacre's mature trees faced destruction. The result was the imposition of Liverpool's first Tree Preservation Order - to protect the trees around the former perimeter of Gateacre Grange - and the designation of Gateacre Village as one of the city's first Conservation Areas.

© COPYRIGHT 2001 Mike Chitty, The Gateacre Society
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