Historic Wirral landmark ‘in safe hands’

Barry Turnbull

A computer scientist has vowed to preserve part of Merseyside's heritage after moving into a 140-year-old lighthouse.

Dr Stephen Pickles has taken up residence at the disused monument that forms part of the Bidston Observatory complex in Wirral.

Agents have spent 10 years trying to garner interest in three plots on the site against the wishes of local campaigners who wanted to turn it into a museum.

But Dr Pickles said the historic lighthouse and cottages were in safe hands: "The lighthouse and cottage are steeped in history and achievement. For my wife Mandy and I this is a dream come true and we intend to preserve and protect the buildings for many years.

"We obviously have a duty of care but it goes beyond that for us, it's a labour of love."

The computational scientist paid £160,000 for the landmark in a competitive sale and needs to invest a further £130,000 in its maintenance and improvement.

The buildings are Grade 2-listed and also have a number of covenants regarding what can be done on the site. It has required planning permission to change windows from perspex to glass and to remove barbed wire from an outer wall.

Dr Pickles intends to bring the lighthouse back into use as a library and study and hopes to offer it for exhibitions and public visits in the future. A lighthouse was first built on Bidston Hill in 1771 and was also part of a signalling system that allowed Liverpool shipowners to know when their vessels had arrived at Anglesey.

The current building was constructed in 1873 and was in use until 1913.

It's been almost a decade since oceanographers based at the adjacent Observatory moved to the University of Liverpool and agents were given the task of selling the main Victorian building, the Lighthouse and one of the two Lighthouse Cottages, as well as a more modern
laboratory. The other Lighthouse Cottage is privately owned, having been occupied by the same person since the 1930s.

Despite hype that the landmark site is ideal for residential or hotel development, interest has been muted. One reason was the Grade 2-listed status of the buildings, another was opposition from Peter Crawford of the Bidston Preservation Trust.

The four storey Proudman building and the Observatory comprise 45,000 sq ft of office and laboratory space.

Liverpool agents Mason Owen were engaged to remarket the buildings in 2011 on behalf of owners the Natural Environment Research Council and said they offered a unique opportunity to buy a piece of local history. A spokesman said there had been 'expressions of interest' but nothing more concrete.

The Observatory originally housed telescopes that tracked stars to ensure ship's chronometers were accurate. Since then it has specialised in tidal research and was used to predict tides for the D-Day landings. At one point it also operated the Thames Barrier.

Current research functions are now carried out at the National Oceanography Centre on the University of Liverpool campus.

BPT chairman Peter Crawford has been trying to raise £2m to turn the site into a museum but said: "It has been a struggle to get support. The council just doesn't appear to have the vision or leadership to back a plan that would maintain the site's heritage and be a great tourist attraction."

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Peter Crawford is your typical hertiage campaign fantasist then. Lots of ‘good’ ideas, but no idea of how to pay for them or make them sustainable, so blame the local authorities because your idea doesn’t stack up.


Having dealt with local authorities myself I’m not at all surprised Peter Crawford has got nowhere !

By Ian Walton