Liverpool Crown Street station: The Miller's Tale

Windmill 1849 from south with engine.png
Reimagining the windmill parcel of 1849: view from the east. The building at the front is the smithy on Smithdown Lane with coal sidings beyond. The large building on the left is the Falkner Street warehouse. In the centre is the mill complex with sidings and track going into the mill complex.

The miller in question was Stephen White and his windmill was located at the junction of Crabtree Lane (later Falkner Street) and Smithdown Lane. The tale (including much surmise) involves a parcel of land occupied by the mill and the manner in which it coexisted alongside Liverpool Crown Street station. The station's role as Liverpool terminus on the first modern railway, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR), was short-lived but the story of its afterlife as a coalyard may also be told from the perspective of the neighbouring mill.

The first owner of the mill was Stephen White's father of the same name. He purchased the land in 1801 from the Trustees of the West Derby Waste Lands. He died in 1816, aged 56, corn broker John Rigby acting as his executor. White's wife Sarah had four children, Stephen, John, Elizabeth and Esther, with Stephen eventually taking over the business as miller (he would have been about 15 at the time of his father's death so it is possible his mother ran the business in the meantime, perhaps with Rigby's help).

Stephen White's name appears in the 1826 Act of Parliament as someone likely to be affected by the railway line. Indeed, at first sight it would appear from maps that his business activities were forced into an ever diminishing area before disappearing entirely. The reality is likely more nuanced.

The mill parcel from 1800 to mid-1830s

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Fig. Gage's 1836 map of Liverpool showing Stephen White's windmill (centre) on the triangular parcel bounded by Smithdown Lane (left), Falkner Street (right) and Millfield railway works (bottom).

Quite when the mill was built is unclear. It is not shown on Horwood's map of 1803 but does appear on Gregory's map of 1806 which shows a cluster of buildings, one characteristically circular in outline, at the junction of Smeatham (sometimes Smedons and later Smithdown) Lane and Crabtree Lane. In Swire's map of 1823/4 the mill is definitively represented by a windmill-like symbol. The total area occupied by the mill parcel was about 5300 sq m. The mill at this time was about 100 m from the junction of Smithdown Lane and Falkner Street and it remained at this location until at least 1864.

Gage's map of 1836 shows the complex of buildings around the mill. At the foot of the triangular mill parcel is the L&MR's Millfield works where wagons and carriages were built and maintained. The boundary with the mill parcel may have been marked by an embankment and high retaining wall that subsequently marked the boundary of one of the merchant coalyards. There is a curious bulge midway along the wall that coincides with one of the gridlines on later maps and hence may have had some cartographic significance. Alternatively it may represent a structure such as a chimney that was part-located on land leased from the mill.

On the mill side of the boundary is a row of small sheds . These could be stables, perhaps some rented out to the L&MR and hence the proximity although noise and smoke from heavy metalworking would have been disturbing for animals. The mill itself appears skirted by buildings, presumably for reception of wheat and storage of grain pending collection. There appears to be a driveway emanating from Falkner Street with separate entry and exit. This was presumably hardened in some fashion to cope with the frequent passage of carts.

Behind the mill are two rectangular structures with similar edge-hatching that might have been water reservoirs. The mill is known to have pumped water and supplied it to the station (Thomas, 1980).

Moving further towards the road junction, there are a number of houses on Falkner Street. White lived at number 8 so his may have been the one nearest the mill. There is a much larger building at the junction itself as well as a possible short terrace. It is possible that these were also residential, owned by White but rented out.

The building on Smithdown Lane is shown in subsequent maps as a smithy. The presence of numerous horses working in the locality would have meant steady business for a farrier on top of any work done for the mill or railway.

The mill parcel in the mid-1840s

By the mid-1840s the mill parcel appears to have lost several buildings, including the reservoirs but this may presage further development. The railway notably makes its first incursion onto the mill parcel. There are now four tunnels under Smithdown Lane besides the original Stephenson tunnel (which was too small for locomotives) and track from one snakes across the northern edge of the mill parcel and into or up to the side of the entrance building for the Millfield yard. A siding forks back off towards Smithdown Lane and towards the expanding smithy on the mill parcel, presumably delivering coal and iron.

The mill parcel in the late 1840s

The Town Plan of 1849 shows the mill now enmeshed in a complex of sidings with at least 6 visible turnplates. It now had a substantial reservoir to its north. The presence of a weighing machine suggests that there might be an adjacent hut under a raised reservoir. There were large numbers of buildings of differing sizes as well as an augmented complex associated with the mill itself.

There is no definitive visual representation of the windmill in this location other than a very distant appearance in the 1847 panoramic view published by Ackermann. This suggests the tower format (rather than post) with perhaps a hemispherical cap. It appears to have a warehouse to its south fully within the boundaries of the combined railway and mill yards. By this time there were already quite a few buildings on Falkner Street interspersed with walls and presumably gates.

There is a large 5-6 storey warehouse on Falkner Street that appears at this time and which persisted until the yard was decommissioned. The convoluted nature of the mill sidings suggests that rail traffic was segregated, inward movements to the east of the large warehouse and outward to the west.

On the eastern side, although no entrance or interior track is visible on the map, there may be track into the mill from a complex of sidings, perhaps used for prioritising wagons. Alternatively the mill buildings adjacent to the siding may have had unloading bays. In either case movement of wagons away from the mill would appear to interfere with inbound wagons unless rakes were relatively short in which case half the wagons could back up past the turnplate while the second half took their place. [UPDATED 04/04/18]

There may also be track from the mill into the warehouse. This could be entirely separate or linked by two turnplates within the building. It is also possible that this is a chute rather than track. In either case it raises the possibility that the warehouse was used to store flour, at least while it was in close proximity to the mill. Later yard plans made after the mill had relocated eastwards (see below) indicate use of the warehouse as stables although other roles would clearly be possible for the upper storeys of such a large building. An aerial photograph from 1922 shows that there are exits from the warehouse to Falkner Street. There is also a siding on the eastern side of the building which does not run adjacent to the warehouse and is presumably for direct transfer of goods to carts. A weighing machine is provided close to the gate. [UPDATED 04/04/18]

On the western corner of the parcel adjacent to Falkner Street is a building with track inside. This may be an engine house. The adjacent building might be offices and overnight accommodation for enginemen. The locomotive could belong (or be leased to) the mill but several branchlines were operated to a large extent on behalf of collieries with the Bolton & Leigh, for example, purchasing Edward Bury's Liverpool engine. The locomotive shown here is based on Bury's later tank shunter delivered to the Chester & Shrewsbury in 1847. Bury had a successful business in Liverpool producing small, simple and inexpensive locomotives such as this coupled 0-4-0. Most likely, however, local shunting would be carried out by horses, typically drawing a maximum of three wagons at a time.

There is a siding that runs close to the mill buildings and this could house a loading bay, most likely outbound.

Grain shipment by rail to Crown Street for milling might reflect changes in agricultural practices around this time. As the city expanded into the countryside with loss of adjacent farms and fields so the railway enabled more distant farms to send grain for milling in the city. These may even have included reclaimed areas such as Chat Moss where William Reid grew wheat in the early 1830s.

Grain would typically be in sacks stacked on low-sided wagons, perhaps covered with a tarpaulin secured by rope. A wagon likely carrying sacks can be seen in one of Shaw's 1831 train prints with a rider apparently in repose on top. In the OpenSim build the wagons have a bar to simplify coverage with the tarpaulin.

In due course Liverpool would also import grain from the Americas. This came in bulk, mostly into Waterloo docks. In 1849 these were connected to Edge Hill, and thence Crown Street, by the Victoria and Waterloo tunnels. While there is obviously a danger of reading too much into the model, it would appear that the mill and warehouse may have been part of an operation that both produced flour and distributed grain, indicative perhaps of the corn merchant-cum-miller that White became. One can imagine encouragement for such an enterprise coming from L&MR-associated corn merchants such as Sandars and Booth. In time, however, large grain warehouses and modern mills were built close to the northern docks and this may have impinged on White's business strategy and led to increased coal traffic.

Braithwaite Poole, writing in 1849 on behalf of the LNWR, had predicted that the weight of coal passing through Crown Street would double over the next 5 years to 1849 and recommended that space for coal at Crown Street be expanded by removing the buildings of the old Millfield Yard. There is no mention of the mill parcel itself apart perhaps from an oblique reference to subletting land on which they are presently tenants (the comment could equally apply to yards on the opposite side of Crown Street). It is possible therefore that such sidings as there were on the mill estate were leased to the railway who would now expand the coal operation to third-parties via the Wigan Coal & Iron Company and their agents.

The mill parcel in the 1860s

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Fig: The windmill has moved and now has a steam-powered mill alongside it

By this time there had been a radical change as shown in Herdman's 1859 watercolour. The mill has moved to about 30 m from the junction and the chimney on the right belonging to the smithy is now accompanied by another chimney, probably one serving a boilerhouse driving a steam-powered mill built in the mid-1850s. [UPDATE: SEE COMMENT AT END; APPARENTLY THE MILL DID NOT MOVE]

There has been a suggestion that the chimneys belong to the Windsor Foundry (pdf) associated with pioneer socialist John Finch. However, while the smithy may have been a subsidiary site, the main Windsor Foundry location developed from one previously owned by Smith & Willey further along Smithdown Lane (opposite to the direction shown in Herdman's picture). Later still this would become Milner's Phoenix Safe Works.

The Herdman print shows a standard tower mill with a pitched roof cap that rotates to face the wind by means of a small fantail rotor to the rear. The structure is also shown in the distance in an 1865 panoramic view although the roof does not appear conventionally pitched, more an ogee with a finial.

The buildings to the left in Herdman's print may be residential and/or office spaces and probably include the earliest cluster at the junction. The building with the facing gable end is presumably the warehouse seen to the right in View 1 (below) and used in preference to the original warehouse.

The chimney to the left appears in Ackermann's 1847 panoramic view of Liverpool, probably associated with Millfield Yard. It no longer appears in the 1865 panorama of Jackson & Sulman. The spire just to the right of the mill may be that of the Church of the Holy Innocents on Myrtle Street although this only opened in 1861.

The 1865 panorama by Jackson & Sulman again shows the windmill dominating the coalyard but, as with Herdman's print, significantly closer to Smithdown Lane. There is again a warehouse to the south but the slightly different angle makes it hard to resolve buildings along Falkner Street and beyond.

Lancashire Archives has a map of the coalyards by William Culshaw that probably dates to this period but it excludes the mill parcel. Other maps show that there were three main yards on the mill parcel, one belonging to Bathgate, one to Bradley (both Liverpool coal merchants) and probably one ultimately to the Wigan Coal & Iron Company who were responsible for track at the entrance to the mill estate and may have supplied the two merchants in the meantime.

There is a useful guide to the development of Liverpool warehouses.

The mill parcel in the 1890s

Although the circular outline of the mill is no longer evident on maps from 1891, there is still a cluster of buildings at the junction of Smithdown Lane and Falkner Street. It was only from 1908 that both mills had disappeared completely.

Three photographs of the Falkner Street mill c1900 are available in Liverpool Archives. Assuming they relate to the mill in question (UPDATE: THEY DON'T; SEE COMMENT AT END), they are potentially very useful albeit that they show the mill as largely derelict, roofless and possibly fire-damaged. This is consistent with the eventual disappearance of the mill from maps around this time.

View 1: 352 PSP/120/5/1: This shows a view across a lawn with the derelict mill behind a wall with a gate. This suggests that the garden is part of the complex or, alternatively, that the road, probably Falkner Street, lies between the gate and mill. There is a large warehouse to the right with two ladders leaning against it. It seems to have space below to receive or store vehicles (carts, etc). There is a cluster of smaller buildings to the left together with two gable ends of a much larger building. In the background is a large chimney, possibly a replacement for the two in Herdman's print. Looking north?

View 2: 352 PSP/120/5/2: This shows a related view with a house in the background, possibly the one with the garden seen in the earlier photo or, perhaps more likely, on the other side of Falkner Street where there were numerous pubs and hotels fronting densely packed court-style housing. The smaller buildings to the left include steps leading to what appears to be the mill entrance although the previous view shows it as largely self-standing. The building looks relatively new by comparison with its surrounds; perhaps it has just been painted and hence the ladder. Looking south, east or some point between?

View 3: 352 PSP/120/5/3: This image is more difficult to place and may represent a different mill or an earlier view of the same mill with a water jet being used to dampen down buildings after a fire. While the mill looks equally derelict and fire-damaged, it is possibly less squat, less sullied and has remnants of sails. No other buildings from the previous photos are clearly visible. An intriguing possibility is that this is a much earlier photo of the original windmill which is still apparent on maps dating to 1864 but gone by 1896. The building may represent the loading bay previously mentioned or an access point for track into the mill complex.

Lancashire Archives have plans by Culshaw for extensions to the mill (warehouse, reservoir; mentions of stables and offices). Unfortunately all but the one mentioned above were unavailable for inspection due to their poor condition. The one that was available references a small building adjacent to a large area for horse manure suggesting proximity to the stables.

William Fairbairn's steam mill

Dependence on wind as a source of motive power for milling meant that productivity was low during periods of low winds. As these often happened during summer when watermills might also be suffering from dried up streams, the promise of continuous operation via steam must have been very attractive.

The steam mill was based on engineer and millwright William Fairbairn's design of a ship-borne mill supplied to the Royal Navy during the Crimean War (Fairbairn incidentally is best remembered in the context of the L&MR for his role in the design of the Water Street Bridge in Manchester). The mill was installed in HMS Bruiser (1855; originally built in 1854 as HMS Robert Stephenson) and routinely ground some 20 tons of locally sourced wheat per day, the flour being used to make bread by a companion vessel HMS Abundance. Although the components were not unusual apart from being adapted to work at sea, Fairbairn comments on the excellent reliability of the mechanism, its highly automated operation and the good quality of the product from sometimes indifferent sources, all attractive propositions for the Liverpool millowner. An overview of mills operating in Liverpool comments on the high quality of the product from the steam mill, at least while White supervised operations personally.

It follows that construction by Fairbairn at Liverpool likely occurred sometime after 1855 but probably before Herdman's print dated 1859. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the old and new mills may have inspired the painting.

There is further information on Liverpool mills, including "Crabtree/White's" mill at the Mills Archive in Reading.

The OpenSim model
Windmill 1849 from west with engine.png
Reimagining the windmill parcel of 1849: view from the west. The engine house is on the extreme right, just out of sight. The proposed loading platform for the mill is just to its right. To the left of the mill is a raised reservoir and in front of that a refuelling/watering station. Wagons for the smithy and adjacent coalyard approach via the entrance on the extreme left and pass around the mill complex. The smithy's chimney can be seen in the distance. This is the reverse view to the one at the top of the page.

The 1849 Town Plan was used to inform an OpenSim build. Very much a work in progress, the build is intended to support a narrative consistent with the Plan.

Thus far little has been done to incorporate topographic features. As the coalyard expanded so the associated land would need to be levelled. It may be that the mill and its environs were at a slightly higher level than the coalyard and that retaining walls were built at the changing boundary. These perimeter walls may have been retained after land on both sides was made level. Three are evident on the 1890s map. The initial entrance was probably on Falkner Street so it is possible that the land was levelled at 166 feet as opposed to the 172 feet at the junction. This may explain the sunken appearance of one of the buildings in Herdman's print. Subsequently another entrance was made on Smithdown Lane but it is not clear how the disparity in height was managed other than by, of course, a slope. The same issue would apply if coal was supplied to the smithy from the early sidings.

The last days of the mill

In 1880 the Crabtree Lane Flour Mills were advertised in the Liverpool Mercury as being for sale in working order when, presumably, Stephen White and family decided to cease operations there. By this time the technology had in any case moved on to roller-based milling. According to the advertisement, the parcel of some 7293 square yards had a plentiful supply of well water and included coalyards, houses, shops (presumably the offices of coal merchants as well as workshops) and a wheelwright's yard (possibly part of the smithy). This appears to confirm that Stephen White had not sold land to the railway but had instead consolidated his business activities in one corner of the parcel and converted the remainder to coalyards that were sub-let. Over the years he had actively engaged with the opportunities the railway afforded him.

A plan dating to 1916 still fails to show the mill parcel as assigned to LNWR although its tenants Bradley and Bathgate are indicated. Another, probably later but still LNWR so pre-LMS merger (in 1923), now shows the LNWR boundary as extending around the mill parcel and only Bathgate is cited as merchant (thanks to the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Trust for posting these). The best guess then is that the LNWR finally acquired the site sometime between 1916 and 1923. The interim owner is unknown but presumably worked with the LNWR to clear the remaining buildings and extend the coal sidings.

Although starting as a miller and working the mill parcel creatively, Mr White subsequently developed a parallel business as a corn merchant. In 1875 he was based at 3 Fenwick Street (conveniently situated for the Corn Exchange in Brunswick Street). Although he kept his interest in the mills, he moved away from what had doubtless become an industrial rather than pastoral location (his original house was probably demolished) to less polluted areas of, variously, Edge Hill, Fairfield (Beech Terrace) and ultimately Wavertree (Derwent Lodge). He was probably quite successful and his name appears emboldened in the trade directory as well as featuring in newspapers as a generous benefactor to local good causes. By this time, however, he had presumably passed on operation of the mill to a manager.

He died at Derwent Lodge on August 7th 1883, aged 82.

Fig: Crown Street Park in 2018 at junction of Falkner Street (left, hidden) and Overbury Street (right). Smithdown Lane followed the line of the path leading into the park so the lefthand part of the photo roughly equates to the view in the Herdman picture.

[UPDATE from Gareth Williams: unfortunately the three photos in Liverpool Archives have all been miscatalogued. The first two are Wellington Mills, Wavertree, photographed about 1895 just before they were demolished, and the third is Woolton Mill, on fire in 1898. Herdman's painting is probably the most reliable image of the windmill as it appeared when working (it matches what is known about the characteristics of tower mills in the Mersey area, having a gabled cap, cloth-spread sails and a chain-and-wheel system instead of a fantail, to turn the cap into the wind) The windmill wasn't moved after 1851 but was always in the same location.]