Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Stations, Birkenhead

Standing 150 foot tall, this imposing structure is the Woodside Ventilation Station in Birkenhead, one of six such installations serving the Queensway Mersey Tunnel. These buildings are the work of Herbert James Rowse. This building and the similar structures in nearby Taylor Street and Sidney Street do show some similarities to the work of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, most notably Bankside Power Station, London (now the Tate Modern). However, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was not involved with the Mersey Tunnel project.

Another view, from the end of Morpeth Street.

Recalling sunrise over the Heel Stone at Stonhenge, or the Monolith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a view of the tower and the sun.

The view across the Mersey. Note the Anglican Cathedral – which was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

The fine brickwork lends the tower a monumental presence that transcends its utilitarian purpose.

The towers at Sidney Street and Taylor Street, though similar, are not identical. Sidney Street has two squat towers rather than a single large one, though they are connected to a single ventilation shaft.

Taylor Street more closely resembles Woodside, but it is somewhat smaller.

Presumably these differences arose from site constraints.

I am most grateful to architect Reg Towner RIBA of Towner Associates for his recent input. Mr Towner has posted some very fine pictures of the Mersey Tunnel and its attendant infrastructure on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/townerassociates/sets/

© Christopher Seddon 2008

Author: prehistorian

Prehistorian & author

8 thoughts on “Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Stations, Birkenhead”

  1. Hi Christopher.
    You seem certain that the Birkenhead Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Stations were designed by Gilbert Scott, but where is your evidence?

    I am open to persuasion, but according to the “official” literature produced at the time of the opening of the tunnels in 1934 , and also the latest EH listing, these are all attributed to Rowse.

    Please comment.
    regards
    Reg Towner

  2. I enjoyed your review of the Birkenhead Vent Stations but what makes you assert so strongly that they were designed by Sir G G Scott? What is your source of information?

  3. There are very obvious stylistic similarities between these towers and work by GGS, for example Bankside Power Station. Rowse is credited with all six towers, but my guess is he only designed two of the towers on the Liverpool side which are totally unlike the other four.

    Before posting this I did 'confirm' my guess with a Wikipedia entry on GGS (now updated) attributing the towers to him.

  4. You may be interested to know that architect Eric Hyde had access to Rowse's client list, fee ledgers and past employees for his PhD thesis “The Life and work of Herbert James Rowse” in the early 1980s. None of these sources attribute any part of the Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Stations project to GGS or anyone else.

    Any suggestion that GGS designed four of them appears to be completely without foundation and appears highly unlikely.

  5. Hi Reg – basically speculation on his and my part. Evidently incorrect based on your information, which does seem to be pretty conclusive. It is nevertheless hard to deny the similarity of the four stations to the work of GGS, and that they differ considerably from the other two. Any ideas as to why this might have been the case? I am thinking of re-writing this article and would of course mention your input.

  6. Hi Christopher,
    I can absolutely guarantee that Rowse designed all of the Mersey Tunnel Ventilation stations.

    The two located on prime City centre sites in Liverpool are finished in Portland stone and the rest in brick.

    I have seen multiple sources of reliable information including Eric Hydes thesis, the official programme on sale at the opening ceremony on July 18th 1934 and a commemorative book issued shortly afterwards.

    You may be interested in seeing Rowse's original sketches of the stations at :http://www.flickr.com/photos/townerassociates/sets/72157627169361483/with/6031991514/
    regards
    Reg Towner

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