Electric Reassurance, the Blitz and Confusing Elevator Rides - Birkenhead Hamilton Square Underground Railway Station Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Electric Reassurance, the Blitz and Confusing Elevator Rides - Birkenhead Hamilton Square Underground Railway Station

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Located on the Wirral Peninsula in the north west of England, Hamilton Square (as the locals call the station) is a Grade II listed building. Built in 1886, the station was designed by George Enoch Grayson of Liverpool. Nowadays if you're travelling to Liverpool from Chester, Ellesmere Port, West Kirby or New Brighton, Hamilton Square is the last station on the Wirral Line before you travel under the River Mersey. Now part of the Merseyrail network, the station still sports its original ornate brick and tile tower, housing the hydraulic lift, despite a multi-million pound revamp in 2014/15.

The underground station's original purpose was to join Liverpool James Street to the Green Lane Station on the Wirral. The Mersey rail tunnels took five years to build and was a massive construction project for Merseyside. However, the pollution was so bad underground (the locomotives producing more fumes than the mechanical fan extractors could cope with), that travellers were suspicious of travelling through the new rail tunnels, scared that the smoke from the former coal-powered steam trains would suffocate them en route!  Therefore, most commuters still preferred the more established, but much slower, Mersey Ferry service. Two years later the Mersey Railway company actually went into bankruptcy. 

Determined to move with the times, in 1903 the network introduced its first electric train service under the river. A huge sign proclaiming 'frequent electric trains' was erected on the Italianate tower (and still stands) to reassure passengers and drum up trade for the fledgling underground.

Having a station some 77 feet beneath the earth came in handy during the World War II Blitz. The platforms were used as bomb shelters for the inhabitants of central Birkenhead. Beds, kitchens and impromptu entertainment kept hundreds safe as the bombs fell.

Much is written on the devastation of Liverpool during the war. However, with the shipyards being located on the Wirral side of the river, as main targets for German bombers, Birkenhead was the first place on Merseyside to be hit, in July 1940. The Wirral also had the first recorded death, in August that same year, caused by the Blitz, as well as the first civilian medals awarded for bravery to four Wirral railway workers in the face of the bombing campaign. The plaque to these brave souls now stands in Hamilton Square.

During the recent refurbishments of the station, advertising posters from the 1940s, '50s and '60s were uncovered behind the wall panels of the station. Sadly these posters were unable to be saved but are now featured in artwork decorating platform one.

Despite the history of the station, most travellers simply remember being confused by the three, 100-people capacity, elevators that transport them deep underground. From the original 'open cage'-type lifts, that took nearly a minute and revealed 70 feet of immaculate brickwork on the way up and down, to the modern enclosed spaces, both featured 'walk in walk off' double doors which have for over a century left travellers facing the wrong way as the lifts stop!

With the modern Conway Park station now servicing the main shopping and leisure areas, Hamilton Square may now be a station most people just pass through, but it has served the Wirral proudly for over 130 years.


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