Then, in 1878, sickness destroyed Britain’s sheep and cattle trade; the disease had been imported with these foreign animals. It became illegal to import animals unless they were slaughtered or quarantined in licensed quays. Lairages, slaughterhouses, chill rooms and meat-stores were built at Morpeth and Wallasey Docks to prevent further outbreaks.
In 1886, Birkenhead Abattoir, which was extensive in size, was opened and shortly afterwards the Birkenhead Lairage buildings. “Lairage Officers”, a type of Animal Welfare Officer, were employed to monitor the unloading of cattle into the Lairage to ensure none of the cattle were injured or showed signs of sickness. The inspections began to work and the trade took off once again. By 1897 the imported animal trade was booming and a rough estimate at the time suggested that up to half of Britain’s trade in American sheep and cattle, passed through Birkenhead.
Every building below the transit sheds alongside Morpeth branch dock was involved in the Irish Sea livestock trade for which Birkenhead became the leading UK port, having been helped by a decision to concentrate all of the Mersey’s Irish livestock traffic in Birkenhead for ease of control reasons following a foot & mouth outbreak in Ireland in 1913. The green line in the picture above, highlights the old wooden livestock walkway which allowed transfer of animals between the dedicated Wallasey livestock stage (actually sited where Twelve Quays is now rather than in Wallasey) and Woodside. It had to be elevated to enable sufficient clearance over the Morpeth river entrance which would have made it an overhead walkway. The photo also shows the livestock-dedicated north end of the Woodside stage and its high-sided link-span which prevented the animals from seeing the river whilst coming ashore and becoming distressed as a consequence.
I can remember as a child back in the 1960s the smell down there from all the animals, and also from the tannery in New Chester Road, was horrific and the whole area had a permanent stench to it. Much of the area and the buildings associated with the cattle trade were demolished in the 1970s and then in the 1990s the Lairage was demolished to make way for the Woodside Small Business Park.
The old abattoir building, now used by Birkenhead Timber; caught fire in 2007.
There is not much left of the once thriving cattle industry buildings in the area and those that still stand are falling into dilapidation. The old fountain at the front of the Abattoir still exists although now badly damaged having been exposed to the elements for over a century. The inscription on the fountain reads; “These Abattoirs were opened by W Laird Esq JP, Mayor of Birkenhead”.