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The wirral


See local website: The Wirral. Facing across the Mersey towards what is now Liverpool and standing on a headland of birch trees, the 12th century priory of Birchen Head was run by Benedictine monks, and it was they who set up and operated the very first ferry crossing the Mersey after being granted passage to Liverpool by Edward III in 1330. The monastery is the oldest building on Merseyside, and with it's ferry service the surrounding area of the Wirral was placed firmly on the map. The "Ferry 'cross the Mersey" is now world-famous, a great way to see Liverpool and even inspired the sixties song of the same name by Gerry and the Pacemakers. As well as it's famed ferry, the Wirral also benefited from development of the early railways in the region, George Louis Stephenson's burgeoning railway network linked Birkenhead to Chester in 1840. This railway development led to the construction by Victorian engineers of the world's first railway tunnel under a major river; this tunnel beneath the Mersey along with the busy docks at Wallasey and Birkenhead helped the area become prosperous during the 19th century. In 1820 the renowned Cammell-Laird shipyard was established by John Laird, the area was also home to the original Lever Brothers firm which is now the multi-national giant Unilever. Birkenhead was also the birthplace of Europe's first street-tram system (horse-drawn at first, later electrified), which was the brainchild of an eccentric American tycoon, George Francis Train, in 1860. Train was apparently the inspiration for Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days. These days the Wirral is less industrial, with the departure of ship-building in recent decades, and is better known for it's sailing clubs than it's shipyards now; the borough is also home to Tranmere Rovers FC, perhaps one of Merseyside's less well known sporting exports.