A review of our June talk - by Anna Alexander

Over 50 members and guests of the Gateacre Society were present on 6th June to hear Beryl Plent's excellent talk on the mansions built for wealthy merchants and their families in the nineteenth century. Beryl has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the old buildings on Beaconsfield Road, and she intrigued us with the history of the houses and photographs and maps of the area.

An early nineteenth-century map set the scene. Using this map, Beryl took us on a journey up Gateacre Brow and then up what used to be little more than a track over Woolton Hill, to Folly Vale which was an area next to an old quarry near Strawberry Field. This track became known as Beaconsfield Road. Prior to 1805, Woolton Hill was common land where people could graze their animals, but the 1805 Enclosure Act meant that plots of land were reallocated, with the lions' share going to the local gentry and wealthy merchants. Joshua Lace, Attorney-at-Law, the founder and first president of Liverpool Law Society, was allocated plot 11.

We were shown a photograph of Beaconsfield, Ambrose Lace's house with its stone conservatory and over 30 chimneys. One taken from another angle showed a prospect tower at the north west corner - a status symbol of the late 1800s.  Ambrose increased his estate by buying adjacent land and built two cottages as his new entrance lodge. They still exist as Grade 2 listed buildings, Numbers 35 and 37 Beaconsfield Road. The main house was demolished for the building of Newcroft and Hillcroft Roads in 1933. No.84, the coachman's cottage, is the only original building of 1833 surviving today - for over forty years it was the home of William Large, coachman to the James family. Almost derelict at one point, the house has been totally refurbished.

Mention was made of the Knolle Park estate, once the home of Liverpool's first Town Clerk, Thomas Foster.  Archbishop Whiteside bought the house for £30 and it opened as a Poor Law School in 1909. It is known today as St Gabriel's convent.

An 1881 map showed these houses plus several others of note: High Lee, Higher Lee, Lower Lea, Abbots Lea, Beacon Hill and Stoneleigh. Beryl described High Lee as a 'Victorian gothic pile'. It was built for Thomas Vernon, an iron ship builder and was later owned by Mr David Jardine, a timber merchant, who may have added the decorative bargeboards to the gables. Ack-ack guns were placed in the grounds during WW2!  Abbots Lea was built by ship owner John Bushby in 1862. William Gossage, a soap manufacturer from Widnes was the owner from 1899 to 1912, and in 1948 it was purchased by Liverpool Corporation and is today part of a Special School. Lower Lea, another red sandstone mansion was owned by Mr Chapple Gill a cotton broker. He married Catherine Carey in 1868 and in 1877 she was painted by James Tissot, seated with two of her children on the window seat of the drawing room. The painting now hangs in the Walker Art Gallery.  The talk ended with a description of the old house built in 1867 for ship owner George Warren: Strawberry Field.

This short report cannot do justice to the amount of detailed information included, and the interest it provoked was demonstrated by the many questions Beryl answered at the end of the evening.

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