At the end of the twelfth century, Birchen Head Priory stood on a lonely headland of birch trees, facing open countryside and surrounded by the Mersey. It was from here, Merseyside's oldest building, that Benedictine monks operated the first Mersey ferry in 1330, having been granted a passage to Liverpool by a charter from Edward III.
The original ferry service, now famous throughout the world, put The Wirral on the map as part of the King's highway, yet for centuries the peninsula remained a cluster of small holdings and hamlets. It wasn't until the 1820s that steam-powered boats improved communication and opened up The Wirral's Mersey coast for industrialisation.
The Wirral's first railway was built in 1840 planned by George Stephenson and connected Birkenhead with Chester. This encouraged the growth of The Wirral; Birkenhead and Wallasey grew into large towns. In 1847, Birkenhead's first docks and its municipal park, the first in Britain, were opened.
The Mersey railway led to increased development after 1886, when pioneering Victorian engineers were the first in the world successfully to tunnel a railway beneath a major river.
The Wirral's dockland areas of Wallasey and Birkenhead continued to develop and prosper. The 1820s saw the birth of the renowned shipbuilding tradition when John Laird opened his Cammell Laird yard and a host of other port-related industries came into existence, such as flour milling, tanning, edible oil refining and the manufacture of paint and rubber-based products.
Another important development was the building in 1888 of the now famous industrial village of Port Sunlight, designed to house employees at the original firm of Lever Brothers, now part of the Unilever group. The village, which turned Lord Leverhulme's philanthropic dream into reality provides workers with all they need; employment, housing and entertainment and formed the basis of the "Lifestyle Wirral" ethic.