Paul Burns, Grassendale – Birth of a Suburb, Green Hey Press, Liverpool, 2021,
hardback, 255pp., 77 illustrations, £24.99. ISBN 978-1-914408-89-2
Grassendale – Birth of a Suburb is a fascinating book of ten chapters split into three sections, taking the reader on a journey from the first record around 1260 involving a donation by William son of Adam of roughly 115 acres of land in the area to the monks of Stanlaw Abbey, up to modern times and the closure of St Austin’s Church on Aigburth Road in 2015. For LHS members with access to Journal no. 21 (2022), pp. 27-40, Paul’s account of one prominent 19 th century Grassendale resident, John Grant Morris: Liverpool’s Golden Coalman, will provide an idea of his entertaining style of writing.
Part One, Before 1841 (chapters 1-3: A Field called Grassendale, Recusants and Delinquents, A Very Romantic Spot) begins with an analysis of a vast numbers of documents with their frequent variations in spelling, from the earliest mention by name of little Gresyndale in a 14 th century book from Whalley Abbey (to which the monks of Stanlaw Abbey relocated). Where there is uncertainty over the who, what, when and where in many of these documents, Paul offers a number of helpful ‘it is possible…’ suggestions together with occasional corrections to the conclusions of historians of earlier centuries. There is much
information from early Norris deeds and frequent mention of the Tarleton/Harrington connections with Aigburth Hall.
Part Two, 1841 (chapters 4-6: The Population, Garston Road, Beechwood and Beyond), builds upon information on the 205 people listed in the 1841 census which names only two roads: Garston Road (today Aigburth Road) and Beechwood Road and provides ‘an insight into how early Victorians lived: their family lives, their achievements, their struggles and their tragedies’. Paul provides a wealth of additional information obtained from other sources, whilst the Crown Inn (later transformed into the Aigburth Hotel) and Grassendale House each merit particular attention.
Part Three, Afterwards (chapter 7-10: A Rising Neighbourhood, The Families from Garston Road, The Other Families, Normal Development) commences with the period from the 1841 census up to 1855 (the creation of the parish of St Mary’s, ‘an event that marked the point at which Grassendale became an administrative entity’), provides stories of what had happened to the many people that had moved on by then (‘sometimes tragic, sometimes inspiring, sometimes a little sordid and sometimes quite strange’), and concludes with what became of the area after the properties in Grassendale Park and Cressington Park had been completed (as ‘builders’ and speculators’ thoughts turned to less exclusive developments and more affordable housing’).
To accompany the text, a number of maps are provided from the two earliest, both in the 1770s, together with an 1840 tithe map of Garston township extensively referred to during descriptions of Grassendale’s buildings and occupants around the time of the census. Unfortunately photographic copies of these hand drawn maps have not satisfactorily lent themselves to being scaled down to fit on the pages of the roughly A5 size book, and visits to see the originals would perhaps be necessary to fully appreciate many of the details which Paul has been able to observe and describe.
Throughout the chapters, the stories of those who came to work and then to dwell in Grassendale give some indication of the breadth of Paul’s research interests and which enabled him to discover delightful gems to add to family histories, whilst the Index with the names of nearly 1300 people will be a joy to those readers searching eagerly for family records.
Reading this interesting book produced many surprises. In their retirement years, this reviewer’s parents lived on the very edge of Grassendale’s north-eastern boundary within sight and sound of the main Liverpool to London railway line. They (and he) always referred to their cul-de-sac off Brodie Avenue as simply part of Garston, and assumed that the gates to Salisbury Road (on the south side of Aigburth Road and leading to Cressington Station to which they regularly walked) was the beginning of Grassendale, despite the fact that their doctors’ surgery on Darby Road was (and still is) called the Grassendale Medical Practice. Thanks to Paul’s extraordinarily detailed research and skilful portrayal of events and people over the centuries this area has now received the recognition it may have long awaited. The book thoroughly deserves to be extensively referenced on Wikipedia’s all-too-brief Grassendale page.
For the revision of the Grassendale Ward boundary following the 2023 Local Government Boundary Commission review see:-
Graham Jones (author of Walking on Water Street)