Historical interpretation project at Port Sunlight River Park wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

8th June 2017

National land management charity the Land Trust, Chester based Community Interest Company, Big Heritage and Autism Together have received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Discovering Bromborough; Interpreting the past project, it was announced today.

The project, which will be made possible thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, aims to enhance the visitor facilities whilst connecting two distinct sites, Port Sunlight River Park and Bromborough Court House. A series of pathways are planned, which will allow visitors to explore large areas of Eastern Wirral on foot or by bike, connecting the archaeological heritage of the Old Court House site and the industrial and social Heritage of Bromborough and the former Bromborough Dock, now an attractive community open space overlooking the River Mersey.

Development funding of £35,500 has also been awarded to help the project partners progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.

The project partners will provide a host of activities that explore the cultural and natural heritage of the area through archaeological excavation, community curation projects, Heritage talks, activities, educational sessions, heritage based trails and more. This builds on two previous successful HLF projects, Discovering Bromborough 1 and 2 delivered by Big Heritage with the support of the Land Trust throughout 2013-2015.

In addition, Port Sunlight River Park will also benefit from a refurbishment of the existing building on site to create a free to visit and much needed community heritage space, enhancing and supplementing the benefits already delivered on the River Park.  The Centre will be used as a Heritage Hub to both deliver the project and sustain a long term legacy and engagement with the area’s history. The physical refurbishment will create a multi-function, flexible activity space and include exhibitions relating to the Old Court House archaeological finds and displays and interpretation that will explore the heritage of the area, from prehistory to the modern past. The centre will be staffed by a new Education Officer and will provide a range of new activities and project based learning for local individuals, organisations and communities as well as basic facilities for visitors such as refreshments and washrooms.

Bomborough is an area rich in history. Its strategic location next to the River Mersey and its proximity to the Irish Sea has made it an important site through the centuries for defence and industry and the Old Court House site, scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 is believed to have been an area of significance since at least the medieval period. The site of Bromborough Old Court House is considered to be of national importance. Dr Jo Kirton, Project Manager says “Recent excavation by Big Heritage and local volunteers revealed the first evidence for medieval occupation on the site, which will form the focus of archaeological exploration throughout this project. It’s an exciting opportunity for all involved and the results will help us better understand and protect the site.’”.

The Dock, at what is now the Land Trust’s Port Sunlight River Park, was opened in 1931 and served the Lever Brothers factory from the 19th century until the 1980s. It provided a link to the Birkenhead Railway and was strategically important during WWII as it was able to continue operating when docks at Liverpool and Birkenhead were bombed. It was also used for the construction of Maunsell army forts and offshore anti-aircraft towers which were situated in Liverpool Bay.  A gradual decline in goods traffic resulted in the closure of the dock in 1986. Following that period, much of the site was used for landfill until its closure in 2006.  In 2014, The Land Trust opened the restored site as Port Sunlight River Park; a community space offering walkways, wildlife havens and stunning views of Liverpool’s iconic skyline.

The site’s heritage covers a wealth of historic events and social and industrial history that have been responsible for creating Bromborough as it exists today, but despite this, there is still much that is unknown.  Very little detail is understood about the medieval period in this part of the Wirral and the opportunity to identify and record a high status medieval building, possibly the Court House referred to in a number of medieval works would be an incredible discovery with significant long-term research potential for the site and the surrounding area.

Sarah Palgrave-Neath, Estates Manager North West at the Land Trust says ‘’We are absolutely delighted to hear that the Land Trust and its project partners have been awarded £35,000 of development funding to help progress our plans for the Heritage project at Port Sunlight River Park.  This is a valuable opportunity for the community to explore and appreciate the rich heritage of the site and surrounding area”.

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