The origins of ferries between Birkenhead and Liverpool go back to the days of the Benedictine monks at Birkenhead Priory.
The priory was founded about 1150. About 1330, the monks were granted a charter that enabled them to charge passengers to ferry them from Birkenhead to Liverpool, but interestingly not in the other direction.
All of this took place at a time when there was no town or even a village in Birkenhead. It remained a small township with series of small hamlets and farms until the early 1800s.
The origins of the "modern" ferry service at Woodside began in the 1820s when the town of Birkenhead was being born.
At that time, the place looked very different from today.
There was a beach that sloped down from what is now the road in front of the Woodside Hotel to the water's edge, and there were few buildings in what must have been an attractive semi-rural setting. Victorian Landing Stage - 1973
In the early 1840s, the facilities were upgraded to meet the needs of a young, busy, developing new town. The old slipway was replaced with a new stone pier. This ran from just below the Woodside Hotel, which was built in the 1830s, to the edge of the current riverside wall, and must have been a much more prominent feature on the beach, which had long since lost its rural charm.
The pier had a low stone wall, so that people could walk along it and there was a small lighthouse at the end. On either side, there were slipways, so that boats could berth on whichever side was more sheltered.
The growth of the town was such that the pier soon became inadequate and was being swallowed up by developments around it. During the late 1850s and early 1860s, the land between the Woodside Hotel and the end of the pier was reclaimed and the current walled water's edge was established. The small lighthouse was left where it was as the area all around it was reclaimed.
The light today stands on land at the water's edge which is very slightly proud of the rest of the river wall. The old lighthouse
The river-front development meant that a completely new ferry facility was required. It opened in 1861 and was totally different from the previous slipways.
It had a booking hall on the water's edge which was linked to a floating landing stage via covered walkways that were hinged or pivoted so that they could rise and fall with the landing stage. At various times there was also a similar walkway for cattle at the north end of the landing stage, and a roadway to allow vehicles access to the stage and to vehicle ferry services.
The old lighthouse had become redundant and was tucked away, almost out of sight, next to the top of the passenger walkways. It could also be seen from approaching ferries, especially from the upper deck.
These facilities remained for about 120 years and were replaced in the 1980s. Just a few years earlier, the landing stage and walkways were used in filming "Chariots of Fire" to represent Dover, when the athletes were boarding the ferry to France.
By the 1980s, the facilities had fallen into disrepair and were in need of replacement. At that time, there was even talk of closing down the Woodside Ferry service altogether. Fortunately that didn't happen and the facilities were replaced with a completely new ferry terminal.
The changes took place in several stages:
1984 - Preparatory work on the site, as the old facilities were prepared for demolition.
1985 - The year when most of the changes took place. In September, the ferry service was suspended for a short period whilst the old landing stage and walkways could be removed completely. The new landing stage was brought in, moored in place and the new passenger walkway was secured in place. Once secured, the ferry service reopened and work to complete the facilities on land, on the walkway and on the landing stage continued.
1986 - The new ferry terminal was officially opened on 13th March. Work continued on the restoration of the shell of the old booking hall. Today the old booking hall houses a cafe, a gift shop and a tourist information centre as well as continuing to serve as the gateway to the ferry at Woodside.